Overview: Bryce Wayne, the Drowned Batman, floods our world with dead water, overwhelming Aquaman.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The Drowned, a combination of Aquaman and Batman in female form (Bryce Wayne), rises from the depths of her ocean to drown Amnesty Bay at the behest of the Batman Who Laughs. She hates the light, and blames the surface for the undersea’s misfortune. Facing Aquaman and Mera, the Drowned proves a terrifying combatant.
She remembers her killing of the Aquawoman of her world, regarding the Atlanteans are hated metahumans to be eradicated. In response, the Undersea drowned Gotham, leading Bryce Wayne to surgically alter herself to fight underwater. Defeating the Undersea drowned the whole world, forcing humanity to adapt in similar ways as Bryce had. She made herself a Batsignal to give her people hope.
One day, the Batman Who Laughs meets her at her signal and tells her that the Dark Multiverse is a suffering “heatsink” – taking the suffering of the “normal” multiverse so that the light could thrive.
In the present, on Earth-0, the Drowned exhales her army of dead water soldiers, then transforms Mera into a similar being. Arthur screams, and Bryce remembers her love Sylvester. Before she can destroy Aquaman as well, Dr. Fate’s magic saves him. Bryce lights her signal on our world, and plots to drown the whole world just as she drowned her own.
Analysis: Dan Abnett, current writer of Aquaman, imagines the backstory of Scott Snyder’s Drowned Batman in this tale. While the pencils by Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham present some inconsistent visuals, Dean White and Arif Prianto provide very dramatic coloring that really stands out. The blues and shadows contrast with flashes of bright light, conveying the watery nature of the Drowned as well as the horror of her obsession. The Drowned herself has a design that’s just too busy to be consistently appealing – the combined corset, Batcowl with bronze mask, and details that are both ragged and jagged just doesn’t provide the same kind of effect as the Mouth of Sauron Batman Who Laughs, or the zombiefied translucent horror of Dawnbreaker.
Abnett plays with some fun concepts, including the reversal of sexes for similar figures in this world – Bryce Wayne, Aquawoman and Sylvester (presumably Selina Kyle in the Drowned universe). However, without the kind of easy to grasp but profound shifting point like Dawnbreaker, where the change in Batman’s backstory happens at his creation, or the conceptual framework of the Murder Machine and Red Death where we again see the point of divergence, there’s no real hook to evoke even twisted sympathy with the Drowned. The one-shot wastes too much time showing the battles with the Atlanteans – which is fun, and makes sense given Abnett’s connection to Arthur and Mera – but the mention of Bryce’s dead love Sylvester hints at a much stronger story underneath this basic “evil Batman fights Aquaman and Mera” story. The lack of a solid conclusion, though perhaps expected in a tie-in to an event, means that this is little more than a twenty page fight. A sometimes beautifully rendered fight with excellent coloring, but still, nothing much beyond the designs and action.
Final Thoughts: With stronger art than story, Batman: The Drowned leaves the reader wishing for a deeper look at the roots of the character.