Review: Batman: Shadow War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Joshua Williamson’s Batman: Shadow War crossover is not quite as good as all of his books leading up to it, though the scope of this title is very impressive. Some of the continuity ties I knew about and some I didn’t, to the point where Shadow War essentially deals with the fallout from events in an entirely different DC Comics writer’s two connected books that I hadn’t read yet because I didn’t realize they continued here.

Confusing and as hard for the neophyte to penetrate as that is, I rather love the twisting strands here, Williamson both perpetuating another writer’s storylines and also facilitating his own characters through to other events of their own. I acknowledge the criticism, which I’ve leveled at times myself, that no DC event comes to an end so much as it just leads into the next thing; that is true for Shadow War too, but with Dark Crisis looming, we rather knew that was the case, so I’m more sanguine than I’d otherwise be.

Put another way, Shadow War is no less, and maybe a tiny bit more, than what we’d expect from a crossover whose sole purpose is to lead into another crossover. I tired quickly of the repetitive action sequences, but marveled at the ambition of all this book is tying together.

[Review contains spoilers for Batman: Shadow War and other contemporaneous DCU titles]

I did know, accidentally, that Batman: Shadow War would have an element in it that tied to Lazarus Planet and also to related titles that lead in to Lazarus Planet; also that the book would lead in to Williamson’s Dark Crisis (though I didn’t realize, until Shadow War’s final page said so, that Shadow War: Omega only predated the first issue of Dark Crisis by a week — I guess we’re there now). But I had no idea that Shadow War took place so strongly in the aftermath of Brian Michael Bendis' Checkmate and Justice League Vol. 2: United Order — else I’d have read those first! Talk about a connected DCU — not only does Shadow War intersect three of Williamson’s titles — Deathstroke Inc, Robin, and Batman — and not only does it lead out to Dark Crisis and Lazarus Planet, but it also builds off events of Bendis' Justice League and Checkmate (I wonder if this is the reason Checkmate got delayed some time ago). That’s some well-connected stuff, in line with the famously well connected Infinite Crisis and its preludes.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I have no great affection for the Geo-Force character and so no real feelings about his heel turn here; from what little experience I do have with Geo-Force, it actually seems in character, his anger here reflecting his anger from DC Universe: The Last Will and Testament. Which I had occasion to revisit, because astoundingly Williamson actually references this sometimes-overlooked and controversial tie in to Final Crisis in terms of Geo-Force and Deathstroke’s rivalry. Again, whether it’s Cyborg Superman and the Weird or Last Will, Williamson certainly has a handle on the obscurest of recent DC Comics history. (These are fine uses of the post-Death Metal “we remember everything” era, though at the same time I can’t by any means explain to you who the living, breathing Terra was in Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke).

All of which was enough for me, at least, to balance out Shadow War’s dull plot page-to-page. It’s not necessarily that Shadow War lacks the emotion of Williamson’s Deathstroke Inc and Robin (though it certainly fails to be as affectingly bombastic as either), but rather it’s a four-part story stretched out into a nine-part shell. There’s pages upon pages of “characters go to this place, fight ninjas, then go to that place, fight ninjas” (nor does it help that not every artist here can keep pace with Viktor Bogdanovic and Howard Porter). Equally that the plot requires that neither the formidable Talia al Ghul nor Robin Damian Wayne realize the “Deathstroke” who killed Ra’s al Ghul is obviously not Slade Wilson (not even wearing Slade Wilson’s costume) puts the needs of the plot over the characters in a way that makes the early chapters even more tedious.

But again, I do think there’s worthwhile material here, a trimmed-down version of Shadow War with a bit less repetition. That Ra’s al Ghul, stripped of the influence of the Lazarus Pit, decides to turn himself in is an interesting choice that unfortunately gets short shrift (so much so that I’m still not convinced Ra’s wasn’t himself running a scheme); the question of the pits' influence on Ra’s and his disposition without it is something I’d be curious to see explored further. Williamson too brings good emotion to Damian; this Damian still uses too much slang for me, and by the end he seems fully transformed to a traditional Robin (with even a classic Tim Drake haircut), but it’s not hard to feel for the kid in what seems a continued streak of deaths in the family.



And so we’ve come down to it, with Batman: Shadow War the last step before we reach Joshua Williamson’s magnum opus, Dark Crisis. Other things, like Batman vs. Robin, may ultimately tell how successful Shadow War was; in the meantime, I’m glad to see more examples of a cohesive DCU and I hope there’s more of the same even after Williamson’s inaugural showrunning ends.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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