THIS REVIEW OF ‘THE BATMAN’S GRAVE’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. How does the mind of The Batman work? What sort of toll do those machinations take on the people around him? What makes the Dark Knight different from all other detectives? These are questions that have been posed many times before, but they are also ideal questions for the venerable pairing of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch to answer. Their response comes in the form of The Batman’s Grave, and with collaborators Kevin Norman, Alex Sinclair, and Richard Starkings they have set out to tell a story that should be nothing less than one of the seminal Bat-tales of our time.
While much of Ellis’ more recent comics work has focused on telling single-issue potboilers, leave it to reuniting with Hitch to resurrect his decompressed storytelling instincts. In this debut issue, Ellis embraces the promised space of twelve issues to take his time, slipping on the classic character tropes like a well-worn smoking jacket. Batman fights thugs, Batman visits a crime scene, Alfred worries, Batman thinks, Batman has “A-ha!” moment. You’ve seen this before, but it’s a look that works. Then Ellis pours a particularly fancy whiskey and starts scrawling bitterly honest non-sequiturs on the walls, and suddenly the familiar comfort of that jacket becomes confining, dangerous.
The devil is in the details, as they say, and the details of this book are darkly ingenious indeed. Ellis’ Alfred, while playing the same basic role the character usually does in these stories, is much more aggravated and vicious in his repartee with Bruce; Starkings’ letters stand plain and let Ellis’ venom bleed through. The Batman’s forensic methods, built around a holodeck-esque reconstruction of the crime scene, allow him to assume the role of the victim in his final resting place. And at the heart of it all, delivered in an almost-throwaway fashion, is Bruce explaining how he views each crime while trying to solve it. All of it is connected by a sense of vulnerability, as Ellis contends with the idea of Batman as a raw nerve of grief that’s never fully healed.
With such an intimate, introspective approach to our Caped Crusader, the choice of Bryan Hitch as artist is all the more surprising. Hitch, who possibly more than anyone else is the patron saint of “widescreen comics”, gets his chance to go big in the opening action sequence and the cityscapes surrounding it. But in the rest of the issue, Hitch leans hard into his ability as an actor, his dramatic flair funneled into emotionally-wrought closeups of our cast of characters. And his eye for detail makes Wayne Manor feel tangible and full of depth, a place with history and pain behind it as one would expect. Nowlan’s inks are a key component in this, sharpening the edge of Alfred’s exhausted glare and deepening the lines in a corpse’s face.
And then comes Sinclair’s colors, which are given much more room to shine than in the usual shadow-drenched Bat-comic. Even the night scenes allow Sinclair room to play with comforting shades of blue and grey, which at times almost blend together in a way that suggests the banality of Bruce’s regular patrols. A surprising amount of the book takes place during the day, and Sinclair drenches the panels in yellows, like the sharp glare of a light turned on to expose hidden secrets in the dark of Gotham. Much like Hitch, Sinclair offers an atypical approach to this Batman story, and it feels all the more remarkable for it.
The Batsuit looks good on this creative team, of that we can be certain. And while Ellis and Hitch seem content for now to play along with expectations and hit the beats we all expect, it’s clear that they’ve filled every pouch on the utility belt with their favorite tricks. They, along with Nowlan, Sinclair and Starkings, have claimed the Bat as their own. By the time this tale is done, I imagine the suit itself with be fully stripped away, and what’s left will be a brutal and unique take on the character from comics’ all-time greats.
DC / $3.99
Written by Warren Ellis.
Art by Bryan Hitch.
Inks by Kevin Nowlan.
Colors by Alex Sinclair.
Letters by Richard Starkings.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 9-page preview of ‘The Batman’s Grave’ #1, including a variant cover by Jee-Hyung Lee, courtesy of DC!