Review: Batman: Gotham Will Be Judged trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, June 04, 2012

The first thing to recognize about Batman: Gotham Shall Be Judged is that it contains two issues of Batman, one each of Red Robin and Gotham Central Sirens, and five of David Hine's Azrael series. Batman may get top billing, but don't be fooled -- Gotham Shall Be Judged is really DC's third collection of the latest Azrael series (would've been the fourth until Killer of Saints was cancelled).

I picked this up because I'm a completist and it contains issues of Batman and Red Robin skipped over in other trades. Come to think of it, that's why I picked up Hine's Arkham Reborn, too. Like Arkham Reborn, I enjoyed this collection far more than I thought I would, though I recognize it won't be for everyone. What with the DC New 52 and most of the Bat-family ignoring the Azrael title before the relaunch anyway, it's hard to argue this trade as required reading.

It is, however, a fun crossover in the old-style sense of DC and Batman crossovers. Given that the Azrael collection that would have preceded this one was cancelled, the book starts unapologetically in medias res, and it's left to the reader to discern what's going on and separate good guys from bad -- something that drew me in, rather than pushed me away from this book.

Hine's Azrael Michael Lane is an engaging character, a noble warrior a la Magog, if most certainly insane. The issues of the Azrael series collected here are remarkably edgy, most certainly controversial and offensive to some if only anyone had been reading this book, and to some extent I'm even surprised DC Comics was brave enough to publish this. All of this, again, added up to a collection that far exceeded my expectations.

[Review contains spoilers]

The first page of Gotham Shall Be Judged involves Michael Lane choking to death a man who's already been skinned alive. On the fourth page, Lane dreams himself being crucified and in the second chapter he does, indeed, arrange to both commit suicide and be crucified; he is resurrected three days later by way of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit. The story is quite steeped in Christian theology, but not beholden to it -- in the fourth chapter, a priest discusses his own belief that Jesus was not actually resurrected, but that Lane was, a sort of "Lane is greater than Jesus" equation.

This is edgy stuff, to be sure, and I like edgy and I like when writers takes chances. But it proves that controversy is all in who notices; I can't imagine that the One Million Moms campaign that's upset over the Earth-2 Alan Scott's sexuality would be any happier with a Batman-family title that essentially disavows the existence of Jesus, but the former caused an uproar while the latter has snuck completely under the radar.

Regardless, whereas Hine uses faith and religion well here (especially regarding Islam and Eastern Christianity when Azrael travels to Afghanistan), all of it ultimately becomes secondary to a plot by Ra's al Ghul to use Azrael's insanity to start a war and rule the world. Even if Azrael himself is engaging, this takes a little wind out of the sails of the crossover proper -- supposedly Azrael and some of his co-"angels" are testing the "faith" of Batman Dick Grayson, Catwoman, and Red Robin, but the reader understands this is less about faith and more about Ra's al Ghul's megalomania. Azrael isn't truly the antagonist of the crossover, just a pawn, so his scenes in the last half of the book carry less weight than those from the Azrael series proper.

Further, one of the main villains of the "Judgment on Gotham" crossover is the Crusader, apparently a character from early in the Azrael series, but the Crusader never appears in the lead-in issues in this book. As such, we have five issues of Azrael, Ra's, and the Middle Eastern Azrael "Fireball" -- and then Crusader suddenly appears. This is perhaps not so jarring for those who read Azrael issue-by-issue from the beginning, but it adds a dissonant note when reading Gotham Will Be Judged just on its own.

The individual crossover parts of Judged, however, do have merit. We get an extra Red Robin issue written by Fabian Nicieza, who continues to convey Tim Drake's voice perfectly; former Robin artist Freddie Williams draws that issue, which is a treat. I'm not much up to date on Gotham City Sirens, but writer Peter Calloway pits Catwoman against her deranged sister Maggie from Ed Brubaker's Catwoman series and earlier, so that held my interest. And Hine offers a quite gripping subplot detailing Dick Grayson's days growing up in the circus and a forgotten bad deed.

(Also, Hine uses Judd Winick's Gotham detective Josie Mac on a page, complete with her special powers, and that always garners a few bonus points from me.)

So in all, even though Batman: Gotham Will Be Judged is unlikely to be remembered ten years down the road, it provided a nice few days of reading and increased my esteem for David Hine's work (Cliff Richards's majestic art on Azrael bears mentioning, as does Guillem March's moody images throughout). There's a school of thought that former Azrael Jean-Paul Valley might make an appearance in Batman, Incorporated (or might have already!) -- that would be great, but I wouldn't be too disappointed if it was Michael Lane, either.

[Includes full covers]

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4 comments:

  1. I'd say that most of the reason any of that flew is because of it being in the Azrael book. It sounds like almost no one read or paid attention to it and the creative team knew it. Of course, Batman will get more eyes - even pre New 52 - but as I recall the whole crossover was in and out so fast it barely registered.

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  2. I liked this new Azrael!
    This book really should have been the last TPB for his series, wrapping things nicely before the end.

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  3. I'm still pissed about Killer of Saints being cancelled. I mean really, what's the point in doing that if you then plan to release the last part of the series? Sometimes DC's trade program makes me sad.

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  4. But y'know, whereas I didn't buy any of the Azrael volumes, I did buy this one, maybe because it had Batman in the title and maybe because it had a Red Robin issue. So by "re-branding" this collection as Batman instead of Azrael (though they likely would have had Batman in the title all along), they made the sale. Unfortunately the Azrael series just didn't have it enough to make it in issues nor collections -- unfortunately I think they tried to do something "too different" for most comics audiences.

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