Batwing #1

Writen by Judd Winick
Art by Ben Oliver
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

There’s something odd and initially off-putting about a book that is pitched as, "The Batman of Africa." Why Africa seems to get repeatedly lumped into a single region while similarly diverse continents don’t is beyond me (there’s much more respect for the different areas of Europe or Asia, for instance), but at the same time there’s so little in American comics set on this continent that my curiosity got the better of me. As it turned out, I’m glad it did; it’s a book that I suspect won’t be long for this world, but was definitely worthy of some attention.

Judd Winick sets Batwing in Tinasha, a fictional city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s described as "one of the most crime-ridden cities in all of Africa," a phrase that made me instantly think of Hub City in The Question, which isn’t a bad direction in which to go. Winick does fall into the trap of having his characters constantly refer to all of Africa as a single unit, though, despite the fact that they’re living in a country that’s a quarter the size of the United States. That’s more than large enough in its own right to have its inhabitants refer to their own country rather than an entire continent that’s quite varied in culture, language, people, and just about anything else you can think of.

Once you get past that distracting fact, though? Aside from some pacing issues, it’s a solid opening. Winick opens the comic with a brief fight between Batwing and a new villain named Massacre, before shifting back into flashback to begin telling the story of how we got to this point. Lead character David Zavimbe comes across a bit slight, but with room for growth; one of those people who is clearly good at his job and as a police officer, a ripe choice to become Batwing. The scene with him and Batman is in some ways "Superheroing 101" as David learns how to use the costume and the mask to frighten wrong-doers, and the sort of attitude and mystique needed to make himself an effective hero.

Winick is also trying to create a history for superheroes on the African continent, with the invention of the Kingdom, a seven-person superhero team that operated across Africa and specifically helped free the Democratic Republic of Congo. While it’s a little hard to buy the death of Earth Strike from the group as part of the central mystery (the lack of a body to be identified as his makes it more than likely that Earth Strike really isn’t dead), it is at least a small hook to make readers interested in what’s to come. That’s a good thing, since the cliffhanger is still set in the flashback and we already know that Batwing is going to survive the otherwise violent moment at the end of the issue.

The bigger attraction for most readers, I suspect, will be Ben Oliver’s art, coupled with Brian Reber’s colors. The two have created a spacious, larger-than-life look for Batwing; lots of diagonal-shaped panels that stretch across the page, and with a sharp look into how colors, shadows, and outlines work together to create something stronger. Oliver’s faces look at times like photographs in their stark realism; as he zooms the view in on a villain’s eyes, you can actually see the terror building in them. And while a cloaked-in-darkness image of Batman rising up is hardly unique, Oliver and Reber still make it look awe-inspiring, which is a particularly nice touch.

A comic launching a new character (save for a brief appearance in Batman Incorporated), set in an African nation instead of the United States, and in the same month as 51 other new and revamped titles? Let’s be honest, the deck is stacked firmly against Batwing. But it’s a good enough beginning, although I do wish we’d had a bit more happen in this first issue. I fear it could be the inadvertent death knell of the title right out of the gate; with so many other books to compete for attention from the reader, this slow start might not be enough to bring readers back for a second helping. For now, though, consider me curious enough to read a second issue. I’d like to see this be the little book that could.

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