Review: Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 1 trade paperback

May 15, 2022

 ·  1 comment

We’ve had precious little collected so far from the Batman: Urban Legends anthology series, and even then, it’s early to know if this will be primarily one-off index stories, if DC will make a concerted effort to tie it all back to the ongoing Bat-books, how much of that will pan out, and so on. I’m reminded of the Showcase '90s books, and I guess the answer is “a little of all of that,” though I remember being more pleased with Showcase when a book followed up on “X character will return” than when it didn’t.

This is relevant when reading Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 1 as, for each of the stories here — Red Hood and Grifter respectively — a promise is made, and I’m more eager to see those promises followed-up upon than forgotten. The good news is that this book’s writers are Chip Zdarsky, incoming Batman writer, and Matthew Rosenberg, who seems to have plenty of work at DC these days, so the chances of follow-up here is relatively high. Also that Zdarsky writes a good Batman ahead of his turn in the big leagues.

Of the two stories, especially if one is looking for a one-off-ish, low overhead Red Hood or Grifter story, both are quite fine, and both writers acquit themselves as plenty funny, among other things. The six-part “Red Hood: Cheer” holds up slightly better than the five-part “Grifter: The Long Con” — at some point, the crosses, double-crosses, and mysterious voices seem to get away from Rosenberg, not to mention inscruitable plot elements. But I’d happily read more Grifter Cole Cash from Rosenberg just as I’d happily read more Red Hood Jason Todd from Zdarsky — though, as it turns out, it’s Rosenberg about to be writing Red Hood in Task Force Z while Zdarsky moves on to Batman.

[Review contains spoilers]

Zdarsky is not the first to profile the young, possibly doomed life of Jason Todd, but I thought he offered some clever insights in “Cheer” (the main art is primarily by Eddy Barrows, with smooth-line flashbacks by Marcus To). We see, as Jason narrates, that he “never had a chance,” injuring if not killing a drug dealer that was abusing his mother; right or wrong aside, Jason grew up in a dangerous world full of bad choices, and that assuredly affects him.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Zdarsky takes us back very specifically to the events of Batman: Death in the Family, and makes the point that Batman Bruce Wayne — raised in wealth, in a stable household, and whose first Robin Dick Grayson also came from stable beginnings — just did not know how to interact with a child like Jason. That Jason here murders a defenseless man — the kind of thing that would in earlier times see someone kicked right out of the Bat-family — is perhaps not a surprise, triggered as he is by reminders of his own family circumstances; in essence, Zdarsky shows that Jason’s erratic, violent behavior comes not from some moral flaw, but that it’s a product of the survival mechanisms baked into Jason’s DNA from a young age.

And yet, even with so cogent an examination of why Jason does what he does — or perhaps because of it — Zdarsky ends with the suggestion that Jason will give up using guns. That’s the “question,” and then it falls to Rosenberg in Task Force Z1 to either preserve or ignore that — is this a major turning point for Jason Todd or just Zdarsky’s speculation? At the very least, on Barrows' cover for Task Force Z #1, Jason appears to be wielding electrified swords and not guns.

I was pleased to see, in “Cheer”’s early pages, Zdarsky writing a genuinely creepy Batman (he disarms some henchmen in a manner reminiscent of the opening of Matt Reeves' The Batman). Though I’m not sure I agree with a take on the Batman where killing the Joker is his “happy place,” I did find a number of scenes hilarious and sweet, mostly involving the “Blue Hood” and also that Batman carries lollipops in his utility belt. I know Zdarsky is a popular writer, but in my first real exposure to him, these scenes set me at ease as to what he can do.

Equally Rosenberg’s fast-talking Grifter Cole Cash is a lot of fun; he never doesn’t have something to say and it’s usually self-deprecating, even as he beats the tar out of people. I’m not sure who thought of pairing old Wildstorm character Grifter with longtime background Bat-cast member Lucius Fox, but it works, with Lucius as the straight man who tolerates Grifter’s inanity and recognizes his talent.

When Grifter first appeared in James Tynion’s Batman, I wondered where this was headed, and where it’s headed so far has been to this Urban Legends story (with a brief cameo in The Next Batman: Second Son). Now I wonder again, where is this headed? Rosenberg reintroduces the WildCATS at the end of “Long Con,” but I don’t know of a new WildCATS series forthcoming, and moreover DC’s had some trouble getting anything Wildstorm outside Authority off the ground — there’s been multiple teases for new Gen13 series that have never manifested, for instance. So that’s the other “question” — Urban Legends says “The WildCATS will return,” but I wonder if that’s wishful thinking (and if we’ll ever see Grifter with Lucius Fox again).

Rosenberg’s new-ish origin for Grifter involves his brother Max Cash’s death and Cole inheriting the trademark red mask. Not being too versed in Grifter lore, and this being a revised origin, I was somewhat confused — it really seems like it’s Cole who’s died, not Max, and then later Cole is called “Max” for a while. All of that takes some re-reading.

Later on, Grifter is supposed to be catching Batman in some sort of airtight tube, but the direction he and Deathstroke push it doesn’t make sense for how Batman might enter it. Then, apparently Superman flies straight into the tube and is momentarily trapped, but again, how Superman would have entered and the lack of a hole in the side don’t make sense. There’s an extended sequence too where Grifter convinces Leviathan to help him break in to a Wayne building, but ultimately how the two work together or why one needed the other gets glossed over. None of this takes away from the fun of the story, but at times “Long Con” is more fun than it is clear.

2.25

Rating

Probably at some point I’ll have to map out the Batman: Urban Legends series to see what stories have and haven’t been collected. There’s a lot so far that have not — even with these two stories in Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 1, the first six issues still have tales of the Outsiders, Batwing, Robin Tim Drake, and more. Solicitations for Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 2 mention stories from issues #7–10, but I’m hoping that’s not the case (or not only the case); there’s plenty more from issues #1–6 still to collect.

[Includes some original and variant covers]


  1. I thought Task Force Z was an ongoing, but I’m seeing now it’s just 12 issues?  ↩

Comments ( 1 )

  1. AnonymousMay 16, 2022

    Yeah, "Cheer" was a breath of fresh air after a decade of Scott Lobdell having custodianship of Jason.

    I give him credit for picking up the baton where Winick left off and solidifying Jason as an anti-hero for the 2010s. But, that custodianship lasted too long and I'm glad with the route Zdarsky's chosen for moving him forward.

    Between that and Batman: The Knight, I'm REALLY looking forward to his run on the main book.

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