We all expected Bendis was going to write a “Batman” story when he moved over to DC. I just don’t think this was the story any of us expected him to write. Originally serialized in twelve parts over the course of twelve of the Walmart-exclusive “Batman Giant” issues, before being repackaged as a standard six-part miniseries, “Batman: Universe” is an extended romp through the DC Universe. It starts off simply enough with the Riddler stealing a Faberge egg worth $15 million and then careens off in ways both expected and not. Under “expected,” you can file a team-up with Green Arrow in Amsterdam, and fighting off a horde of hired ninja thugs with Nightwing on a sci-fi sub. “Not” involves trips to Gorilla City, Dinosaur Island, a jaunt over to Thanagar, time traveling to the Old West, and even being erased out of existence only to come back as… someone who looks like a specific attempt to flatter Keanu Reeves.
Bendis’ writing has never felt so frivolous as it does here. Even when he was doing some of his more comedy-themed issues of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” This is less a cohesive story than an attempt by the writer to string a bunch of scenes together with a hunt-the-Mac Guffin plot. I mean that as a criticism and a compliment as while the story itself just kind of hangs together, it’s never dull. Or rather, the constantly shifting settings, which frequently take Batman out of his element, never allow it to become dull. Ditto for Bendis’ writing, which gives us sublimely ridiculous scenes like the one which has the title character having a dead serious negotiation with the leaders of Gorilla City.
Then there’s the art of Nick Derington, last seen waiting on “Doom Patrol” scripts from Gerard Way that never came. Derington has a lively, almost cartoonish aesthetic that you wouldn’t think would work for a solo “Batman” story. It proves to be a perfect fit with the craziness that Bendis is dealing with here, while also giving it a feel that sets it apart from the usual dark and brooding solo “Batman” story. “Batman: Universe” is certainly different, but I feel that it’s a good kind of different that I’d like to see more of in the future. With a more cohesive, coherent story and paperback binding next time (because this really didn’t need to be issued in hardcover).