First of all let me get this out of the way. The inclusion of Deadman, aka Boston Brand, in Blackest Night Batman dilutes this story. Yes, I know he has history in the Batman comics and all these Blackest Night comics have a team up of one type or another, but please, you don’t think there is enough darkness, pain, grief and remorse between Dick Grayson, Damian, and Tim Drake to carry this story by themselves?
Ok, thanks for indulging me. I think I’ve got that out of my system. Fortunately, Deadman drops a nice clue about Batman’s skull later in the story that is very intriguing and I will get to that later.
Our story opens in a rain soaked graveyard that Dick compares to a “damn battlefield” as we saw in the IGN teaser page from last week. Dick and Damian bear witness to the destruction that was once the resting place of Bruce Wayne’s parents and supposedly the final resting place of Wayne himself. (Did anyone else notice that Bruce’s skeleton is without clothes?) Dick solemnly prepares to bring the remains to the bunker under Wayne Tower. The scene as laid out by Peter Tomasi and penciled by Ardian Syaf is exceptional. The black borders surrounding each rain filled panel deepens the grim nature of the task at hand. It is a haunting tableau.
The story shifts to the pain being felt by Boston Brand aka Deadman. Apparently Brand can sense what is going on including the impending initiation of his own remains into the ranks of the Black Lanterns. Try as he might, Deadman’s efforts to stop his bones from joining the corp are fruitless and he is faced with not only the horrors he has faced in his life but those that are to come. It is interesting to see his Black Lantern self totally ignore Deadman and fly off. Perhaps you have to be a loved one or close ally to be attacked by a Black Lantern. (Editor's Note: No one can ever see or be affected by Deadman unless he inhabit their body.)
Meanwhile, 25,000 feet in the air Gotham’s most dangerous dead are being transported to safe keeping by the government to Washington where the JLA can keep an eye on them. But the black rings citing their need for “flesh” have a different idea and rapidly turn that craft and its crew into Swiss cheese. In a moments notice the black rings find their mark and we are treated to a rogue’s galley of cadaverous criminals. The single page splash of Gotham’s newest nightmare is terrific. KGBeast, Magpie, King Snake, [Blockbuster, Deacon Blackfire, The Trigger Twins, and Abattoir] make their way through the night sky as the answer the call to “Rise!” The best incarnation of which is Arnold Wesker aka, The Ventriloquist, with his black ring constructs the puppet, “Scarface.” Brilliant.
The action returns to streets of Gotham where Damian and Dick are returning to Wayne Tower with their precious cargo. The ever nettlesome Damian laments that it “sucks” that he never could fulfill his “rightful place” along side the Bruce Wayne Batman. (Should I cut Damian some slack just because he is ten? Nah!) Patiently, our newly minted Batman, Dick Grayson, informs Damian that the opposite is actually true and he is living his dream. I ask you all to take note of this passage. I think not only is Dick speaking to Damian but to all of us. Credit goes to Peter Tomasi for reminding us that there is only one Batman now and he IS Dick Grayson. Judd Winick has been getting a lot of flak for his interpretation of the new Caped Crusader. Perhaps we should cut him some slack and see how this all turns out.
Equally important is Dick’s ensuing lecture to Damian about death and fear. Damian is trying to get his head around it all and Dick reminds him that we all walk that razor’s edge of a tightrope between life and death. No one is immune for the inevitability of death. It is life’s lessons that prepare us for the transitions we all face such as, in Dick’s case, a new costume and a new family. A nice piece of writing Peter Tomasi.
Unfortunately this little party is crashed by the out of the loop Deadman. “Grayson’s Batman?!” “Bruce is dead?!” And, “just who the hell are you kid?!” Deadman cries as he occupies the body of Batman. In response, Deadman gets two crushing lefts to the jaw from Robin as the Batmobile careens off the road. Damain explodes with anger and demands to know what has happened to Dick. Aw, and I thought the little punk didn’t care. He does.
This is also where we get that nice little nugget about Bruce’s skull. And I quote, “Black Hand’s got Wayne’s skull—He’s licking it—Putting a cowl of Black energy over” SKRAK! Damian ends that little speech with a left. A lot has been made of the Bruce Wayne skull. Many insist it has bat ears. Well, the skull itself doesn’t have the bat ears. It is this cowl of energy that Black Hand is placing over it. Apparently this skull is important enough to Black Hand to transform it into some type of spectral incarnation of Batman to what purposes we still know not of. This must be important to the whole Blackest Night storyline and I can’t wait to see what it is.
Deadman shifts gears and leaps into the body of Damian explaining to Dick the significance of the Black rings and the dead. Like a true detective Batman works it out right away and speeds off to the nearest site of a loved one’s resting place. Ominously, the rain blackened headstones of the Graysons and the Drakes are shown to us. As Deadman prattles on to Dick about Damian’s issues, Black Lantern rings penetrate the sacred ground with horrifying results. The next set of pages are black bordered again deepening the appalling sight of John and Mary Grayson rising from the dead as Black Lanterns. Poignantly, their hands are still entwined mocking the love the two took to the grave together. Soon after, the dead fists of Jack and Janet Drake punch their way through the soil to answer the call to RISE! Batman beseeches Deadman to exit Damian’s body before he kills him and Deadman calls out in agony that, “they need to feed” and “Black Lanterns, Black Lanterns!”
As our heroic trio rush to the Drake burial place where they are met with an empty hole. Immediately, Dick calls the new Red Robin, Tim Drake, and delivers the grim news. At first Tim is put off until he hears the awful truth and he agrees to come home right away. (Dick, Damian and Tim together? Awesome.) The last page of this book is a full pager where Deadman, Batman, and Robin look over an apocalyptic night sky. Deadly lightning bolts stab at Gotham city while a shattered Bat signal replete with bodies stretches into the darkness. In an understatement Damian says, we’re probably gonna need all the help we can get.” (Shades of Roy Scheiders’s character from Jaws, Chief Martin Brody upon seeing the shark deadpanning, “your gonna need a bigger boat.”) No kidding!
I was going to give this story a three out of five Batarangs because of the inclusion of Deadman. Even though he gave us the “cowl of black energy” clue. Like I said earlier, Dick, Damian, and Tim have experienced enough heartache to fill ten bat caves. Instead, I’m going to give it a four. What Peter Tomasi has given us, more than assisted by Syaf, Dell, and Cifuentes, is a parable of life, death, family, and off times, the painful baggage we accumulate along the way. It is these hard lessons that prepare us and shape us into the people we become and the bitter turning points that confront us all.
Well done team. I eagerly anticipate the next chapter.
Blackest Night: Batman #1:
Reviewed by Dark Knight Dave