The 1990s return when Bruce Wayne, who has just recovered from being broken by Bane, must team up with Jean Paul Valley (a.k.a. Azrael) to thwart the machinations of Metropolis’ underworld. The first part of “Convergence: Batman: Shadow of the Bat”, by Larry Hama and Philip Tan, is a fun, yet slight diversion that can be read without getting caught up in the “Convergence” event.
Written by Larry Hama
Illustrated by Philip Tan
STARRING HEROES FROM ZERO HOUR! Fresh out of recovery from a broken back, Bruce Wayne infiltrates the organized crime underworld, but the outlaw sent to test his mettle is none other than Azrael!
The third week of DC Comics’ “Convergence” epic commences this week, bringing with it a second batch of first issues of two-part comics that tie into the greater story going on in the two-month-long weekly series. Last week brought a surprising amount of entertaining reads, such as “Speed Force” and “The Question”. Although “Shadow of the Bat” is not of the same quality as those two books, writer Larry Hama and artist Philip Tan craft a story that can be enjoyed by both people (like me) who grew up on the classic “Knightfall” saga and those who are neophyte readers. Names may not be familiar to the uninitiated, yet confusion will not prevail. And, as the other miniseries openers that I’ve read, one does not have to read the weekly to understand the events of this issue.
Hama is skilled at tossing us into the action of the issue and giving us the information we need to understand the tension between Bruce and Jean Paul. It’s a simple story of two comrades turned adversaries turned reluctant comrades. Mobster Tobias Whale must be stopped and only Batman and his former protégé are seemingly the only ones who can save Metropolis from tyranny and suffering. The characters can be overly loquacious, which can be distracting. When Hama sticks to the action and allows Tan to bring story to life, then the issue becomes much better for it.
Although the dialogue is not polished and can appear stilted and expository at times, the book is imbued with qualities such as this that defined the era. It is quite effective whether Hama did this purposefully or not. This is a world featuring a Batman who has only recently recovered from a broken back caused by the villainous Bane. The purpose of this story is to bring two unlikely allies together and have them simply fight crime. Whale is simultaneously over the top and a good choice for a story that combines the theatrical with the grounded. “Shadow of the Bat” is not as good as the “Knightfall”, “Knightquest”, “Knightsend” triumvirate of stories, yet contains enough of their essence to satisfy longtime readers.
Each first issue of the “Convergence” miniseries has brought two worlds together and “Shadow of the Bat” is no exception. Two characters from another 90s series make an appearance toward the end of the issue and are sure to add a more action-packed element to the concluding chapter. A crime story segues into a genre that is just as exciting, yet less mysterious. Hama and Tan’s style of writing and art are proper choices for the first issue in its entirety and especially for events that can only be speculated on for the second issue.
Tan’s art in this issue is appropriately gritty. The atmosphere is that of pure crime noir and the realism, despite some not-so-realistic characters and situations, drips off the page. Even Azrael’s (or Azbats, as he was lovingly referred to by readers in the glorious 90s) Bat-costume is updated a bit and given a sleeker appearance when compared to its original quintessentially 90s design. The art, however, does have a 90s Jim Lee aura to it while concurrently retaining Tan’s own style.
The heightened emotionalism of the story is expressed in Tan’s art, with faces and action ramped up to blockbuster levels as we reach the end of the issue. Close ups on faces, whether it’s Valley in his Azbats suit or a crying mother and daughter, are a constant presence. And although the violence is subtly implied most of the time, it is made more effective because of colorist Elmer Santos’ darkly thick colors. There is one particular panel where a bullet makes a clean entrance and gruesome exit, demonstrating the talents of both Tan and Santos.Continued below
Tan’s art would not have its atmospheric look if not for Santos’ color palette. Like Hama and Tan, Santos understands the particular type of story that is being told in this miniseries. The lighting behind Whale during the planning of a crime caper illuminates him as if he belongs in a classic noir. Shadows are also used effectively in this scene, with inkers Jason Paz and Rob Hunter deserving of credit here and throughout the issue for also enhancing Tan’s art. The ink work, however, is cleaner in some scenes compared to others that sometimes are muddled and distracting. But those moments happen very infrequently.
Santos transforms this version of Metropolis into an aptly washed out and colorless city. He does, however, use brighter colors sparingly in order to highlight a scene or character. All we see are panels illuminated in red when punches are thrown at a particular hero. A reminiscence of a green-hued hero-turned-villain brings that emerald color flying from Bruce’s head like a live memory. Whale’s dirty pink suit stands out, as does Azrael’s armor of blue, gold, gray, and red. Story, art, and color are appropriate for a dark world that is trapped underneath a dome.
“Convergence: Batman: Shadow of the Bat” #1 is unadulterated fun that need only do one thing: bring the reader on a wild ride. Hama, Tan, and Santos succeed in that regard and transport us to a simultaneously strange yet familiar world that feels claustrophobic and in need of saving. Bruce and Jean Paul are just the heroes snatched from the 90s that were born to be saviors.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – It’s fun to see Azrael back in action and, although this issue has its flaws, the creators’ enthusiasm for the story is enough to recommend it.