Review: Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

Batwing #1
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Ben Oliver and Brian Reber

The New 52 may have drawn attention with it’s Superman, Batman, Grifter, Stormwatch, and Justice Leagues (normal and International), but you’ve got to admit there’s a lot of odd filler rounding out that 52. Animal Man is getting another shot, Voodoo – of all the WildCATs – is getting a solo series, and of course the beautifully off the wall I, Vampire and Demon Knights.

And of course, Batwing, an interesting beacon in the Batman family. Debuting in Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated #5 (nowhere to be seen in The New 52, but promised to return in 2012), the title focuses on The Batman of Africa. Not only does this give some much needed variety to the DC Universe by taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but police officer David Zabimbe is also the first black Batman.

It might be tempting to say DC is trying to keep up with the new Ultimate Spider-Man or Black Panther (Internet foums certainly never hold back), but after reading this issue, I say that’s a great disservice, and a cheap effort to try and sell a great concept short.

Metropolis, Central City, Star City, and Gotham may be DC icons, but they’re also too familiar. Investigating the Democratic Republic of Congo is an interesting angle given how different life is. And Batwing isn’t the Batman of the Congo, he’s the Batman of Africa, with an entire continent under his jurisdiction. For all that, it’s no different than Gotham: this is a modern city, with violent criminals and an even shadier police force. David Zavimbe walks an even tighter line than Superman or Batman, for he isn’t just an altruist or a reporter, he’s one of the few clean cops on this police force.

As part of Batman Incorporated, he’s got the technology, resources, and assistants. And he’s not just a carbon copy of Batman, he has his own unique gadgets. His actual outfit is a suit of armor augmented with glider wings.

Now that we can agree Batwing isn’t just another Batbook in theory, we need to address it’s execution.

We open with Batwing squaring off against a villain named Massacre. Through flashbacks, we learn how Batman has been aiding Batwing in cracking down on a drug ring, but the duo stumbles upon an even more heinous crime scene. Researching the victims, a little more light is shed on superheroics The New DCU and Africa, and a greater weight is pushed on Batwing. And then an even more gruesome weight is pushed on him. And through him.

Judd Winick has two stakes in the The New 52, with Catwoman and Batwing. He’s also an established DC writer with Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Outsiders, Batman, and Power Girl to his name, and even that resume short-changes him. The man knows his superheroes, and he knows his story telling. The script, like Hawk and Dove, is expertly paced and achieves just what I was looking for in the New 52: if you don’t know what Batwing is, it doesn’t matter, this issue picks you up, fills you in, and gives you just what you’d expect from a Batman title, with action, intrigue, and theatrics.

With only one issue, it’s too soon to cast a verdict, but I enjoyed the issue greatly, and Winick has given hints that he understands the fresh opportunities he has to work with. One of my favorite lines:

“I told Batman that a man dressed as a bat will not instill fear in the average criminal in Africa. They have seen too much. He told, ‘You have to sell it.'”

Batman has a very understated guest appearance, never stealing the spotlight from Batwing, and it’s a great way to convey the passing of a mantle and approval.

Winick is only part of the feel of the book, though, and artist Ben Oliver turned in some downright vicious pages. With Judge Dredd, Ultimate X-Men, and even an Authority book under his belt, the veteran artist made a B-List character like Batwing come across as top class, pulling no punches. Dynamic panel layouts keep the story pumping forward, and for all the vigilante cool going on, it’s the out of costume moments that really make the book work for me. David Zavimbe and officer Kia Okuru look downright tired in their grimy fatigues. The weariness, fear, and secrets in people’s faces really are amazing to see, and the backgrounds look like a sweltering Congo night, for all the industrialization and office interiors. I was truly drawn into the visual storytelling, and admired every single panel.

Brian Reber’s colors are a large part of that, and I was in awe of the dull, flat, gritty palette he’s working with. Reber doesn’t play around with cheap Photoshop tricks, he comes in and adds a touch to Oliver’s art without diluting or distracting from it.

I would keep up with Batwing just for the art team, but the truth is Winick has a fantastic opportunity here, and the first issue shows he’s taking it seriously. Batwing could be a lot of things, and any of those things could go wrong, but right from the outset the entire creative team seems to have found it’s footing.

If you’re looking for something different out of the New 52, I recommend throwing Batwing on your pull list for the next six months and seeing where things go. And if this is a sign of how the stranger parts of the New 52 are being handled, then I’m already hungrier for the rest of the entire launch.

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