Review: Batman: Shadows of the Bat: The Tower hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Given more or less all the regular space in 12 issues of Detective Comics running weekly, writer Mariko Tamaki does well in Batman: Shadows of the Bat: The Tower, reminding of other such weekly series like Batman Eternal. Such a wide space, for instance, gives room to focus on the inner workings of the villains, for instance, in addition to the Bat-family heroes.

At its best, The Tower is fraught, claustrophobic, and paranoid, with its disaster-movie opening that lets you know that even if things look peaceful now, there’s gory carnage to come. In the way perhaps of long weekly series, however, Tower can’t uphold this the whole time, and the quality dips particularly when Tower strays too far from its original premise and cast. That Tower begins with and then loses its best artist, Ivan Reis, also makes the end seem lesser than the beginning.

But if Tower falls into the usual traps, that’s no worse than many, and the book upholds the aesthetic of Tamaki’s Detective run — spotlighting the unique workaday and political of Gotham — in delightful ways. Surely only the hardest heart could not have fun in this “family of the Bat” adventure.

[Review contains spoilers]

What is lovely about Tamaki’s Tower is that, despite Psycho Pirate and his psychic powers, despite Scarecrow’s fear gas and Mr. Freeze’s ice gun, the crime at the center of the story is a simple grift, a con man who just needs to hold it all together long enough to take the city’s money and run. It is nigh unbelievable one could get a towering asylum built in the middle of Gotham City on faked credentials, and one is rather astounded to see Gotham mayor Nakano still has a job at the end of all of this (having already employed a parasitic alien), but still. For as highfalutin as comics can get, Batman and company versus(-ish) plain old civic corruption is a welcome change.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And be it a remote island, a mansion with washed out roadways, or a locked-down, towering skyscraper, who doesn’t love a good “we’re trapped inside with rampaging killers” story? Tower, however, suggests what it will be — doctors thrown from windows and people bleeding out in elevator shafts — better than it becomes it. Reis, for instance, draws Dr. Tobias Wear’s severed finger in a flash-forward, which the inmates will use for purposes unknown; that purpose remains unknown, because by the time Amancay Nahuelpan gets to drawing the same scene later in the book, Tamaki and team seem to have forgotten that detail.

And indeed Huntress Helena Bertinelli bleeding out atop an elevator turns out to be “just a flesh wound,” as the saying goes, variously a grievous injury but not so grievous that she can’t engage in fisticuffs with a bizarrely muscular Mr. Freeze. This is where Tower struggles; the book does well leading us to anticipate menace, but when it comes down to it, it’s a bunch of routine superhero battles and never a significant feeling of danger to the heroes or civilians. (See Batman hunting Victor Zsasz in a boarding school in the classic Batman #493 for Doug Moench and Norm Breyfogle getting this kind of thing right.)

On one hand, I really enjoyed all the warring factions in this story — Tobias Wear versus the Party Crashers gang versus the Penguin versus the inmates, and that’s just the bad guys! A good part of the seventh chapter is just given over to Wear encountering the various groups and trying to stall long enough to get his payout, which again is just a nice slice-of-life-in-Gotham interlude and reminds of Batman Eternal’s more expansive moments.

But Tamaki seems too enamored of the Party Crashers, a garish fluorescent presence in the dark story, and their presence in the mythical Gotham Underground brings a fantastical element the story doesn’t need (as is often the case; see Catwoman Vol. 4: Gotham Underground and on). I struggled at times to understand where Tamaki was setting this story — I thought Oracle Barbara Gordon was working out of the Wayne Manor Batcave, but here somehow the security is so lax that the Party Crashers somehow sneak around a corner and right into the Bat-family’s base.

With only one more volume to go, Tower may (or may not) be Tamaki’s last word on the Huntress. Hard to say if Helena really gets closure here, or what if anything Tamaki was trying to do other than put Huntress in the spotlight (I’m inclined to think that, if this Huntress is still around after Dark Crisis, her alien powers will be all but forgotten by her next team), but at least she got some spotlight. I appreciated particularly that Tamaki references Huntress' key role in No Man’s Land, something we barely ever hear about any more — though, having just read a whole book of Nightwing Dick Grayson and Barbara very much in a relationship, Dick’s No Man’s Land era-esque concern for Huntress seemed strangely anachronistic.



I have no greater expectation that Arkham Tower will remain a fixture in Gotham City than that Renee Montoya will remain commissioner or Bruce Wayne will keep living in a midtown brownstone, but I’ll be curious if Tamaki or anyone else uses the tower again before it’s gone for good. That the creative teams brought Batman Forever’s Chase Meridian into the mainstream comics is fun (even if this volume conflicts with others as to when she first met Batman), and again, I wonder how long she’ll stick around or if we’ll see the results of Batman’s deal with Psycho Pirate before Mariko Tamaki departs (there’s only a scant three issues left!).

Not all I hoped it would be, but Batman: Shadows of the Bat: The Tower is a bit of Bat-family fun, with a good first act at least.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]


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