The Batman’s Grave is an interesting comic book, and not just based on its content. Looking at this series with the glut of Batman comics that DC has been publishing could make consumers believe that this was just another of the dozens of Batbooks lining the stand. Yet Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch are able to convert what from plenty of other creative teams could be a basic Batman-focused limited series into a stylistic display of their talents. While the first issue suffers from a bit of tonal dissonance between Bruce’s conversations with Alfred and the rest of the issue, this issue does a far better job with the tone and is far stronger as a result.
This issue cements the structuring of The Batman’s Grave as chapters rather than periodical issues. While most periodical stories treat each issue with some amount of standalone exposition, the first page of this issue starts immediately after the last page of #1 and leads into an 11-page fight scene between Batman and the murderer he discovered under the floorboards. It’s this fight scene that allows Hitch to shine, even more than he did in the pilot issue of the series. The fistfight between Batman and the murderer (who is revealed to be the Flamingo) is choreographed to perfection and Hitch adds a lot of detail to the scene, keeping the layout and details of the apartment they’re fighting in consistent. The fight scene also gets to show Batman fighting in a more desperate manner than his takedown of the thugs in #1, the body language and pacing of the battle feels more frantic and desperate than the previous one. While half of the issue being dedicated to a single fight scene could feel unsatisfying, Ellis and Hitch make it thoroughly entertaining and meaty.
The rest of the issue is relatively calm, as Ellis allows Bruce to not have to fight after his grueling brawl in the first half. Ellis gets to show some of the fallout of Bruce’s conversation with a drunk Alfred the night before — not with any animosity between them, but rather the effects that drinking a whole bottle of whiskey would have on someone with Alfred’s composition. This scene serves to really humanize Bruce, as he banters with his father figure over which one of them is suffering more from the effects of the previous night. Hitch’s art in this scene and the ones that follow is far less action-packed, but his ability to convey emotion through body language results in an excellent depiction of the dynamics and relationships between the characters. This scene is ultimately heartwarming; after all of Alfred’s cynicism towards Bruce the night before, it’s clear that there is not and will never be any truly bad blood between them as Bruce makes Alfred a pot of coffee to recover from his hangover.
Further serving to humanize Batman is the last segment of the issue, where he talks to Gordon and takes on a new case. Bruce and Gordon interact with a sense of familiarity that’s incredibly enjoyable to read — while some GCPD officers may threaten to shoot Batman on sight, Gordon doesn’t bother with any of the posturing and recognizes Bruce for what he is: a friend. Their conversation serves as twofold exposition, as while Gordon explains who the Flamingo is and what Bruce’s next case is going to be, the scene’s real purpose is to depict these friends as such. They may keep each other at a distance due to secret identities, but they do like and respect each other. The issue closes on Bruce and Alfred in the Batcave, investigating a lead that Gordon gave to Batman. While Alfred once again questions the purity of Bruce’s goals and methods, this time Bruce has a proper response, and his final line in the issue is one that once again cements Bruce’s purpose as Batman.
The Batman’s Grave is not a bombastic show of force. It’s a subdued, calmer story that shows Batman at home in his element on what is essentially a normal day for him. The series could very well grow to be a more intense narrative, but for now the more grounded tale feels refreshing. For the team best known for The Authority, The Batman’s Grave is a masterful showing of their versatility as creators.