Will Batman be able to save The Riddler from a tree-monster? Strange things are afoot in this issue…
Previously, in Batman: there have been a series of murders in Gotham (feel free to gasp in surprise). The victims have all been killed in various styles reminiscent of famous villains and have three things in common: being recently released from Blackgate, having some relation to money, and an acquaintance with Firefly. Batman investigates alongside Edward Nigma – the apparently-reformed Riddler – and discovers a mysterious magician, Sebastian Rothschild, returning to the scene of every crime. A dead man is found Rothschild’s hotel room, as well as a series of photos showing not only murder victims, but currently-living people in a murdered state. Batman gives chase to Rothschild, only to loose him, and instead finds The Riddler, struck down by the Joker toxin.
Thus, we open with The Riddler in hospital – he has, in fact, only been injected with a cheap imitation of the toxin. Batman breaks into Arkham Asylum to question Firefly and gets the full story: years ago, Sebastian Rothschild ran a money-laundering ring with various other Gotham criminals. When The Riddler turned, the ring shut down and Rothschild fled. Now, he is seemingly back to kill his former associates. The Riddler is kidnapped from his hospital room, and Batman finds him moments away from death at the hands of Rothschild. Batman accuses The Riddler of setting-up the whole situation, but then has to fight Rothschild as he accidentally consumes his own potion, turning him into a tree-monster. Rothschild is defeated and The Riddler flees, destination unknown. The issue ends as Batman discovers a photo of himself – murdered.
This book is certainly a mixed bag on the writing front. Whilst the dialogue is uniformly good, the plot is, at times, confusing and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The most infuriating point, for me, is Batman identifying The Riddler as the true culprit: it’s never explained how he figures it out. We see him looking for, and finding, various clues, but how they all fit together and condemn The Riddler is not touched upon. Perhaps this might be explained in a later story, and indeed this book sets up several mysteries that, I think, look set to be solved later – chief among them being the exact how and why of Rothschild having pictures of his murdered victims whilst they still live – but, whilst these are interesting, we end this issue with various unanswered questions, and that doesn’t sit well with me. On the other hand, these mysteries are intriguing, and I’m hoping to get a satisfying conclusion to them at some point.
One particular page deserves mention, as it is outright baffling: a policeman guards The Riddler’s hospital room, and a wad of money hits him in the face, “Better make this look real,” he says, and then he is attacked. The art makes it difficult to determine exactly what is going on, and from a writing standpoint it raises questions such as, ‘Why did the wad of money get thrown at the guard’s face?’ and, ‘Why bother having this scene in the book at all when the idea that the guard was somehow bribed is never touched on again?’
However, whilst the plot has its problems, the dialogue is good throughout and all the characters are well-represented. I particularly like Firefly’s reaction when Batman breaks into his Arkham cell: he doesn’t want to be released because he is afraid that Rothschild will kill him, and the treat of Batman breaking him out gets him talking.
The art is always clear and fluid, and March does a great job of drawing people. I especially like his Batman: tall and imposing, with excellent use of light and dark to give him a shadowy spectre-like appearance in some panels. Rothschild becoming a giant tree-monster is also handled well: what could have looked ridiculous actually looks threatening and slightly creepy, and the fight scene between him and Batman is especially good. Some of the backgrounds are slightly odd, though, being colours or patterns rather than actual scenery. This is very much a matter of personal taste, but in a regular super-hero book like this I prefer my backgrounds to be a bit more realistic, and so I noticed the difference.
The cover, by Tony S. Daniel, gains praise from me. It features The Riddler in the foreground, grinning, whilst Batman squats behind him on a mound of earth. It’s definitely well-drawn, although The Riddler’s ears seem to be rather low-down on his head, and I like how Nigma is staring out at the reader, with an appearance designed to draw the eye. At the same time, Batman is behind him, drawing his cape up to his face, looking stealthy as befits his character. It’s not the most eye-catching cover in the world, but I think it’s had some thought put into it, and when so many covers are generic group-shots or similar, that deserves some attention.
It’s always difficult to recommend the concluding chapter of a story: if you haven’t read the previous issue, then you’ll likely find this book difficult to follow, and if you did buy the first part last month then you probably know whether or not you want to read the conclusion. However, if you can get a copy the last issue then I definitely recommend reading this two-parter: it’s a nice warm-up to the furore that will surely come with Batman’s seven hundredth issue. The plot can get confusing, but hopefully we will see the mysteries therein come to fruition over the next few months; and even if they don’t, this book is still very enjoyable up until the last third, and even with the unanswered questions present one can still take some pleasure from the final section. This book provides a decent read, with some good art to boot, and as such receives three stars out of five.