Review: Batman Vol. 6: Abyss hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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I would say that in comparison to its companions, Deathstroke, Inc. and the Robin Damian Wayne series, Joshua Williamson’s Batman Vol. 6: Abyss is a tad sedate, not nearly so boisterous or zany as those books. Nor is it as much a mission statement as James Tynion’s Batman Vol. 1: Their Dark Designs was as to what a Williamson Batman run might look like. What Abyss does have going for it, though, is playing to applause lines, and also (re-)centering Batman within the larger DC Universe.

Whether that itself has any relevance or if it’s just Williamson’s penchant, it’s too soon to tell. Overall Abyss is a satisfactory enough Batman story; if I wasn’t wowed, I certainly wasn’t displeased, and I remain impressed with Williamson’s string of strong comics ahead of “Shadow War” and Dark Crisis.

[Review contains spoilers]

Within the first two chapters of Abyss, Williamson and his artists have two similar pages that reference Batman’s adventures outside the Batman title proper — Detective Comics and Batman: Urban Legends, but then also Brian Michael Bendis' Justice League and others more mildly far-flung, like the pre-Infinite Frontier Justice/Doom War. Not to mention that the story sits rather heavily on the shoulders of the New 52 Forever Evil and its aftermath, as well as Grant Morrison’s pre-Flashpoint Batman Incorporated stories.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Which is to say that, even as DC continues not to do much with a supposed “everyone remembers everything” landscape, Williamson’s Abyss is definitely a site where the same Batman has appeared across the titles and across continuities. Given some years of Batman issues that have been polarizing for fans, in this story at least Williamson heads for safe territory — the raised yellow oval era of Morrison, universally praised by readership. I wouldn’t presume to say that the continuity-mixing Williamson does here is easy, but victory seems almost assured just by virtue of Williamson’s chosen Batman playground.

If I’m not entirely sold, however, it’s due in some part to Williamson’s own good work lately. Both Williamson’s Deathstroke, Inc. and Robin are exuberant and wild, bringing together unexpected heroes and villains and setting both title characters against significant danger. Here, it’s always fun to see Batman face off against Lex Luthor, and villain Abyss’s creepy portrayal is a delight, but otherwise the book doesn’t surprise. Lex as wannabe hero we saw back in those Forever Evil days, and Williamson writes the members of Batman, Inc. without much distinction, one not particularly different from the next.

Still, in the first four issues, I thought Williamson did well navigating the “Batman pushes everyone away” cliche that so often goes wrong. Even as we’re far past a time where Batman should be cutting his family out of his life, the scenes of Gotham City partying after the end of Fear State seem believably uncomfortable for Batman, particularly when Williamson emphasizes the absence of Jim Gordon, Superman, and Alfred. And then Williamson equally believably uses the contents of the story to bring Batman out on the other side after his experiences teaming with Batman, Inc. and the Badhnisian detective Cayha.

Abyss does not collect the two Batman issues that tie into Williamson’s “Shadow War” crossover; they don’t really factor in to the “Abyss” story, though the final issue of this book, taking place after, does contain some spoilers for the event. Where most of “Abyss” is defined by Jorge Molina’s artwork, inking over himself with an almost blurry look, this final issue is drawn and inked by Howard Porter, and so in that way feels more modern, in the here-and-now of this title. Batman’s still “on vacation” in Badhnisia in the end, but the issue feels all of the sudden less removed.

For me, this final issue was the best of the bunch. First, we have a flashback to (yet another) encounter between a Year One-era Bruce Wayne and Joe Chill. The tension here — well-drawn in straightforward Michael Lark-esque style by Jorges Fornes — was whether Williamson would in some way retcon Bruce and Chill’s history, wholly possible even despite all the other adherence to continuity. He does not, but it’s a gripping page or two as we wait to find out.

Also in the final issue, Detective Cayha takes up the mantle of Abyss, and her vengeful demeanor plus the purple in her cape reminds strongly of fan favorites Huntress and Sasha Bordeaux. (I don’t actually see yet that Cayha will appear in Ed Brisson’s Batman Inc. spin-off, though it’d be nice if it were more than just a team of Batmen.) We never quite learn enough about the original Abyss in the first four issues to really care about the villain’s plight, but in the finale I liked Williamson’s paralleling Cayha-as-Abyss and her hunt for revenge with the idea of Bruce Wayne figuratively “looking into the abyss” and deciding not to kill Chill lest he become just as bad.



Batman Vol. 6: Abyss also collects the “Gotham Academy” backup stories from Batman #119–121 by Karl Kerschl. I haven’t read these yet; I’m sure a cursory knowledge of the original series is fine, but I never did finish Gotham Academy, and I was thinking I’d double-dip with the new more-issues collection and then come back here. But the inclusion of these (which sure I’m happy to see, though they also just got collected in their own one-shot) reminds me of how much back-up material DC hasn’t collected lately — Batman vs. Deathstroke stories actually written by this book’s author; or the “Tales of Metropolis,” “Martian Manhunter,” and “Midnighter” stories, among others, from the recent Super-books; or Jordie Bellaire’s “young Diana” stories, and maybe more I’m not aware of. Good on DC for what they did here, but I’d like to see it be the rule and not the exception.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Sadly, these seemed like filler issues until the new team took over. Joshua Williamson is capable of much more, and has given some excellent stories, but I feel he played it safe with his short Batman run.


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