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Review: Batman #21

Batman #21 is a strange prologue to “The Button” storyline that will connect Watchmen  to the DC Comic Universe as writer Tom King, artist Jason Fabok, and colorist Brad Anderson open the comic with Batman watching a hockey playoff game and spend most of its running time having him get the crap beaten out of him by the Reverse Flash. The beauty of Batman #21 definitely comes in its subtext more than its text as the fight between the resilient Batman and Eobard Thawne could symbolize the pain DC readers, old and new, felt during the New 52. Happiness and family are good things, but this crossover doubles down on darkness to start out even if the constant use of the smiley face button and the nine-panel grid gets a bit repetitive. Yes, we know it’s an homage to Watchmen, let’s move onto two of DC’s greatest detectives investigating a universe spanning

From his work on Justice League and Batman and Robin Eternal, Jason Fabok has demonstrated that he has the clean lines of superhero action and musculature down to a science. He can draw Batman’s jawline, The Flash/Reverse Flash’s lightning, and a double page splash without distracting from the reading experience. To this firm foundation, Fabok adds plenty of punishment as Batman is no match for The Reverse Flash, and Anderson shows that his black can barely handle Eobard’s yellow. He does use his ingenuity to get a few licks in until The Flash is back to save the day. (Or does he.) The blood flying off Batman’s body as he takes a beating from Reverse Flash reminds readers of his humanity, in light of a possible divine presence getting involved with the DC Universe.

Batman #21 is a less of a part one of an epic crossover mystery than an extended mood poem by Tom King and Jason Fabok on how dark and grisly the DC Universe has gotten. The cutting between a hockey fight and an interpersonal fight was used way back in Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amybut they take it into a melodramatic extreme with death instead of a few minutes in the penalty box. It’s also a nod to Watchmen where the seemingly unrelated pirate comic that pops up is thematically connected to the events of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel. Basically, Dr. Manhattan or characters from the Watchmen universe are going to destroy the denizens of the DC Universe. This is exhibited in the final few pages where one of the most powerful supervillains, Reverse Flash, is turned into a slavering mess.

Except Batman #21 is really just a tasty appetizer before the (hopefully) feast that is “The Button” storyline. It’s a great tapas plate, but leaves you wanting a juicy steak, like some actual Watchmen characters and not just an exercise in formalism with the nine panel grid with each panel elapsing exactly a second or teases about the Legion of Superheroes and Crisis on Infinite Earths. The presence of the Smiley Button is a constant teaser as Reverse Flash and Batman play with it and with audience expectations before ending on an slightly satisfactory cliffhanger and whetting your appetite for the next installment in The Flash.

Despite having bone breaking art from Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson, Batman #21 is more of a prologue than a part one. However, on a pure craft level, it is a wonderful demonstration of how comics can speed up or slow down time with a single minute stretched over many pages just like how Dr. Manhattan sees the world. Hopefully, King and company will continue to put their own variations on these old themes and not be content to play dive bar covers of classics past.

Story: Tom King Art: Jason Fabok Colors: Brad Anderson
Story: 7.5 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review