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BATMAN #696
Author: Chris Clow
February 20, 2010

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OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Batman at the mercy of Black Mask! While trapped in the crime lord's headquarters, The Dark Knight must find a way to escape before all of Gotham City falls prey to the Mask's lethal toxins. Guest-starring Catwoman, The Penguin, Robin and The Reaper!

Look, it's not that I don't want to like this book, because I do.

Tony Daniel is a big part of my love of BATMAN, R.I.P. His renders of Bruce Wayne, down through Robin, Nightwing, and The Joker were definitive. He has a great eye for big action and quiet drama. His run on TEEN TITANS with Geoff Johns further shows his capabilities with the more traditional team-up superhero action. And, his artwork in this arc of BATMAN -- "Life After Death" -- is breathtaking. But as far as his characterization of Dick Grayson as a writer, the guy just doesn't have it. My biggest gripe is that it seems as if he's been AWOL as a reader for the last fifteen years of Batman comics because, unlike what we are getting with Grant Morrison's work, both previously in this very title and currently in BATMAN AND ROBIN, we've seen a lot of this stuff before.

The one character Mr. Daniel has nailed is Damian. For the short time the new Robin appears in this book, Damian seems perfectly in-character, and I think the reasoning with that is that Daniel seems to enjoy writing really abrasive and raw characters, otherwise known as "bad asses." Although, when he tries to put those traits into Dick Grayson, it feels unnatural, forced, and most importantly, it doesn't feel very heroic. One of the most compelling aspects of Batman, regardless of who's under the mask, is the innate heroism he has while, in the words of the great Denny O'Neil, he is cloaked in the "facade of a demon." Instead of those heroic moments, we're getting undeniably cool images that have a big character trade-off. While "Life After Death" doesn't necessarily fall under the category of "bad storytelling," for me it does fall under the category of "bad Batman." With the way Daniel writes Dick as Batman, it seems as if first-degree murder wouldn't be that much of a stretch for the character to commit. When I open up a Batman comic book, I don't want to read about The Punisher.

Daniel does make the issue interesting with the time layouts of the issue. At various points, he jumps around this time frame of hours pretty freely which can potentially be exciting, and this story does seem to promise a big revelation with the identity of the new Black Mask. I'm interested in that stuff. And I have to admit, it is cool seeing Hugo Strange again, as he's a very interesting villain. Unfortunately, it's just not cool enough. I'm looking forward to the next issue because of the promise about the new Black Mask.

But unfortunately, I'm also looking forward to it because it means this arc will be over.

GRADE: C-

Chris Clow reviews comics, is a BOF Podcast "Roundtabler,"
and covers the "Con Scene" for BOF.

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