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'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship

Comic Books

‘Batman: Urban Legends’ #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship

The anthology delivers once again with a mostly good entry about hero dynamics and politics.

I’d argue that with a mansion full of orphans, and a place among the Big Three, Batman’s whole “lone wolf” shtick has been a joke for a long time. But that doesn’t mean there’s not some truth there, and I think the best stories come in playing off Bats among other heroes. It’s why World’s Finest and Superman/Batman are big draws, or why Batman basically plays the handsome sitcom dad in those DC Webtoons.

Perhaps that’s why, as a kind of palette cleanser before new sagas launch in issue #18, issue #17 of Batman: Urban Legends pairs the Dark Knight with three heavy-hitters across three stories — Flash, Aquaman, and Black Adam. (Plus, a fourth story that’s more or less related.) The end results demonstrate that to truly understand and appreciate Batman, you just got to look at his friends.

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Breaking the ice with friendship

'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship

Variant cover from Gleb Melnikov. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Story: “Cold Shoulders”
Team: Ryan Cady (writer); Gleb Melnikov (pencils and inks); Scott Hanna (inks); Luis Guerrero (colors); and Troy Peteri (letters)

If you spent enough time watching the Justice League cartoon, you’d assume that Batman and Flash were polar opposites. But this story corrects the record in a really interesting way, as it shows just how comparable the pair truly is. From the shared early childhood trauma to both having ice-themed foes (and a prowess for detective work), Bruce and Barry may operate at different speeds but they also understand a shared responsibility for doing what’s right. So, as they team up to stop Mr. Freeze and Captain Cold from developing some super-freezing isotope, both men get a chance to learn from one another; Bats recognizes the benefits of relying on others, and Flash sees that he doesn’t always have to break the sound barrier to save the day.

This feels like one of those timeless tales that ignores more “modern” canon and explores the elemental tidbits of these heroes, something that the art helps foster with character designs and a take on Gotham City that feels reminiscent of several books and iterations (with a pretty heavy feel of late ’90s Jim Lee). It’s a mostly feel-good kind of story, as tends to be the case in these anthologies, but we still get something with earnest character development and a sense of real emotional stakes.

7.5 out of 10 on the Friendship Meter for positive vibes and valuable lessons in humanity.

A shallow dive into DC’s two biggest jerks

'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship

Variant cover from Sebástian Fiumara. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Story: “The Sea Beyond”
Team: Joey Esposito (writer); Serg Acuna (artist); Alex Guimaraes (colors); and Pat Brosseau (letters)

I really wanted to like this story more than I did. For one, Batman and Aquaman seem like pretty compatible heroes; they’re both overbearing in their own right. But presented here, Batman basically becomes a temporary employee to Aquaman and Mera as they try and settle the mystery of an ever-quieting ocean. If anything, we see more development between the king and queen of Atlantis, and Bats is just sort of shoved in at the end to help push a slightly hackneyed lesson about our shared connectivity on this planet. It’s a slightly silly lesson given that the whole thing had the potential as a slightly kooky take on cosmic horror (albeit with an oceanic spin) before it eventually landed as a weird after school special.

The real upside, then, is the art of Serg Acuna and Alex Guimaraes, who are the real teamwork MVPs through 1) their classic depiction of Batman and Aquaman and 2) their efforts to create the titular Sea Beyond The Veil, which is basically a psychedelic take on Eldritch Horrors. Still, the art’s not enough to save the whole thing, and it just feels like a great premise with a half-hearted execution stymied things before they got started.

5.1 out of 10 on the Friendship Meter for not enough deep sea bonding and/or nightmare fuel.

Bloody lessons in geopolitics

Batman

Variant cover from Gary Frank and Brad Anderson. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Story: “Statecraft”
Team: Alex Paknadel (writer); Amancay Nahuelpan (artist); Jordie Bellaire (colors); and Ariana Maher (letters)

If the aforementioned Flash story was the feel-good version of heroes learning from one another, this is the uber dark, Christopher Nolan-esque spin on that concept. Occurring right around the JSA: Black Reign story, we see Batman visit Kahndaq to try and get Black Adam to relinquish control and answer for his many crimes. Cue a knockdown, drag-out brawl, and the biggest blows aren’t the ones that crack Batman’s ribs. No, those are the hard-earned truths for both men: Batman gets a glimpse into what he’d be like without his family (and the temptation of “true” power), while Adam (who, like a true G, fights in his depowered form) understands his greatest weakness, a need to be loved. It’s violent and bloody in all the right ways, but the story especially makes the characters earn these cutting insights, and in that sense it feels all the more fulfilling. The art doesn’t always feel aligned with the story itself, but there’s some moments — the “human” Adam fighting, scenes with Atom Smasher fighting insurgents — that expertly play up the rich humanity that powers this story. Sure, both men are similar, but the story explores that with more depth and nuance to make this a deeply intriguing character study.

8.6 out of 10 on the Friendship Meter for bloody insights into the human condition.

What’s green and black and a total fiend?

'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship

Back page art of issue #17. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Story: “On His Worst Nights”
Team: Dan Watters (writer); Riley Rossmo (artist); Trish Mulvihill (colors); and AndWorld Design (letters)

Thematically, this final story doesn’t fit. Sure, there’s cameos galore, but it’s mostly about how Riddler sees his connection with Batman compared to some other foes (namely, Penguin and Catwoman). Still, writer Dan Watters is onto something sort of similar, as he basically uses the story to understand Batman and Riddler by having them butt heads versus a “traditional” team up of sorts. On the one hand, I think it shows Riddler is a great foible for Batman, as he has the power to make Batman question and doubt things, and that ability is the only real way to break down the Dark Knight. But on the other, we don’t really learn much about Riddler, and his efforts to reveal his “power” don’t come with some poignant understanding; it feels more like philosophical grandstanding from an overly cerebral villain. That’s not to say it’s not good, and that it doesn’t feel like a great spin on the team-up trope, but that I wanted more from Riddler overall. The fact that we don’t see him — and so much of the story is Riley Rossmo and Trish Mulvihill’s weird, slightly cartoonish take on the gritty Bat canon — is a powerful device that could have landed even more effectively.

0.2 out of 10 on the Friendship Meter for no friendships, but a 6.4 on the Dastardly Villain Scale

'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship
‘Batman: Urban Legends’ #17 explores the ups and downs of super friendship
Batman: Urban Legends #17
While not as well-rounded as other issues, 'Batman: Urban Legends' #17 does a solid job in providing stories that use Batman as a perfect lens to explore issues of friendship, power, collaboration, and how superheroes exist in our world.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Great art throughout that perpetuates the respective stories.
Plenty of great insight into DC's biggest heroes.
The stories feel different enough in terms of scope and aesthetic.
Every story gets a chance to shine.
Some stories don't land as well as others, and that hurts the book overall.
The last story could stand on its own, but somehow impacts this "themed" issue.
7
Good
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