The build-up to Batman #21 had fans and critics alike speculating, and the hype has been huge. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite pay dividends.
The button. The appearance of a radioactive, blood-stained smiley face badge in the walls of the Batcave has created a mystery for the Dark Knight detective which he’s struggled to understand. As he ponders what it could mean, a new twist is added when it explosively reacts to another mysterious item he’s in possession of. Contacting the Flash to consult with him, he expects the scarlet speedster to appear.
However, the arrival of the Reverse-Flash changes everything. It’s a battle which Batman is ill-prepared for, and the prize is the button itself…
What this ultimately boils down to are several pages of Batman doing nothing other than brooding over what the all-too-familiar badge means, and then a fight scene breaks out. There’s a little more to it than that, but not much. The resolution of this issue is surprising and the ramifications are huge, but if you were hoping for answers to DC’s biggest mystery or an appearance from Doctor Manhattan, you’ll be sadly disappointed.
There are a fair few Watchmen references in terms of story structure, visuals and pacing, but it’s written in the sort of clumsy fashion which makes it apparent that Tom King is miles behind Alan Moore or even Geoff Johns. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, it just feels less somehow, and a bit of a let-down. Perhaps as a Batman book it works, but as a focal point for what’s become an event, it’s more flash (or Reverse Flash) than substance.
However, Batman #21 still presents one of the better fight scenes in recent comic book history, as Batman takes an absolute pounding in the blink of an eye. It’s unfortunate that Reverse-Flash does more posturing than is needed, mouthing off in typical bad guy fashion rather than doing the job. There are more questions than answers here, and not all of them are probably the ones you should be asking. Like why doesn’t Reverse-Flash just kill Batman instead of going into Doctor Evil mode?
On the positive side, the art by Jason Fabok does a fantastic job. It’s a quality piece of work in that regard, and there’s nothing to complain about on that side of things. Credit where it’s due, he gives each character real weight and definition and adds some nice little details to each page.
It would be easy to say that this is amazing, but that would be lying. There are probably plenty of people out there who’ll say that Batman #21 is a brilliant issue and, on the surface, it does seem like it’s delivering. However, the lack of depth to the plot and the weak dialogue drag it down almost from the beginning.
For a button, it isn’t all that bright.