Review: Batman: The World hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


I think the modern era of DC Comics anthologies kicked off with 2018’s Action Comics #10001, a jam session of Superman one-offs by notable creators, followed in quick succession by Detective Comics #1000, Detective Comics #1027, and a variety of anniversary publications. Now we’re into anthologies de rigueur, from the Future State regular-issues-as-anthologies and Batman: Urban Legends to most big titles having a backup or two now. And I would venture these improved as they went on; Detective #1027 sticks out to me as a particularly good one, better than what proceeded it, and Wonder Woman #750 as another.

So whereas an anthology of disconnected one-off stories might not have always been my thing, I was excited for Batman: The World, an original graphic novel collection of Batman stories from various countries, as another of these kinds of jam sessions. And indeed there’s much to like here and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World (it falls neatly in a category I’ve mentioned before of good reads — content-heavy, continuity-light — for a long plane ride).

If there was anything significant I thought The World lacked, it was an introduction or essay or some kind of contextualization for the stories (aside from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s framing story, which most of the other tales ignored). Given Batman being created by Americans, published by an American company, and set in America (though DC often has him drawn, especially, by creators around the world), it’s fascinating to read about Batman through the lens of foreign creators. I only wish World had offered more context as to how the creators first encountered Batman or how Batman is viewed in their own countries. Some, like Russian creators Kirill Kutuzov and Egor Prutov’s “My Bat-Man,” try to explicate such in their stories, but these attempts are not as successful as the straight-on Batman stories, which could have included introductions or codas by the creators.

[Review contains spoilers]

The best of World is up front, and the book gets less strong as it goes (or maybe I was just dour on my second night of reading). Among the first is French creators Mathieu Gabella and Thierry Martin’s “Paris,” which starts out as an enjoyable, if stilted and prototypical, Batman/Catwoman romp, but goes “wonderfully” off the rails when the story’s surprise guest shows up. Martin’s art strongly reminds of Darwyn Cooke, equally perfect for a Catwoman tale.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Possibly my favorite of the whole book is the next, “Closed for the Holidays,” by award-winning Spanish creator Paco Roca. “Closed” posits Bruce Wayne finally, actually taking a vacation, and of course the reader suspects it’s just a ruse in some service to Batman. But then Roca offers a series of about a half-dozen pages, 9 panels each, where Bruce does seem to be relaxing — eating, reading on the beach, gambling, meeting a woman — and also gradually losing his physique. Roca holds the joke long enough — past funny and into bizarre — that the audience is no longer sure the inevitable is going to happen when it finally does. That’s great, and really gutsy, and would certainly make me eager to read Roca’s work again.

Two more: Italian creators Alessandro Bilotta and Nicola Mari’s “Ianus,” told backward, and with a great eye for detail (see Batman’s shifting costumes). “A Better Tomorrow,” by German creators Benjamin von Eckartsberg and Thomas von Kummant, is lushly drawn and chilling, and one of the few to include a foreign creator’s take on a Bat-villain as well.

Fortunately, even the not-so successful stories in World at least have the art going for them. “Red Mass,” from the Czech Republic, has nice '80s style art reminiscent of Graham Nolan, even if the story follows typical Batman tropes; the same is true for “Where Are the Heroes” from Brazil. I was less impressed with stories that veered into travelogue — including from Turkey, Poland, and Brazil — more geography lesson than story. That so many of these were toward the back seems not a coincidence, as if perhaps the editors front-loaded the better ones.

It’s hard to fault Bermejo’s art in the book’s lead story (World’s U.S. entry); his straps-and-seams Bat-suit remains a favorite, as well as his grimy, ultra-detailed Bat-foes. Azzarello’s metaphor of Gotham City as Batman’s wife gets more problematic as it goes, however (if you have to say “this may sound perverse,” it probably is), especially when the metaphor gets stretched so far as Batman cheating on Gotham or Batman and Gotham’s open relationship. That the other stories don’t use the purported frame is a shame, as I might then have preferred to see something more story-based from Azzarello and Bermejo than narration over a series of splash pages.



But in all Batman: The World is a good read, and interesting. I did wonder halfway through if this was repeatable; that is, Batman may be mythological enough to translate to many countries and cultures, but whether South Korean, Chinese, or Japanese takes on Superman or Wonder Woman could loose their national origins remains to be seen. I’d be curious for creators to try (or, even Justice League: The World for that matter, with the creators' pick from the DCU). I love that each chapter here has a “cover”; I wouldn’t mind a table of contents next time, too.

[Original graphic novel; includes sketchbook section]

  1. Arguably maybe 2014‘s New 52 Detective Comics #27, though I’m not sure this approach really started to take until Action Comics #1000.  ↩

Comments ( 4 )

  1. This didn’t even occur to me until it was pointed out on a podcast but it is frustrating there’s no African representation.

  2. Great review as always....very fair. I have to say that I only really enjoyed a few of the stories, with others being passable. Ianus and a Better Tomorrow being really strong. Closed for the Holidays was quirky and kept me waiting for the inevitable return of Batman at the end. The artwork reminded me a bit of Matt Wagner's work (a writer/artist whose work I really enjoy....I just reread his Trinity miniseries and enjoyed it quite a bit).

    All in all, I thought that back end could have been a lot stronger. Batman is such a powerful character and these should have been powerful stories focused through the cultural lenses of different countries.....instead most of the stories play it kinda safe........Worth a read.....but not sure if I would if this book is something I'd reread again.

    1. I think you said it well that the back half of the book plays it safe. In some respects this felt like DC seeing if this kind of book could be done; now that they know it can, maybe a second volume would be stronger.


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