Review: The Next Batman: Second Son hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

May 11, 2022

For me, if DC is going to call a character “the next Batman,” as in John Ridley’s The Next Batman: Second Son, they’re going to have to make it convincing bordering on inevitable. Replace a Robin or a Blue Beetle, I’m bound to give some leeway in terms of the character who can take up that mantle. But “the next Batman” — especially a wholly new character, that’s going to need to be a character with some chops.

[Review contains spoilers]

Further, this is going to be a character who either reminds very strongly of Bruce Wayne — let’s say, another avenging orphan, but maybe one born into less privileged circumstances than Bruce — or whose origin is equally compelling but deviates from the standard in some significant way. Bruce fights crime because his parents were murdered, so perhaps as an opposite but similar number, someone who fights crime to atone for they themselves being a murderer. What if Joe Chill became Batman, and such.

It’s a thought experiment that, pointedly, already brings us to two established heroes. One is Cassandra Cain, former child assassin, who as Batgirl tries to make up for the violence she once did. Another hero with a similar story, with ties to the current proceedings, is former New 52 Batwing David Zavimbe, conscripted to be a child soldier before he escaped that life.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Next Batman Tim “Jace” Fox, in contrast, is born to wealth and comfort and kills someone through his own negligence. He is swiftly saved from punishment by that wealth, forced to endure few if no consequences, and that experience so disgusts him that it sends him down a superheroic path. That has neither the tragic nobility of Batgirl or Batwing’s stories, both of whom work to make right sins that were really forced on them, whereas Jace bears the responsibility himself.

Among them all, then, Jace’s story has most resemblance to Bruce Wayne’s himself in a “there but go I” way; both Bruce and Jace come from generally stable, loving families, and in terms of youthful indiscretion there’s nothing to say a teenage Bruce whose parents had lived wouldn’t have made the same mistake. Bruce’s story is one of being rocked by tragedy and having the means to turn that tragedy into purpose; Jace’s story — a lesson that Bruce is sometimes accused of never learning — is recognizing the privilege of means and then trying to do more for the world despite it.

And so Jace Fox steps into big shoes. I’d like to see Ridley do a little more to make him “Batman” — notably, Jace relies on a friend in his ear for most of his intel, not seeming on his own much of a detective. But as written by Ridley he is likable, and noble, and everyone believes him to be a billionaire playboy even as he’s out fighting crime. For dramatic purposes Ridley makes the Fox family into something of a mess that I don’t think they particularly deserve nor that history warrants, but seeing a superhero navigate this much family is in and of itself unique and fascinating.

I had some concern going in to Second Son given that it reprints a 12-part digital series (reprinted in four print issues). Digital series have come along way since every one read like half a page landscape on a screen and then those two landscape pages were stuck together to make one portrait orientation page for the print version. With rare exceptions, I couldn’t really tell where the digital chapters were breaking, helped by the fact that DC moved around or added some dialogue boxes to help transition between pages. At a little over 120 pages, Second Son is still a trade on the shorter side, but it doesn’t feel too short, and with three 10-page digital chapters per issue, each of the issues here is a little longer than normal.

And neither does Second Son feel like filler, either, despite being a digital prologue to the I Am Batman series. Ridley’s story does double-duty filling in a gap among the Batman titles, detailing how Renee Montoya became commissioner; it’s not a story that felt urgently missing, but I’m glad to see Second Son getting the job of filling in that piece. Second Batwing Luke Fox also figures prominently into the book (with an impressive amount of continuity with the Batwing series), with this at times becoming Luke and not Jace’s story. My hope is that this continues into I Am Batman and there’s regular interaction between the superhero brothers.

The book also has a wholly unexpected cameo by a strangely aged-up Katana. Weird as it was, I rather loved it, in that Ridley unexpectedly reveals that Jace has ties to the superhero community we don’t even know about through his world travels (I’m given to wonder now if Bruce already knows about him). There’s also mention of Markovia; all of this suggests that if a new version of Batman and the Outsiders is in the offing, Jace Fox might be the right Batman for the job.

Art in Second Son is largely by Travel Foreman, with a bit in the beginning by Tony Akins. Akins, if I’m clocking the artists correctly, does the initial heist scene with heavy lines that remind of Dale Eaglesham, and it might be the best of the book. Foreman is no slouch, with expressive family interactions, though toward the middle of the book I did notice backgrounds falling away and everything looking a bit flat (any of the four inkers might have something to do with it, too). I Am Batman seems to have a concerning number of artists among its first issues, so we’ll see how that goes.

2.25

Rating

There’s a lot happening in The Next Batman: Second Son, a lot still to be told — we know Jace Fox’s tragic secret origin, but clearly there’s still years of his travel to be explored, as well as how his intelligence team came to back him up and so on. John Ridley also explores Black Americans and wealth as regards Lucius Fox and family in a way I don’t think other writers have done before, looking at the benefits that wealth affords but also how the Foxes have to deal with prejudice nonetheless. I believe there’s a location change coming for Jace Fox soon, but hopefully the Fox family remains prominent characters in this saga.

[Includes original covers, variant cover thumbnails]

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