Batman: Urban Legends, DC’s monthly Bat-anthology, is never less than solid. Its long-form stories, which follow the troubled, anti-heroic former Robin Jason Todd (now called Red Hood) and Wildstorm’s caustic black ops gunslinger Cole “Grifter” Cash, work on opposite ends of the tonal spectrum to strong effect. Its standalone stories, which have starred the now-reformed and rebuilding Harley Quinn, the building-a-new-rhythm Barbara “Oracle” Gordon, and now the master assassin Lady Shiva, have delved into neat corners of the greater Batverse. And the mid-length Outsiders story, which wraps up in this third issue, has offered reliable, classic superhero comicry.
In other words, Batman: Urban Legends is a reliably strong anthology by a team of talented folks delving into multiple feels and looks, and it’s been a treat to follow. I’d love to see more folks working with more characters in this format. As for this third issue of Urban Legends itself, well, let’s break it down.
THE RED HOOD AND BATMAN IN “CHEER”
Illustrated by Eddy Barrows, Ebber Ferreira, Jesus Marino, and Marcus To
Colored by Adriano Lucas
Lettered by Becca Carey
Edited by Jessica Chen, with Associate Editor Dave Wielgosz and Group Editor Ben Abernathy
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Jason Todd, the Red Hood, is an ally of the Bat Family in the loosest sense. The once-dead former Robin is ruthless and vicious in a way that none of his peers are (to the point of using guns) and despises his foster father, but he still wants to do good — especially for a sweet kid named Tyler, whose horrific living situation reminds Jason far too much of his own pre-Batman. But Jason’s hot-headedness and unresolved issues can pull him to bad places — places like executing Tyler’s loathsome father in the heat of the moment, only to immediately realize that he may have just made things significantly worse for the kid he wants to save.
This third chapter brings the Red Hood into direct contact with Batman, which the creative team uses to great effect. As drawn by Barrows, Ferreira, Marino, and To, and written by Zdarsky, Bruce Wayne is a malleable man. He’s cold and stern with the adult Jason, struggles to teach his teen self to be a good Robin, cooly polite to allies and potential witnesses, and downright gentle with Tyler. Jason Todd, by contrast, is a snarling ball of smoldering emotions. He wants to do right, but whether as Robin or the Red Hood, he struggles with his impatience and with anger he has never been comfortable navigating.
It’s very strong visually and narratively, particularly in its depiction of Jason’s point of view. The Red Hood continually misses the big picture and struggles with the fact that his resentment-colored view of Batman does not line up with the actual person. He barrels through life, and thus far this tale has seen his barreling cost him dearly. Every time he’s tried to plow through an obstacle, he’s gotten in further over his hood — to the point that the chapter closes off on a full-blown cliffhanger that’s pretty much entirely on his actions. And what a cliffhanger it is. I eagerly await the next chapter.
Lady Shiva in “Death Wish”
Illustrated by Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque
Colored by David Baron
Lettered by Tom Napolitano
Edited by Dave Wielgosz
Written by Che Grayson
Sandra Wu-San, the master martial artist/assassin known as Lady Shiva, has been both an ally and an enemy to the Bat Family. seeks out Batman for dinner. They discuss Shiva’s daughter Cassandra Cain, the superheroine and Bat Family member called Orphan, as well as the loved ones they have lost. And they fight because Shiva believes she no longer has anything to live for and wants to go out on her own terms. Albuquerque’s illustrations are a mixed bag – while the close of the fight between Lady Shiva and Batman is dynamic, and his late story expression work is excellent, the earlier pages do not quite gel with the introspective tone of Grayson’s script. The disconnect is disappointing because taken individually, Albuquerque’s illustrations and Grayson’s script are quite strong – Grayson’s conception of Batman as deeply compassionate and loving but not necessarily happy is particularly compelling. Despite its wobbly start, this standalone tale finishes strongly.
The Outsiders in “The Caretaker”
Illustrated by Max Dunbar
Colored by Luis Guerro
Lettered by Steve Wands
Edited by Dave Wielgosz
Written by Brandon Thomas
While Tatsu “Katana” Yamashiro duels her late beloved’s mother for possession of the sword that carries his soul, her teammates Jefferson “Black Lightning” Pierce and Rex “Metamorpho” Mason battle an army of goons to come to her aid. When the clashes reach their conclusion, the Outsiders reaffirm their bonds and sit down to talk about what comes next. Dunbar and Thomas craft solid team superheroism, with bombast that’s distinct for Urban Legends. It’s solid throughout and ends with the promise of further adventures for the team this fall. I’ll be curious to see what will take its place since it’s by far the most directly superheroic story in the book, and tonal variety is important to the success of an anthology.
Grifter in “The Long Con”
Illustrated by Ryan Benjamin
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Edited by Ben Abernathy
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Benjamin draws brawls and gunfights and scraps marvelously. His faces are expressive, and his bodies nimble. His action fits Cole “Grifter” Cash perfectly. Grifter’s highly skilled and brutal in a fight, but his grace in action is not the grace of the Bat Family. It’s ganglier and more reckless – not necessarily because Grifter’s in over his head, but because that’s how he moves. Whether in action or at rest, Cole Cash is a mess.
Benjamin and Rosenberg make him a splendidly compelling mess. The shadow goals Cole is hiding behind his work as Lucius Fox’s bodyguard are starting to take shape, especially with the partial reveal of his until-now mysterious ally. Those goals are intriguing from both a narrative and a metatextual standpoint. Narratively, Cole’s allies and their goals are interesting, given the assorted corporate maneuvering that Fox has been navigating and the felt-but-yet-unseen presence of mysterious megacorporation HALO.
Metatextually, it’s neat to see the Wildstorm Universe’s long-standing near-future science fiction and paranoia-heavy storytelling folded into the mainline DC Universe in this fashion. The initial attempt to fold Wildstorm into the DC Universe with The New 52 fizzled save for Apollo and the Midnighter, and the line’s relaunch seems to have been deserted after its architect Warren Ellis was outed as a serial predator. As someone who rather loves the Wildstorm characters, this new path (sideways into the mainstream DCU by way of a similar but distinct tone to Batman) is exciting. I hope it works out.
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