Steve Orlando returns for a second helping of Bruce Wayne and Lamont Cranston’s darker halves. “Batman/The Shadow” was one of the best Dark Knight crossovers of the past decade. How does the inverse fare?
The Shadow/Batman #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Illustrated by Giovanni Timpano
Colored by Flavio Dispenza
Lettered by Taylor Esposito
The World’s Greatest Mystery. The World’s Greatest Detective. They can barely stand each other, so how will they possibly deal with the World’s Greatest Evil? What legacy can two of the world’s most enduring icons of justice leave once they discover an ancient evil has been living inside the world they protect for centuries, attached to its heart. Can Batman and the Shadow save the world without killing it in the process?
Writer Steve Orlando (Batman/The Shadow, Justice League of America) and artist by Giovanni Timpano (The Shadow, Transformers) unite to tell an instantly classic tale of noir, mortality and generational heroes and villains.
Right off the hop, it’s hard not to notice Riley Rossmo’s absence. The Canadian penciller seemed to use the initial crossover as a statement of intent that he’d be capable of handling the full gamut of responsibilities over in the bat-side of DC. But minor bias aside, I’m thrilled to say there’s little artistic letup this go around. Steve Orlando sets up “The Shadow/Batman” #1 as an entirely different beast from the first mini-series. And it feels like it’s the kind of story that falls right into Giovanni Timpano’s lurid, pulpy wheelhouse.
Where the first round had an ethereal quality as the action floated from Himalayan vistas to astral planes, this one is about as grounded as a goon spitting out teeth in a back alley brawl. Timpano’s art relishes impact over atmosphere, although Flavio Dispenza does dispense with rich blacks and deep reds to emphasize the shadows and fatalism of this world. There’s a slight wobble to Timpano’s line that simultaneously expresses a noir-ish brawn to the proceedings, as well as a worn-in, leathered texturing. It’s faintly reminiscent of Chris Burnham’s work with the Caped Crusader, especially when it comes to the tread on a boot or the fist in a glove.
He’s also got a keen eye for arresting details. A wide shot showing the breadth of the Batcave, shows a minor sort of parkade where a half-dozen Batmobile’s are stored for a rainy day (or for after a particularly reckless evening of driving). And early on, after hobbling an opponent with a strike to the knee, we see that person either in physical discomfort or favouring that exact leg over the next ten panels or so while Batman grills him for information. Any thoughts of “The Shadow/Batman” #1 not living up to Rossmo’s artistic pedigree should be brushed aside.
In terms of the writing, one of Orlando’s strength is the comfort with which he plays with a characters long and winding history. While “Batman/The Shadow” wove threads of the classic Batman-Joker mythos in and around those of Lamont Cranston and the mysticism of Shangri-La, this series revels in the Bruce-Damian dynamics of the post-Morrison era. Professor Pyg opens the book with his porcine brand of ranting and raving menace. Dollotrons attack a New Year’s Eve gathering in New York City. And Damian drops out of the sky to acrobatically incapacitate the horde with boots to the face and hammer-fists to the sternum. It’s drastically different in execution and atmosphere, feeling much more like it’s own entity than a direct continuation.
But that’s what can be so exciting in a crossover such as this. Existing outside of continuity and canon allows Orlando to strategically pull from any depth he wants when drawing from the deep wells of backstory. We may have a tendency to try to pinpoint where exactly this story occurs within the Bruce-Damian timeline, but that’s our baggage. What’s most important for the story is simply that at this point in their relationship, father and son are far from seeing eye-to-eye (not a height joke… well, maybe a little).
Now, for the start of another intercompany crossover, “The Shadow/Batman” #1 sure feels like a DC-centric comic. Granted, the most evocative artwork served up by Timpano is a splash of The Shadow emerging from the darkened corner of a jail cell Professor Pyg gets locked away in. Timpano doles out three iterations on the page, as the Shadow grows from a crouched figure in fedora and red scarf to a hands-raised menace bearing down on a cowering Pyg. But aside from that moment, and a brief subsequent interrogation, this issue trades much more along the lines of a contentious Batman-Robin relationship. The Shadow is much more of a fringe element for now.Continued below
That being said, Orlando throws out multiple teasers involving the various rogues and heroes from Dynamite’s line. A brief spot of investigation by the dark detective gives us headlines name-dropping the Black Terror, Miss Fury, and a clandestine underworld web known as the Silent Seven. And as a tantalizing bit of potential foreshadowing, letterer Taylor Esposito places a Shadow-specific text box on a solitary image of Alfred, while Dispenza adorns the silhouette falling on the floor with dollop of red where a scarf would be.
Those expecting a sequel to the Snyder/Orlando/Rossmo joint will be disappointed. There’s a reason this is “The Shadow/Batman” #1 and not “Batman/The Shadow Strikes Again.” Orlando’s myth-mining exuberance marries a fractured take on the dynamic duo with some deeper cuts from Dynamite’s throwback stable of pulp serials. Timpano’s art packs a gritty and acrobatic punch. And how the Shadow truly fits into it all, who knows?
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A different animal entirely, but still a beautiful beast.