This is something I’ve been waiting to see collected for quite a while. Here we have one of the best writers in comics with a substantial run on “Batman” that was never collected outside of a couple crossover issues and a four issue sampler from several years back. What gives? I figured that it had to do with Brubaker’s defection to Marvel during his tenure on “Gotham Central,” but while reading this volume I started to think otherwise. Most of the stories here are pretty ordinary. You have Batman up against Zeiss, a new villain who can see things faster than normal and record combat moves with the goggles that pipe the images directly to his brain. That rivalry plays out over the course of this volume as the title character also has to deal with a loyal employee who turned to a life of crime, a childhood sweetheart who is now a budding mafioso, new revelations about his father, and Deadshot. Because why not?
All of this plays out in a pretty straightforward fashion with Batman being knocked metaphorically off balance by these new threats before dealing with them and going on to kick the bad guys in the head. Even the weirder stuff -- an alien seeks sanctuary at a Gotham church, a Jokerized Santa runs riot through the city, an issue dedicated to exploring Batman’s status as an urban myth -- plays out in ways that solidly conform to the “Batman” formula. Was Brubaker just unsuccessful in his attempts to find new angles on the character and his struggles, or is this an example of how a good writer can simply phone it in and turn out something decently readable with little effort? Thinking about it, that’s probably the most interesting question this book poses.
Making more of an effort is the artist for nearly all of the issues here, Scott McDaniel. He turns in some big, bold, high-energy work here that eschews a lot of the darkness you typically see in most “Batman” stories. It’s very distinctive work and I can’t help but think that it must’ve driven the noir-loving Brubaker nuts to work with an artist whose style was antithetical to the stories he likes to tell. The unpolished work from Stefano Gaudiano in the “Our Worlds at War” issue is more in line with what you’d expect to see in a story from this writer. It also (coincidentally, I’m sure) results in one of the better stories in this volume. Even so, this is the kind of collection that you’ll enjoy more the less demanding of a “Batman” fan you are.