[22 August 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
“Storybook Endings” is the title to the final issue of Batman volume one. Those two words have nothing to do with anything that happens in this issue, nor does it have anything to do with the future of the title. In a word, Batman 713 is pointless…but it is significant nonetheless.
The significance is inherent in the issue’s place in publication history. After 71 years of continuous publication, Batman ends, ready to be replaced with a new volume for the DC-wide relaunch of the “New 52” titles.
You would expect the final issue of Batman volume one to be a stunning, well rounded, sentimental and thrilling tribute to the legacy of one of DC most popular characters. You wouldn’t expect what amounts to a recap and fill-in issue, but that’s what is delivered.
Fabian Nicieza is an excellent writer. His recent run on Red Robin – up until its end – is proof of that. It is therefore unfortunate that his name appears as the writer of this issue.
The story is Damian retelling the history of Batman to three young boys at a charity event. The emphasis is on the relationship between Bruce, the original Batman, and Dick the current Batman. This is the status quo. Bruce and Dick are both Batman and Damian, a harder edged Robin, has now softened. Fantastic. We are now ready for Batman volume two, number one.
While it is interesting that Nicieza touches on the complicated, emotional relationship between Bruce and Dick, it is nothing more than a slight graze of the hand. It should be noted that he frames their relationship as a father and son dynamic. It’s the obvious comparison, but too often in recent Batman comics, writers have tried to wedge Bruce and Dick into a brotherly relationship. That is a disservice to the characters. Nicieza frames them as they should be, but for all of that effort, nothing else seems to matter.
The narrative of Batman 713 is a poorly truncated history of the character and his allies, but it’s neat and tidy. In one way, it sets up the next era. In another way, it lacks any of nuance Batman’s history deserves. There are some subtle touches, but once you’ve read them and reflected, they are lacking.
There is one seriously sentimental moment in the issue. The three kids Damian is retelling the history of Batman to are named Bob, Bill and Jerry, as in Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. The sentimentality ends there, as within a couple of panels Dick asks Alfred if their “work” clothes are ready.
“Of course they are, Master Dick,” says Alfred. “Who am I to deny two men the right to change into unitards in the back of their limousine?”
The pencil work by Steve Scott, Daniel Sampere and Andrei Bressar is – to be blunt – generic. The panels are neither exciting nor boring. They exist, suffering from a lack of imagination and a script that lacks the appropriate level of celebration this issue demands. The less said about the artwork, the better.
Not all of the criticism for this issue should be solely leveled at the creative team. DC as publisher deserves much of the blame for a severe lack of foresight regarding the final issue of one of their longest running titles. DC doesn’t see this as the end, though they must understand that many of their readers would and do. Not understanding or acknowledging this point somewhat indicates a lack of understanding of their audience. But to say that a major publisher doesn’t understand their audience is nothing new. It’s been the trend for far too long and is possibly the biggest contributor to the overall decline of the industry. Reboots can’t fix missed opportunities.
And Batman 713 is mainly a missed opportunity. DC could have paid tribute to the Batman universe and built excitement and interest in the upcoming new number one. Instead they punted, sacrificing any momentum by delivering what amounts to an underwhelming fill-in issue.
It certainly doesn’t help that the previous week Detective Comics ended with an excellent issue. An issue that concluded a nearly yearlong story, that not only put a stamp on Dick Grayson’s time under the cowl, but also fundamentally paid tribute to the history and tone of the title. A tough act to follow to be sure, but that’s no excuse for the lackadaisical final issue of Batman volume one.
DC knew several months prior what this issue would represent. The company’s inability to divide their focus and wholly close one era while launching a new one is alarming and troubling. Let’s hope their singular focus pays off…or all of this was pointless.