This was just so, so good.
Turns out that Wayne of Gotham is actually quite good, once I readjusted some of my expectations. I had to remember that certain over-dramatic language is traditional comic book storytelling and, well, Batman’s a dramatic dude.
Some of the gadget/tech talk can get a bit tedious and over-lengthy, if you’re not into that sort of thing, but there’s plenty otherwise to like here.
(My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.)
It took me all of 1.5 hours to read both of these graphic novels. I know other Cannonballers are reviewing standard length graphic novels but it just feels like a cheat to me. I could sit down in a weekend and complete the Cannonball if I used those tactics. However, I did want to talk about these two books and they fit together well so I decided to include them under one review. Long Shadows collects Batman issues 687-691 and Life After Death collects Batman issues 692-699.
Bruce Wayne is dead or, at the very least, gone. At the conclusion of the massive DC crossover event known as Final Crisis, Bruce Wayne gave his life to save the universe. Or all the universes, I’m not entirely sure. I tried reading Crisis on Infinite Earths and was absolutely baffled by the story so I gave up. I don’t follow Justice League all that closely (or at all other than the more popular single event graphic novels) and there was far too much continuity to try and jump in to the middle of it. I got the gist through and basically Bruce saves the multi-verse but vaporizes in the process.
After Bruce’s disappearance it fell to Nightwing, Dick Grayson, to take up the mantle and become Batman. This was also detailed in a rather long storyline known as The Battle for the Cowl. Long Shadows begins 6 weeks later. In Batman’s absence a gang war is erupting on the streets of Gotham between Two Face and The Penguin. Dick must put his fear and trepidation aside and take Bruce’s place as Batman. Bruce’s son, Damian, become Robin and the two begin fighting the scum of Gotham and cleaning up the streets. The much longer book, Life After Death, sees the return of Black Mask and is a sprawling story that has Batman trying to stop Black Mask from seizing control of Gotham using an army of brainwashed Arkham Asylum inmates. Both have absolutely gorgeous artwork that bring the story to color bursting life.
Of the two, Long Shadows is the more powerful story. The book really brings the emotional devastation of just what a big hole Bruce left behind. The effect on Dick, Damian, and most poignantly, Alfred Pennyworth are heartbreaking at times. There is a scene early on where Superman and Wonder Woman visit the Batcave and ask Dick what he plans to do with Bruce gone. Alfred brings tea to the group and Superman notices he is distraught.
Superman: Are you all right?
Alfred: Am I “All right”?
Alfred: (After a pause) No, sir. I am not. My son has died.
Later Dick and Alfred are talking.
Dick: I knew I would never see his as an old man. No, he’d leave us in a box, with jet black hair, and the only lines on his face would be brought by injury. You knew it wouldn’t end well. Despite all the training, all the brilliance, all the strength…under it all there was flesh, blood, and bone. And a man who never feared death.[…]I just wasn’t ready to lose him.
And that sums up why Batman is, and always has been, my favorite comic book character. This isn’t a new revelation, it’s been said many times before. Bruce Wayne is not superhuman in any way yet he stands up when others won’t. That’s what makes him a hero and that is why Dick and Alfred decide that even though Bruce is dead the Batman must live on.
Long Shadows is a hell of a good story and a great reboot. Dick is not Bruce, their fighting styles are completely different. As Two Face points out later when he starts getting suspicious of the change he sees in his old foe, “You don’t move like him. You’re lighter, you like to get off your feet more, and you SMILE.” It is an incisive character study that expertly shows the evolution of Dick Grayson as he drops some of his Robin and Nightwing personality to try and become more like Bruce’s portrayal of the Batman. It is a powerful and well done book.
Life After Death is much more sprawling and loses some of that intimacy. It has an expanded cast and becomes a bit more standard with a huge plot against Gotham, a mystery to solve, and a rogue’s gallery of heroes and villains. It’s a good story, but I like the smaller tales to be honest.
I have a few Batman books on my bookshelf that I consider the best out there like The Killing Joke, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Long Halloween. I would put Long Shadows on the shelf next to those. While we know now that Bruce Wayne isn’t dead (See the massive The Return of Bruce Wayne) Dick Grayson is now Batman and that is one of the most exciting developments in the franchise in quite a while.