For a sure sign of Identity Crisis's advent, no need to wait until September. Batman: War Games Act Two upholds ye olde nugget that "DC Comics aren't just for kids anymore!" even before Elongated Man stepped on the scene.
More than likely, when I see Black Mask coming, I should probably look the other way, because Black Mask-style violence just isn't my bag. Joker-style violence, I can deal with. Exploding fish, while tragic, at least I know where I'm at. But there's a scene here where Black Mask heads for a guy's eyes with a can of cayenne pepper and a razor blade--they don't even have to show it; the screaming alone is enough to turn my stomach.
And maybe that's good. Maybe comic books are finally going to earn their "rep," as it were, when the villain isn't the bleeding eyes of the Clench, but the drill bit of Black Mask. If the bad is more real, the heroes are more heroic, sales go up, people read trade paperbacks on the bus in little towns in America, and God save the local comic book shop. Do I necessarily think this is the best of strategies? No. But then again, I thought Identity Crisis was a pretty good mystery, and DC's gearing up to sell the trade like a Brad Meltzer novel, so hey, whatever works.
But I digress. And the point is, the violence ramps up a notch in War Games Act Two. And though I still have trouble fully identifying the crossover-level threat here--are regular people getting hurt? Are they trying to keep the bad guys from killing each other?--there are at least two significant deaths in this volume. One of them, by the way, is a long-time Robin stalwart, but not the one you're thinking of, and when the death happens, it happens so quickly that I hope it will be followed-up on later, for the edification of those of us who were fans, if nothing else.
Batman, in this volume, comes to recognize the War Games plan as his own, though he appears wildly less apologetic about it than when Ras al Ghul usurped his JLA-takedown plan. He offers to take control of the police, which offends both Comissioner Atkins and James Gordon for reasons that I didn't find entirely convincing. Batman also seems to rub Oracle the wrong way at almost every turn, a product of six writers all trying to make the same point. The Batman plots, in short, are interesting, but there are so many different characters here to focus on that when you get back to Batman, one wonders why he hasn't accomplished more in the meantime. The linear focus here, essentially, is less tight than War Games Act One, and we can only hope for the best with Act Three.
It's more the supporting characters who each get their chances to shine. The Batgirl/Leslie Thompson scene is classic, as really they represent two opposite sides of Batman, and it's about time that came to light. Tim Drake steals the show, and his new ground with his father is made all the more tragic if you know what's coming. Having just completed a read of all the Chuck Dixon Nightwing trades, however, I'll say that the whiny Nightwing as written here just doesn't do it for me, nor do his run-on monologue boxes that are supposed to stand-in for panic. In the same vein, it seems that the artists couldn't quite decide what was what with Spoiler, as she acts seriously injured but only seems to support cuts and bruises.
Bat-drama, as Batman acts like a jerk and his team reacts, is becoming ever-so-slightly predictable. That said, like weekly episodes of ER, it's also a fix that you just need every once in a while. So here's looking forward to Act Three, to see if the conclusion works to redeem the sum of its parts.
Onward and upward ...