Now the fifth installment of DC’s monthly bat-based anthology, Batman: Urban Legends #5 is a true treat for any Bat-fan. Containing four stories each centering around Red Hood, Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, Robin Tim Drake, and Wildstorm wildcard Grifter, the issue serves as both an expansion on the universe and a return to its core.
The jewel of Batman: Urban Legends is the Jason Todd (aka Red Hood) and Batman story. Chip Zdarsky so far has been penning a story that seems a decade in the making, and this issue is no exception. Batman has been captured by Mr. Freeze and new villain Cheer, and Jason’s on a fevered quest to find him. Not only does this plot work well against Marcus To’s almost retro-styled flashbacks, but also parallels Batman’s relentless search for Jason before he died as Robin.
Eddy Barrows’ art also depicts both the grit of Gotham and the drama of the situation and seems effortless in conveying strong emotion. With additional art from Diogenes Neves, the three different art styles present all contribute to the story, pulling from different aesthetic senses while still feeling cohesive.
This issue also dives more into Cheer, one of the freshest Bat-centric villains in years. Almost the inverse of Scarecrow, Cheer seeks to free people through drug-induced happiness, not fear. It’s such a refreshing villain origin story — not too on the nose, dramatic, or disposable, but perfectly complementary to the setting and main characters. Cheer and his core themes are quite simple, so simple I don’t know how this specific avenue hasn’t been explored through a villain yet. This simplicity makes the character, and subsequently the story, very effective.
Batman: Urban Legends doesn’t stop there. The one-shot written by Marguerite Bennett featuring newly-minted Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown offers a slice of compelling character exploration masquerading as a lighthearted mini-story. It starts with the two having broken into a vacant Wayne manor to play video games, but snowballs into a look at the pair’s dynamic and ends with a very surprising, but welcome, cliffhanger. Considering Cassandra and Stephanie just… became Batgirls again in a Joker War one-shot with no real character explanation, this one-shot is a welcome addition to flesh them out in current continuity.
The second part of Tim Drake’s story, written by Meghan Fitzmartin, makes a similar move. After years of sharing the spotlight in team books, a Tim Drake rebirth is on the horizon. After the kidnapping of his childhood friend Bernard, Tim is stopping at nothing to get him back — including pretending to join a pain cult. However, showing multiple pages of him being tied up and beaten by adults from this cult is uncomfortable, especially considering Tim is still a teen (last we heard).
Despite these weird scenes, the issue still gives Tim a well-deserved spotlight, visually drawing from his solo series Red Robin and making him question who he is outside of teams and other people. An imagined wearing of his costume beautifully realized by Belén Ortega’s art only adds to the inner turmoil around his identity.
The Grifter story written by Matthew Rosenberg I am a bit hesitant on. I haven’t been as invested in this story because I think we’ve seen enough of tough, witty, half-asshole guys with guns. But fans of the character will be excited about this conclusion of his DC Comics reinvention, especially for the surprising ending. Without giving too much away, I haven’t always been a huge fan of how DC has treated their Wildstorm characters. It sometimes feels like they’re trying to squish a triangle into a square hole. But with this revelation, the mold may change to fit the shape.
As a previous Batman: Urban Legends AIPT reviewer claimed, this still is the “peak of DC’s anthologies,” allowing every crevice of Gotham to see some light. If Batman: Secret Files is a testing ground for the popularity of lesser-known characters, Batman: Urban Legends is a place to reinvent and relaunch characters. Where the main Batman titles fail to explore Gotham and the bat family, Batman: Urban Legends succeeds.
It’s kind of sad that most of the true character work and world-building of the majority of Bat-centric characters is being sequestered to Batman: Urban Legends. I am hopeful though that most of the storylines launched in these mini-series and one-shots will bloom into something more, considering the many drastic changes that happen at the end of them. For now, Batman: Urban Legends #5 should make you excited to be a Bat fan. With a rich focus on character, wonderfully expressive art, and many surprises for the future of the Bat-landscape, it can’t disappoint.
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