Or – “What Year Is It Again?”
There’s really only one big question in this series: Has Neal still got it?
Previously, on Batman – Odyssey: Bruce Wayne has many faces… Detective. Gymnast. Ladies’ Man. Acrobat. Paladin. Thief. Barbarian. Wait, maybe that’s the cartoon version of Dungeons and Dragons? Either way, there’s a lot of facets to the jewel of Gotham City, and at least one of them is a hairy-chested Alan Alda type sensitive man. After the loss of his parents in a tragic shooting, he’s dedicated himself to fighting against crime and stuff throughout the streets of Gotham. At the time of this story (if I’m reading the clues right) he’s recently taken on a crime-fighting partner, another orphan who wears a bright costume and calls himself Robin, but is still early enough in his career that he carries a pair of automatic pistols with him, having not yet eschewed the use of firearms. In essence, this tale seems to promise insights into the mind of the man who would become the Batman we know, as he makes his journey to the Dark Knight.
The issue starts with Bruce Wayne showing off a battle scar, a bullet wound in his right forearm, as he explains to an unknown person or persons how he got it. “I was very young… A few years older than Dick is now.” He explains that while he had made the decision to become Batman was made early, it was difficult to transition fully into the role. Cut to a speeding train, as Bruce sneaks away to change into Batman and climbs to the top of the train. The ears of his mask are still floppy, and his cowl very coarsely sewn as he makes his way forward on the train. Suddenly a group of criminals starts shooting at him, and Bats shoots back. He takes a bullet, and ends the fight hand-to-hand, only to have his mask ripped away by a criminal. As he disposes of that goon, another cries out from behind him, threatening to shoot through the car-full of flammable gas with a shotgun… Cut forward to Bruce, telling the story to young Dick Grayson (which means that this flash-forward is not as far forward as the point where the issue began flashing BACK), explaining that he nearly shot the man before another vigilante blew off the criminal’s head…
I have to say that I’m already lost by the plotting at this point, but the visuals are phenomenal. Batman and Robin have a discussion (and while I think this Robin is Dick, he wears Tim Drake’s original costume, with the black cape and long pants) that explains why Bruce gave up the guns, leading to an interaction with Kirk Langstrom, the Man-Bat. There’s a lot of weird unstated things in their conversation, including the implication that Kirk is addicted to his Man-Bat serum, and the knowledge that Kirk is afraid to tell them SOMETHING… As the dynamic duo races away in their Batmobile (which strongly resembles a 1970’s-era Corvette Stingray), Langstrom has a fight with ANOTHER bat-creature, something about a cave and how the cave will protect Bruce’s identity. In the space of 3 pages, the Batmobile transforms into a hovercraft and a boat, and Batman and Robin’s capes turn into rocket-powered hang-gliders, and Batman stuns the police with his awesomeness (but I’m still unclear on why.) We end with criminals holding a man and his daughters hostage and firing their guns into tanks of hydrogen, presumable causing a huge explosion.
In the 90’s, The Monkees did a special movie which hung on the premise that their original 1966 series had never ended. The plot had the guys frustrated by how familiar it all felt the 300th time around, and I am very much reminded of that feeling here. I have now read this comic four or five times, and it feels like there’s a ton of context that I’m missing, as though this is issue 34 of 50, and the explanation of the criminals, El Maniaco, Man-Bat’s boss and the threat is all hidden in issues that I need to find in the back-issue bins. The positive of reading this book is that it’s beautiful (better looking than any Bat-book in recent memory, including the Jim Lee issue of All-Star) and there are a couple of breath-taking moments that almost overcome the near-incoherence of plot. Almost… As far as I can suss out, there are four (or possibly three?) different time-frames in play here, but the transitions just aren’t clear enough for me to even be sure of that. (There is discussion of Ra’s Al Ghul not figuring out Batman’s identity that I am COMPLETELY unable to assess the relevance of.) While the few panels involving a gun-toting vigilante convincing Batman to give up the gun work, I have to grade down the overall effect of the issue for clarity. Given how well-drawn it is, that’s hard for me, but Batman – Odyssey #1 earns a hopeful-but-confused 3 out of 5 stars overall. It’s sort of a mess, but it’s a gorgeous mess indeed…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Batman with a gun. Does it work or not? And, moreover, WHY does it work or not?