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Author: John Bierly
Monday June 1, 2009

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OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "When a string of bizarre murders hits Spain's beautiful coastal city of Barcelona, The Dark Knight makes solving this crime his top priority. Full of international intrigue, high adventure and even higher stakes, BATMAN IN BARCELONA: DRAGON'S KNIGHT showcases The Caped Crusader in a different type of Gotham but one no less dangerous!"

Writer Mark Waid (KINGDOM COME, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT) and Spanish artist Diego Olmos (of the spectacularly titled H2Ocotopus) have teamed up for a new Batman one-shot called Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight. The book was released simultaneously on May 27 in the United States, Italy, and Spain, with each nation's edition published in its native language. Spain's version is an oversized hardcover with extra pages and an introduction written by the mayor of Barcelona himself. You can read about the various editions and extras HERE.

And lest you think its hefty price tag of $3.99 includes some kind of "Privilege of Reading About Bruce Wayne as Batman" tax from the folks at DC, the American version still clocks in at a respectable 48 pages (with 38 of those pages belonging to the story).

Bored by the day-to-day grind at Arkham Asylum, The Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter decide it might be fun to drug Killer Croc and convince him he's the dragon in a classic Catalonian legend. So Croc escapes to Barcelona and begins killing women in the hopes that he'll call out St. George, who battled the dragon (whom he believes himself to be) in the folk tale. Though St. George hung up his spear long ago, Bruce Wayne hastens to Spain to guarantee Croc a fight with a knight of a darker variety.

Bruce meets up with his old friend Cristina Llanero, an executive on Barcelona's city arts council, in an attempt to sleuth up some info. Dialogue throughout the book reads more like the characters narrating the goings-on rather than actually speaking to each other like human beings, which was possibly done on purpose given the need to easily translate the story into its various international editions. Still, it reads a bit stilted, especially when Bruce Wayne muses aloud as Batman when he's around Cristina and acts as if he didn't say anything when she politely asks him to repeat what he just said.

Cue a chat with Alfred that's more useless narrative exposition rather than real conversation, including a ridiculous bit about how "a utility belt is exceedingly difficult to sneak through customs these days." I doubt Bruce Wayne would ever have that kind of problem. (It's called a private jet -- this is not like the friggin' Highlander trying to sneak a sword through the security checkpoint at the airport.)

It gets even sillier when Bruce sneaks into the supply room of the National Museum of Art, opens a secret door in the wall, and descends into a command center with at least three Bat-suits, a fully labeled "medicine" cabinet, and enough computers to win a land war in Asia.

Maybe it's tiny-minded of me to complain about Batman having such an advanced headquarters in a foreign land. He IS Batman, after all, and we know he likes to be prepared. But does his Spanish Batcave have to be inside the wall of a national museum? It would have been cooler if it had been underneath an old abandoned building or something. And even though Bruce pretends that he doesn't already know everything Cristina tells him, he DOES already know everything she tells him, and that takes a little something away from the story. It might have been cool to see Batman arriving in Spain and having to adapt to the new location. Instead, he just arrives and starts being Batman. He's even got a cool Batpod-like motorcycle thing with a shielded canopy.

There are lots of nods in the dialogue to the Spanish locations where the story takes place, but they're largely superficial. And the situation between Bruce and Cristina has been done a million times before -- she's disappointed that Bruce's playboy behavior might tarnish the Wayne legacy and urges him to live "a life of meaning," when we the audience know that he's Batman, wink wink. Yawn.

The story does have a bit of a twist, and there's a huge action scene in its latter half that recalls a classic bit of imagery from Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum. But despite its legendary roots and fresh location, the story feels empty and stale.

The Jim Lee cover is far from the artist's finest hour, but the interiors by Olmos are gorgeous. Some of his figures recall the simple but dynamic lines of David Mazzuchelli (Batman: Year One) and Michael Lark (Gotham Central), and his backgrounds really pop with lovingly rendered detail. Especially the first page, which is so stunningly beautiful that it's easy to forgive the rather dramatic liberty Olmos takes with a certain shadow. (And, like a pro, he uses a similar trick in the final panel to bring it all home.) Colorist Marta Martinez bathes the daytime scenes in sunlight while effectively making sure that the nighttime palette lends itself to the subject matter.

As much as I know many of us are missing Bruce Wayne as Batman, this story is little consolation. I might appreciate its significance as a cultural event if I lived in Barcelona and bought the fancy hardcover edition, but this reads more like a bad BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL two-parter than something that's worth the four bucks it'll cost you. I'd recommend flipping through it at your comic shop and deciding if you think the artwork deserves your cash. For my money, the story just wasn't quite worth it. - John Bierly

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications when he was 17 and never stopped.
His favorite things in life are family and friends, concerts, burgers, Mountain Dew, and of course...
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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