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"The war grows ever more bizarre"
on 4 January 2012
This book forms a the second half of a two-parter with Batman and the Monster Men. This book continues directly on from events in Monster Men, it starts with Bruce Wayne reflecting on Cat Woman and wondering if he is the inspiration behind her appearance. Realising that she is a thief, he worries that his own costumed antics have "inadvertently given license to every crook with a flair for the dramatic" to assume aliases and don costumes, a most unwelcome side-effect of his Batman. The feisty feline only features during what would have been the first edition of 'Mad Monk' (which consisted of 6 individual comics) but she is everything that she ought to be; sexy, sleek, sassy and dangerous.
As this is still covering the early days of Batman we get interesting insights of Bruce Wayne's mental notes to improve his performance - within the first few pages he is suffering the effects of a battle with Catwoman and realises that his costume provides very little protection against poisoned cat scratches - let alone a bullet. Although his relationship with Alfred is solid, he is still developing his mutual friendship with James Gordon, and his nocturnal affairs are impacting on his personal life. We get to see the practicalities of living as a masked hero, having to sleep during the daytime and then pretend to sleep during meetings in order to maintain his carefree image. Having a girlfriend complicates things somewhat and Julie Madison plays a key role in this story. The duality of his life means that his relationship with Miss. Madison is suffering. She's falling for him but is constantly let down by his need to be somewhere else, though even her strong headed attitude melts when she thinks of Gotham's most eligible male.
Obviously this compliments Monster Men well, but the tie-in with Year One helps to establish this as part of the same timeline. This is most evident with James Gordon's run-ins with the less than professional attitude of some of his peers. Resentment over his anti-corruption stance reference his clashes in Year One, and suspicion over his special relationship with the Batman mean that he is very unpopular to many - but some share Gordon's vision and value his rumoured alliance with the masked crime fighter.
This story seems to have been undeservedly bashed, it has a few weaknesses but is overall strong. The conclusion feels a bit rushed (especially where the main villain is concerned) but there are some fantastic elements to the book. I'm not a fan of things being too supernatural as it can lead to sloppy story-telling, it seemed as though Mad Monk was treading that path but whether events are truly occult or simply 'cult' is left ambiguous and up to the reader to decide. Observations on Harvey Dent's almost double personality are subtle but a great way to lay the foundations of his future and act as a knowing nod to fans. There's the obligatory Superman reference and as I always tend to write - Alfred gets some of the most amusing dialogue.
The artwork is fairly consistent (with only some faces not quite looking as you expect at points) with the sky-scrapers of Gotham City providing a pleasing set of lines for Batman to glide through. As before, pages sometimes follow a colour theme and there are some very vibrant pages including a double page with some magnificent reds where the black and greys of Batman's costume look incredible in contrast. Other double page spreads showcase some excellent artwork and Rallstone Castle looks sublime.
In a nutshell: Maybe not one of the all-time Batman greats, this is non-the-less a continuation from the Year One comic reboot and it works well. By the end of it you feel that Bruce Wayne/Batman has matured further and become more effective at what he does. It also ends on a note which will have you desperate to read the next book in the series: The Man Who Laughs.