Well, we are half way through this pairing of two of popular fiction’s most famed vigilantes (or even a quarter of the way through considering the recent announcement of the series’ follow-up miniature) and things are heating up nicely. (Well, the majority of them. Where’s Kite Man?) This means we are probably due a massive struggle in this issue, doesn’t it? Yes. Yes, it does.
In some respects, this matter is very easy to review, because virtually its entire length is dedicated to The Shadow rescuing Batman as well as together with the caped crusader, fighting the assembled villains from the cavern in which, we figure out, Doctor Gotham’s tomb is situated. This last point is another great little bit from Snyder/Orlando, who are determined to root this tale in established Batman lore and do so in some rather interesting ways. It is a shame, then, that their usage of established Batman villains here falls a little flat.
Now, a super-villain team-up undoubtedly poses some challenges for a author, a full-on free for all like the one that we get in this issue even more so. Part of the dilemma is that the author is implicitly expecting the reader to suspend his disbelief that quite a few villains, who individually are challenging enough to provide the hero one or two regular issues of trouble, are still manageable for the protagonist, albeit, as here, together with some aid. Another issue is due to characterisation and danger. It’s tempting to suggest that their presence is entirely tokenistic, a visual ramping up of the level of danger Batman is confronting that the founders can not really be bothered to grow properly. Wearing knives could be among them.
The problems with the cornucopia of villains notwithstanding, there are a number of interesting things happening here. The fight has a moral in addition to physical dimension. Batman will not kill but The Shadow will also it is really quite hard not to agree with the latter when he states We’d be facing two instead of twenty if not for your childish rules. This division between the two vigilantes’ moral views is taken to extreme lengths when The Shadow attempts to take the Joker and Batman flings himself in between them, a move that results in the Joker only suffering a flesh wound. Proving the old adage that no great deed goes unpunished, this leaves the way open for The Stag into stab Batman from the torso and subsequently, a wounded Joker in tow, to make good his escape.
The battle is entertaining enough and there are plenty of ‘trendy’ moments and, refreshingly, engaging traces of dialog to keep the reader involved. That The Shadow is undoubtedly the better written of the two main characters is perhaps somewhat disappointing, but there is enough action and fun here to enjoy all the same. The moment when an hidden Shadow conveys about the Joker’s bliss is a very nice piece of suspense-building, for instance, as is Alfred ringing Jim Gordon to ask for support. The Shadow’s Yet you bring me such gifts might be the line of the matter and Rossmo’s artwork is, for the most part, very powerful here.
That’s not to mention that the issue doesn’t have its own problems. The end is a little anti-climactic, but, with none but two, problems to go, that is perhaps to be expected. The mythology of the way the Stag gets to Shamba-La can be a little wonky. Does Batman need to be dead? Or will just his bloodstream suffice? Hmmm… Oh, and why is Clayface a part of the group of villains when he’s been working with Batman in Detective Comics for quite some time now? Double hmmm… These problems are niggling but…
Batman/The Shadow #4 Review
Written by: Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando
Script by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Riley Rossmo
Colours by: Ivan Plascencia
Letters by: Clem Robins
Bits and Pieces:
The story is well-paced, well-drawn and, on the whole, well-written. Four issues in, the creative team finally deliver on the implicit guarantee of the series’ name and show us Batman and The Shadow in tandem and the following fight, although maybe not quite a unqualified success, does not disappoint. Several questions remain unanswered, which, after four difficulties, is as it should be. In the center of the narrative, however, is an assessment of who Batman is, what his values are and what the possible price of these values might be. This show remains both intriguing and entertaining and there are a lot worse ways that a comic fan might spend four dollars.
Score : 7.8/10