Review: Batman: Eye of the Beholder hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 09, 2012

It's hard not to imbue Batman: Eye of the Beholder with some kind of greater meaning (for me, at least) given that it's the final originally-numbered Batman comics collection before the DC Comics New 52 relaunch. Not that writer Tony Daniel is necessarily writing it as such; it's unclear how aware Daniel was of the DC Relaunch when he wrote these issues, and DC omits from this collection the actual "final" Batman issue written by Fabian Nicieza.

Eye of the Beholder is adventuresome, though not necessarily Daniel's strongest work; as a Batman finale, there's a bit one can read into this book, but overall in that aspect the book doesn't really measure up.

[Contains spoiiers]

Depending on your point of view, Tony Daniel either has a great sense of Batman continuity, or his Batman stories are mired in re-treading old material. The "Eye of the Beholder" storyline picks up from the much-maligned Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossover, while "Pieces" is even more enmeshed in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory than Daniel's previous Batman: Life and Death was. This works for "Eye," creating something interesting from the preceding story's ashes, but "Pieces" revises Loeb's work in ways better left alone.

The four-part "Eye of the Beholder," Daniel tackles some of the Asian-influenced elements of the Batman mythos, using both the Sensei villain and the 1970s martial arts mystery man I-Ching. The story is of a kind that works especially well for the young Dick Grayson Batman: a mysterious woman approaches Dick both in his civilian Wayne Enterprises identity and as Batman, and Dick must help her retrieve a powerful artifact while balancing his mistrust for the femme fatale.

It's simple enough, though Daniel adds some elements of mystery and -- I noticed in Life After Death as well -- seems especially skilled at leaving hints in both the dialogue and the art that allow the reader to try to solve the puzzle alongside the Dark Knight. I also appreciated that Daniel's art seems to have continued to evolve between the last volume and here, gaining a more pencilled, sketchy look that I thought was unique and enjoyed.

"Pieces" didn't work as well for me. Gilda Dent, Two-Face's estranged wife as of Long Halloween returns, working against Two-Face in a relationship with gangster Mario Falcone; later it seems Dent is only fooling Falcone to protect Two-Face. It's all a bit of a stretch, including the unlikely partnership between Falcone and Dent given that Dent catalyzed the downfall of the Falcone family; the story plays on Halloween but doesn't seem entirely faithful to it.

Daniel's writing and dialogue are good, but when he enters Long Halloween territory, even having the characters quote lines from the earlier book, Daniel seems to stomp around where Loeb danced gracefully. Gilda Dent is no longer the mysterious killer in the shadows, but now a kind of whiny figure still inexplicably wearing gangster fashions. Guest-artist Steve Scott's work lacks the detail of Daniel's earlier work (and some judgement, as when Scott unnecessarily depicts one thug vomiting on another) and certainly the subtlety of Sale's noir original. Combined, this makes "Pieces" a clunky follow-up to the originals, and fans of Long Halloween and Dark Victory who would come here hoping for more about their favored characters would likely be disappointed.

"Eye" itself is cute, but doesn't hold a candle to Daniel's Life After Death. This is in part because, whereas some of Life After Death's draw was the unexpected presence of the Falcones, here Gilda's reveal is fairly obvious. Eye, as a whole, is not as snappy a mystery as Life; Eye's villain, the Sensei, is a kind of outlandish figure versus the spookier Black Mask before. I also liked that Life was a Gotham City story, dealing with Commssioner Gordon and the Wayne Foundation and Arkham Asylum, whereas Eye is more self-contained. In all, my hope is that Daniel returns to Life After Death's form when he takes over the new Detective Comics (and the reviews I've heard so far are positive). The "Eye" story didn't disappoint, but neither did it feel there was as much at stake for the characters.

Though I'm down on Daniel's use of Long Halloween and Dark Victory here, one could (if you tilt your head and squint) see it as bringing Dick Grayson's story full circle at the end of the Batman title. Dark Victory (depending on the day's continuity) was Dick's first outing as Robin; his final adventure in the Batman title ties in to that story. Daniel does not make as much of this as he could -- Two-Face and Dick Grayson specifically share a long history that Daniel completely ignores -- but there's at least a bit of symmetry to be imagined.

Further, I took note of Catgirl Kitrina Falcone's letter to Batman Dick Grayson at the end of this book. Kitrinia's never quite fulfilled a purpose in Daniel's two Batman books; rather I imagine Daniel ran out of time to delve into Kitrina (equally puzzling is the daughter Enigma that the Riddler introduces one issue, then kills the next). But there is a certain irony in Dick Grayson trying to dissuade Kitrina from a life of crimefighting -- it is advice that Dick himself never took. It seems as though, in the beginning of Kitrina's letter, that Dick has succeeded in dissuading Kitrina from following his own path -- Dick has unmade, in a sense, his own creation -- but in the end, Kitrina promises to return better than before.

Dick has not, as a matter of fact, succeeded at all; rather the heroism of Batman in his second iteration has now inspired a third generation, "Batman and Robin will never die" and all that. I don't actually think Tony Daniel meant Catgirl as a metaphor for the survival of these "old DC Universe" characters now heading off to limbo, but as they say, it's nice to think so.

[Includes original covers]

Batman: Eye of the Beholder, at least the first story, is enjoyable work by Tony Daniel, neither the worst Batman's ever been nor the best, though it is a particularly apt Dick Grayson story. Long Halloween purists may want to steer clear, however; I was excited when Daniel ventured into Loeb's territory in the last book, but some things may be very well better left alone.

Coming up next -- it's received rave reviews, and now you're going to get the Collected Editions take on Batman: The Black Mirror. See you then!
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