Batman: Urban Legends is an all-new anthology series from DC Comics that sheds a light on different shadowy corners of the Batman universe. Let’s dig into each story, shall we?
In the issue’s first story, Chip Zdarsky and Eddie Barrows kick off an ongoing mystery that Batman and Red Hood find themselves investigating separately. While it’s pretty obvious from the get-go who is really behind Gotham City’s latest designer drug (or is it?), the mystery is really just the setup for an exploration of the two characters at the center of it all: Bruce Wayne and Jason Todd.
The flashbacks to various points in Jason/Bruce’s relationship help to anchor the themes in this first story. Jason refuses to allow anyone to feel abandoned the way he has been time and time again. The scenes between Jason and his young charge are as rewarding as they are sad, particularly for a reader like me, who has never been the biggest Jason Todd fan. In fact, I might go so far to say that Zdarsky and Barrows have humanized Jason for me in a way I’ve never really seen before.
Zdarsky also has a clear understanding of Batman as a character, which helps elevate this gritty story to new heights. Batman’s drive to do the right thing, no matter the cost, is looking to be his biggest obstacle on the path to solving this case. With the police force after him and his unwillingness to work with Jason, it has become more difficult than ever for the Dark Knight to find someone to turn to.
However, Zdarsky never frames Bruce’s situation as one where he might compromise his values to win the day, nor does the hero come across as unreasonably stubborn. Instead, Batman purposefully chooses the hardest path, allowing him to keep his moral fortitude. There’s not even a question.
The action is quick and brutal, with the methodology of the two vigilantes being shown in stark contrast with one another. Barrows draws the hell out of these action scenes. Even though nobody really stands a chance once Jason hits the scene, there’s a kinetic energy to these shootouts that makes each one of them feel exciting. Jason’s disdain for sparing criminals is obvious in his reserved body language, and the final panels of the issue are haunting. It’s clear that Jason still has a long road ahead of him, but the moments of vulnerability (which are perfectly clear on his face, particularly toward the end of the chapter) speak volumes to how far he has come.
Next up is a Harley/Ivy story by Stephanie Phillips and Laura Braga. This story is beautifully told, showing a progression of the couple’s relationship over the years. Starting over is never easy, but Harley’s resolve here is palpable. It’s always great to see this character refusing to give up hope, and this story nicely sets up her frame of mind leading into future storylines in the main Harley Quinn title. Unfortunately, the abrupt ending leaves this feeling less like its own story than it does a prologue. This almost feels like it would have been better served by being more closely attached to the story it’s setting up.
Even so, this interlude works well in establishing where Harley is at in her life, and Braga’s artwork here is lovely. Harley and Ivy’s progression from close friends to something much more is portrayed as a gradual thing, the flirtatious glances and uncomfortable moments of vulnerability feeling so honest and realistic. Ivan Plascencia makes the brilliant choice of bathing the flashbacks in rosy bright colors and shrouding Harley’s present day scenes in darker tones.
The flashbacks feel full with activity, while the stark empty surroundings in the modern scenes show the reader that Harley has lost so much. But again, the hopeful nature of her narration sets the tone for some great stories to follow. Although I just wish this vignette had felt a little more fleshed out, it’s a hugely effective snapshot of Harley and Ivy’s relationship.
Brandon Thomas and Max Dunbar kick off their Outsiders story with bang — quite literally. The action is the star of the show here, with much of the page count being taken up by a wild chase scene at sea. It’s fun to watch these characters attempting to outfight and outthink a group of baddies who seem to outclass them in sheer firepower, and although the sequence is extremely chaotic, Dunbar manages to make everything quite easy to follow. The bright colors from Luis Guerrero also go a long way towards making this story stand out from the dour and shadowy nature of the rest of the issue.
Also of note is the wraparound for this story, which sees Black Lightning attempting to jog Metamorpho’s memory after this battle. I won’t spoil the ending here, but a clever use of Metamorpho’s abilities results in a truly bonkers final image, one that literally made me say “whoa” out loud when I saw it.
Moving on: This might be the ’90s kid in me talking (actually, it’s definitely the ’90s kid in me talking), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Grifter. Something about the simple design of the character and his “who heckin’ cares” attitude have always appealed to me — like Devil May Cry’s Dante before he was even a thing. I think this story from Matthew Rosenberg and Ryan Benjamin might instill that same love in new readers, because it’s just so unrelentingly fun.
If there’s one thing that feels a little odd about this story, it’s that Batman seems completely ready to bring someone in based on circumstantial evidence. Even so, this story broadens the Bat-Family in an unexpected way, making Grifter feel like he’s been in this circle of characters for far longer than he truly has been. The action is intense and dynamic, with most of the scuffles being over quite quickly, illustrating how good Cole is at what he does. The exception to this rule is the fight with Batman, which takes it time to show how painfully the two characters have underestimated each other.
The humor in this story works really well, also, with Grifter’s constant bluster being oddly charming, even as he annoys everyone around him. A particular highlight is his attempt to psych out Batman during their first encounter.
Overall, Batman: Urban Legends #1 is a strong debut for DC’s new anthology series, and should leave Bat-fans feeling like they got plenty of bang for their buck.
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