“The Cradle of Civilization”
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist/Cover artist: Ben Oliver
Colors: Brian Reber
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
One of DC’s stated goals with its New 52 relaunch initiative was to bring more diversity to its comics, to appeal to a wider audience. As such, a few titles featuring title characters of color were included in the New 52, and this is one of them. Batwing struck me as a surprising choice, unlike such characters as Mr. Terrific and Static Shock. Batwing has next to no history. He’s had maybe one or two previous appearances, as far as I know, as part of Grant Morrison’s “Batman Inc.” concept. I really didn’t know what to expect from this new book, but I did know it’s been some time since I was into Judd Winick’s super-hero writing. With this project, though, he delivers not only a solid introduction to an essentially new character but an intriguing mystery as well. Ben Oliver has had some exposure as of late on such projects as Alpha Flight and Flashpoint: Hal Jordan, but here, he demonstrates he’s developing as a comic artist quickly. This is the best work I’ve seen from him to date.
David Zavimbe works as a police officer in the city of Tinasha in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a part of the world in which crime runs rampant and corruption among the authorities is common. But David is in a unique position to bring justice to his city, not in his role as a policeman, but as Batwing, the so-called Batman of Africa. Set up with the equipment he needs to wage his war on crime by the original Batman, Batwing investigates a gruesome murder scene, where the body parts of criminals have been piled up, apparently as a warning to others. But one of the victims doesn’t fit in with the underworld element, and it offers the first clue to a mystery that’s plagued the continent for some time: whatever happened Africa’s greatest and most revered heroes?
Oliver’s work on Alpha Flight #0 and Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1 was attractive, but it also didn’t always tell the story clearly. He clearly likes to experiment with panel layouts, opting for unconventional, diagonal panels, sometimes stretching across a couple of pages. I liked the experimentation, but the flow of the action wasn’t always clear. I had no such confusion as I made my way through this comic, though. There’s still a hint of an experimental approach. His panel borders are often tilted or skewed, offering altered perspectives. It works well here, but I think he’s being more restrained with the method.
It’s easy to see why both DC and Marvel have given work to Oliver. The artist boasts a realistic, airy style, and it instills an atmosphere of importance and maturity throughout this issue. His characters look and seemingly move like real people. I like that the design for the villain, Massacre, doesn’t him in tights or gaudy colors. Instead, it looks like he’s wearing regular clothing, albeit fatigues and armored pieces. Brian Reber’s colors add even more texture and realism to the visuals. There’s also a strong sense of place often throughout the book. Backgrounds are often quite detailed.
Winick doesn’t delve much into the politics or sociological conditions of the setting, but there’s nevertheless a strong sense of culture at play here. Winick doesn’t just write a story that could’ve been an American super-hero yarn; he doesn’t see the setting as interchangeable. There’s an overall tone to the dialogue and narration that sets it apart. Now, I hope to find more overt cultural and political references in future issues. The story is set in one of the more tumultuous areas of the planet, and hopefully, Winick’s plots will reflect that more clearly rather than subtly.
The script is an accessible one and is in keeping with DC’s goal of reaching out to new readers. But Winick wisely doesn’t just sit on his super-hero genre laurels. There’s more than an introduction of the hero, supporting cast and premise; he gets the story underway as well. He drops us in the middle of the action with the first page, employing an achronological approach to get things moving quickly while also methodically setting the stage later on. That method makes for a confusing moment at the end of the issue, but a quick recap of key captions in the issue clarifies the opening fight sequence must occur after the cliffhanger ending.
Batman is often seen by many as an action hero, as someone who metes out justice to the wicked, but we can sometimes forget he’s also a detective. Winick mirrors that characterization in Batwing, and the mystery that emerges in this story, touching upon an earlier heroic tradition in Africa, really has me interested. I not only want to find out what happened to those heroes, but I want to know who they are. Winick plays his cards close to his chest, only identifying one of these new characters, leaving himself the opportunity of introducing others later in the story arc and providing his readers with the pleasure of new discoveries. 8/10
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