Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows is an interesting little Batman (or "Batman Reborn") story. I say "little" because Long Shadows has none of the meta-textual flash and bang of Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin -- but neither is it, as I feared, a cookie cutter repeat of the similar Batman: Prodigal storyline. Instead, whereas Long Shadows is a rather straightforward story about what it would be like if Dick Grayson took over the cowl from a dead Bruce Wayne, it wins points from me for being a rather convincing take on the situation, at that.
How ever much things in Gotham City return to normal after the return of Bruce Wayne, I'm finding the value of "Batman Reborn" is in the thought experiment of "how would [enter character] do things if Bruce wasn't around?" This is reflected well in the new Batman/Robin relationship and in elements like moving the Batcave (back) into a Gotham City highrise in Morrison's work, and in how Batwoman: Elegy reimagines a Bat-character for the twenty-first century.
This is also reflected in how Winick, moreso than Morrison, examines how Dick Grayson would be a different Batman than Bruce Wayne. Winick fortunately dispenses with much of the "am I worthy of the cowl" angst right at the beginning, and quickly moves to how Dick makes the Batman persona his own -- incorporating more gymnastics into his fighting style, filming his villain take-downs so the police have evidence for court, and assessing the size and weight of his cape so as to make the costume closer to Nightwing's.
This isn't the stuff of superhero action battles (though Long Shadows has that, too). Rather, it's nitty-gritty detailed stuff that probably never even needed to be mentioned, but that I found interesting to learn about nonetheless.
Winick also puts strong focus here on the relationship between Batman Dick Grayson and his faithful butler Alfred. Again, there's fascinating detail here, like Alfred discovering Bruce's childhood drawings because, of course, the family naturally begins gathering up a deceased loved one's possessions once they're gone. I also enjoyed Dick and Alfred's discussion about how their working partnership is different -- Dick is more inclined to take Alfred's advice than Bruce was, and Dick worries and seeks approval from Alfred far more than Bruce did.
And of course, with the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, there's some tears and emotion to be expected, which Winick takes on well with the first chapter's epilogue to Battle for the Cowl; I especially liked the rationale for not holding a funeral for Batman. Later on in the book -- pursuant to Winick's reputation for sometimes being a "soap opera" writer -- Alfred and Dick's mutual appreciation meetings become mildly heavy-handed, but enjoy it while it's there -- no doubt Bruce will be back to his clammed-up self not too long after he returns.
Winick gives every character in the book a talking partner -- Dick has Alfred, Penguin has Black Mask, Two-Face has an anonymous henchman; even Commissioner Gordon alludes to wanting to have a sidekick with him when meeting the new Batman. There's a way in which Long Shadows is something like a play, where every character has a sounding board with which to express themselves with. If intentional, it's a unique way for Winick to structure this story, and goes to the general theme of Long Shadows, how everyone -- Dick, Alfred, Gordon, even Two-Face -- look for surrogates to fill the void left by the death of Batman.
We find in the end that even as Dick does a fair job as a stand-in Batman, Winick leaves no question that the former Robin is not there yet. In the book's ultimate battle between Dick and Two-Face (who, let's not forget, Nightwing handily beat in Peter Tomasi's Nightwing: The Great Leap), Two-Face nearly murders Dick before he's saved by Alfred, dressed up as Batman. Ultimately the Batman hero in Long Shadows is Alfred, or else it takes Alfred and Dick together to equal Bruce Wayne on his own.
This is dangerous ground -- Winick, Tony Daniel, and the rest of the Bat-team only have so long to have Dick find his feet before Batman returns, else Dick comes out of this Bat-era seeming ineffectual (which, for Bat-purists, might be OK). All of it -- from artist Mark Bagley's wonderfully youthful Dick Grayson to the banter with Alfred -- just makes me all the more eager to see some writer's revitalized take on Nightwing, frankly, but there's a bunch of books between here and when that happens.
[Contains full covers]
Ultimately, I didn't find Batman: Long Shadows as lackluster as I had heard it was. This is not required reading for the "Batman Reborn" saga, to be sure, but if you're curious about the tinier "what if"s that go into the loss of Batman, Long Shadows does a nice job filling in the gaps.