Garth Ennis and Liam Sharp deliver a menacing Batman not afraid to get down and dirty in the grim of Gotham City in this beautifully brutal new series from DC Black Label. Great, gruesome American gothic!
This may be a Batman book, but it’s also a Garth Ennis book too, so the opening reflects that. Batman comes swooping down to finish a job the Gotham City courts couldn’t and lean heavy on rapist Edgar Licchario, goading him on the court’s steps into attacking him. Thus allowing Batman to strike back. It’s left to the reader’s imagination to consider the possible damage the Dark Knight has done. And these scenes are always the most powerful. Whether that be the shower scene in Psycho or the torturing of the cop in Reservoir Dogs. And an indication in just these few opening pages of Ennis’s expert writing and knowledge of the form. This is most definitely not a Batman you see too often. More Frank Miller than Tom King, that’s for sure.
Although it helps that he has a more than able partner to accompany him in the form of Liam Sharp. A man who started playing with mixed media; painted and digital artwork he introduced into towards the end of his Green Lantern run and who’s mastery of the medium brings the requisite gothic darkness to proceedings. Brutal, warped characters trapped in a Gotham City that smacks of an influence gleaned from the ground-breaking design work of the late, great Anton Furst on Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Itself a dark, smudgy brew of Piranese, Fuseli, and more, with Sharp adding a hint of the Pre-Raphaelites to his figures and some Simon Bisley/Bill Sienkiewicz to his Batman. But, make no mistake, in the able hands of veteran Sharp, his own distinguishable style still shines through. And all drenched in lashings of skin-soaking rain.
For much of this debut issue we get a Batman dredging around in the gutters of Gotham, devoid of his usual menagerie of vaudeville villains. That in itself is a refreshing change. Of course this is all setting up the mood and tone of the series as well as the story. As such – and knowing the strength of his artistic collaborator – Ennis leans into larger, limited panel layouts for each page, but never sparing on the dialogue. It’s a well balanced book that doesn’t feel like a rushed read for the hefty $4.99 cover price.
We get word of a monthly villains meeting that went sour far too quickly. Even for these reprobates and multi-coloured murderers. Maybe something ancient, something more (wait for it)… reptilian going off in their brains? A meeting that has since lead to a savagery that even Gotham has never seen before running rampant through its underworld. And as this is a series out of continuity, anything can happen. And does. No-one is safe when you don’t need to worry about bringing bad guys back to help the profit margins of AT&T. It’s what makes DC Black Label books so much more fun than their mainstream counterparts. While they lack bite, this version of Batman and company have teeth that sink deep and draw blood and gore. And Ennis is just the man to deliver this far more violent, primal story.
A savagely brilliant debut issue with the grotesquely beautiful artwork to match and a great take on Batman’s oath never to kill too. Framed here as a threat rather than an oath. Great stuff!
Batman: Reptilian #1 is out now from DC Comics/DC Black Label