Last week was the 29th anniversary of Batman: Returns hitting theaters. That milestone is a pertinent reminder that not every Batman tale, regardless of the medium, needs to be a carbon copy of a Michael Mann movie. Returns remains beloved and a standout for comic book properties because it’s genre-bending with its detective roots mixed with wacky off-beat weirdness and even horror elements. In that vein, Batman: Reptilian #1 is a worthy homage to the great Batman tales that have come before.
The draw here for Batman: Reptilian is the artwork of Liam Sharp. For longtime comic readers, it’s easy to get a tad choked up reading Sharp’s dedication to the late, great illustrator Steve Dillon at the beginning of the book, who was originally slated to draw this series with writer Garth Ennis. His creations that breathe on these pages are a heartfelt tribute. Sharp breaks from the style we’ve seen from him as of late when working with Grant Morrison on The Green Lantern, opting for a post-Bill Sienkiewicz vibe. It conjures up images of the seminal Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth from Morrison and legendary artist Dave McKean too. Much like that original graphic novel, Batman: Reptilian oozes mind-bending expressiveness.
There’s an eerie and creepy component to Sharp’s artwork in Batman: Reptilian. The depictions of the Joker and the Penguin feel ripped from a child’s nightmare about a carnival house of mirrors (that’s a little The Dark Knight Returns ode). Before readers even get a glimpse of the titular reptile, the horror bend here feels unique, as Sharp balances the influences of past Batman stories with the next-level plot Ennis has brewing.
Sharp’s artwork will keep readers’ eyes glued to the pages, but that doesn’t mean that the narrative Ennis offers is lacking in any regard. It’s a bit of a slow burn, maybe more so than should be in a six-issue series, but he presents a characterization of a militant and unhinged Batman that mixes well with the trippy horror illustrations. With the Dark Knight feeling as ruthless as ever, not afraid in the slightest to knock someone out at a public press conference, Ennis is building a psychological thriller akin to a David Fincher film.
While there may be an oversaturation of Batman comics on the market from DC’s Black Label imprint, there are a plethora of reasons why. Bat books are obviously DC’s cash cow, but no character, regardless of publisher, brings out the best in creators and is open to such a wide variety of interpretations as the Caped Crusader. Ennis and Sharp expertly carve out a place for Batman: Reptilian in the larger Batman mythos.
With more Batman books than fans can count on two hands out there on comic book shelves, it’s hard to stand out. With a creative force like the Ennis-Sharp tandem, however, Batman: Reptilian is a horror-tinted series that offers readers something a tad different than what they’re receiving in the mainstream continuity of the DC Universe. A finale splash page showcasing Sharp’s terrifying artwork of that dreaded, murderous reptile would’ve been a perfect cliffhanger, but Ennis and Sharp offer enough that Bat fans will be back when the second issue drops.
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