One of my favorite things is being surprised. One of my favorite surprises is when something I was not interest in turns out to be fantastic. One of my favorite examples of that is Batwing #1.
When I first had the character explained to me I wasn't against the idea. I like Batman Inc and I like to see the other "Batmen" introduced actually do something beyond be a one time appearance. But with Batwing I shrugged. On one hand, I never got into the costume. I mean, given, the African congo is the place you're want to have a jetpack as you're going to run into the problem of no rooftops to swoop from. But it seemed gaudy. I've since learned to enjoy it. And my other worry was that, well, to hit the elephant in the room, Batwing is a black man in Africa written by Judd Winick from New York. The closest Judd Winick has ever come to living in the congo was having to spend a season on The Real World. So, I was worried that there was going to be this Tony Isabella like situation of a man writing the type of character he is woefully unfamiliar with. But, Judd pulls it off fantastically.
OK, long and short of the story. Batwing is a member of Batman Inc. He works near the congos of Africa and, while still very serious and still very Batman like, Batwing lives in an area where there are no finger printing or DNA scans so he has, essentially, a 1970's detective set. His alter ego is a very kindhearted police officer who just seems to want everyone to be the best they can be. I really don't want to go into it much further as I want you to read this for yourself and experience it first hand.
Visually, this book is a masterpiece. Ben Oliver makes every single page a visual treat. The facial expressions are top notch and no matter how regular the events, the gorgeous art makes it pop. I'm just going to drop a very simple page on here and I just want you to look at it. Look at the detail on the suit, the jeep, the grass and the enemies face, the expression of pain on it. Take a look:
And to go back into talking about the writing, the writer is also extremely well done. Unlike a lot of books in the DC relaunch, Judd Winick moves things at a comfortable pace. The story doesn't feel like it's in a rush and nothing feels forced. We have a good, solid story with believable characters and a flawed hero. The main villain is terrifying and clever. I was engrossed in minutes.
It's such a strange feeling I'm encountering here. Normally I am so quick to find complaints, but for this one I have to really grasp at straws to find something I didn't like. But, there were two things.
First off was the time line. From what I gathered, there were three different time lines that this book was skipping back and forth between. While his time as a cop and his time with Batman are pretty easy to figure out chronologically, I can tell you, flat out, that I'm not entirely certain when his battle with the villain, Massacre, was supposed to take place. Our only clue is that on the last panel of the fight between the two we get a caption box that says, "this is NOW..."
But when is "NOW"? Was that supposed to mean this is taking place now? Or is the next scene? It was a little confusing but not enough to take away from the story.
My other complain, and it's a bit of a stretch, is Matu Ba. When Batman and Batwing go to Batwing's rendition of the Batcave, we're introduced to Matu Ba.
We're given enough to know that he's helping Batwing and that he's helped Batwing in the past. But we're given almost nothing else about him. He shows up in two panels and practically flirts with Batwing but we get no indication of why he's there. What his skills are, and why Batman doesn't completely freak that there's some other dude in on this whole thing. But then again, giving a side character an origin story in the middle of all this would probably have steered this book into being the complicated mess I'm glad it never became.
All in all, I think the book is wonderful. It has a fantastic feel and the character's flaws and strengths unfold before you thanks to the wonderful writing and top notch art. It is a bit dark for younger readers though and contains scenes of INTENSE violence. There are literally piles of body parts in this book that show up so frequently I almost thought it was a side character. Get past the violence and you've got a book that should do really well. My only fear is whether or not Ben Oliver can shoot out this quality of art on a monthly basis. Either way, give this book a read, it's a wonderful surprise and a welcome addition to this new universe.