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Batman stands menacingly on a rooftop with fireworks behind him in Batman #118 (2021).

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Batman’s new era is off to a disjointed start

Batman #118 tosses the Dark Knight into the Abyss (eventually)

DC Comics’ Fear State event is over, and Gotham City is in a festive mood. Too bad its resident Dark Knight is suffering from a case of post-event blues.

Batman, consistently DC’s highest-selling superhero title, has gone through major creative upheaval. James Tynion IV and Jorge Jiménez are out, but DC Comics is moving on like it’s no big thing, locking in a new high-profile creative team in an attempt to stabilize Batman for the foreseeable future.

So how does the first chapter of an ambitious new Bat-epic, titled “The Abyss, Part I,” differentiate itself from what came before? Does it maintain the high-wire intensity readers expect from Batman? Is it any damn good?

Who is making Batman #118?

Tossing Batman into the abyss is writer Joshua Williamson and artist Jorge Molina, along with colorist Tomeu Morey and letterer Clayton Cowles. (Former Batman artist Mikel Janín knocks out a couple fill-in pages for this issue, presumably for scheduling reasons.) Williamson has practically carved out his own corner of the DC Universe with an extended run on The Flash and an eclectic gauntlet of recent DC projects such as Justice League Incarnate, Robin, and Deathstroke, Inc. (This isn’t Williamson’s first Gotham rodeo, however; November marked his final issue on the Red Hood-centric Future State: Gotham.) Jorge Molina made his first huge splash with Marvel’s Spider-Geddon crossover series in 2018 and soon after launched X-Men: Blue with writer Cullen Bunn for Marvel’s ResurrXio” initiative. “The Abyss, Part I” is Molina’s first prime-time Batman gig.

What is Batman #118 about?

Party guests mill around in Batman villain costumes at Gotham’s Billionaires Ball in Batman #118.

Batman #118 almost squishes two different issues into one. By the end, the issue’s a post-script for Fear State and a foundational prelude to a murder mystery involving a belfry full of international Batmans from the Batman, Inc. organization. Neither half is particularly riveting, for reasons that we’ll get into in a bit.

The first part of the issue follows Batman has he grimly surveys a Gotham City that is, for the moment, celebrating its reprieve from the constant onslaught of terror and chaos that typically blights this burnt-out burg. Then, just when it’s beginning to feel like Batman #118 doesn’t really have much else planned for the rest of the issue, it powers into plot overdrive: Five members of Batman, Inc. — a network of Batmans from other countries created by Bruce Wayne in the course of of Grant Morrison’s 2006 run on Batman — have been implicated in the murder of a terrorist known as “the Abyss”, and only Batman can clear their names.

The issue is really about Batman attempting to find something to do now that Joker War and Fear State are in the rearview and can no longer keep him busy. That’s really what “The Abyss, Part I” feels like: busy work.

Why is Batman #118 happening now?

DC is aiming to maintain reader interest in Batman after James Tynion IV’s blockbuster run on the title came to a seemingly abrupt end with Fear State. Pairing Williamson’s popularity (and enthusiastic productivity) while writing in different pockets of the DCU with the A-list sheen provided by artists like Molina and Janin — that is a pretty shrewd way to keep Batman running along at the high-profile clip to which readers have grown accustomed.

Is there any required reading?

For an issue with so little going on story-wise, there is quite a bit to catch up on if you’re going to get anything out of Batman #118. There’s the Fear State saga, of course, though it’s likely most readers who will read this issue are already keenly aware why Gotham City is currently kicking up its heels in celebration and Batman is more moody than usual.

For new readers who desperately want to understand what Batman, Inc. is all about and why this society of superheroes matters so much to Batman (aside from, y’know, using his likeness) the J.H. Williams III-illustrated issues of Batman early on in the nigh-legendary Grant Morrison run (Batman issues #667-669) introduce some of the Bat-characters involved in this melodrama with a mad mansion murder mystery of its own. And to truly grasp the enormity of Batman, Inc. and why the presence of this issue’s surprise villain taints its reputation, Batman, Incorporated #1-8, the oversized one-shot Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!, and the JLA epic Rock Of Ages (JLA #10-15) aren’t just required reading, they’re essential — because this issue isn’t going to be much help.

Is Batman #118 good?

Superman and Batman grin as pals in the Fortress of Solitude, Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth play chess in front of a roaring fireplace in Batman #118 (2021).

Batman #118 looks like a million bucks thanks to Molina and Morey; there are splashes and panels in this issue that boast thrillingly iconic looks for the Caped Crusader and set the somber, anxious tone that otherwise eludes Joshua Williamson’s story.

That’s a bummer, because reading a Batman storyline where all of Gotham isn’t at stake and the status quo isn’t about to be rocked forever is a nice change of pace. Williamson has a lot of pans in a lot of fires, and he’s clearly planning something huge for DC’s very-near future, but his first issue of Batman is decidedly a sleepy, unfocused, disjointed thing.

The setup on its own is promising: Five members of Batman, Inc. — Man-of-Bats (Native American), El Gaucho (Argentinian), the Bat-Man of China, The Dark Ranger (Australian), and The Hood (English) — have been arrested for the apparent murder of a mysterious figure known as “the Abyss”. Each Bat-friend has confessed to the murder, though the specifics of the case are absent from Batman #118. Fine.

But the execution of the issue is so incredibly wonky, an unnecessary rush to a cliffhanger ending following a first half filled with so much empty space. The majority of the issue treats us to a heist sequence set at a billionaire’s costume ball. (Bruce Wayne wasn’t invited, obviously.) It attempts to underscore that Batman isn’t in a celebratory mood after Fear State, but Williamson has already established this in the issues first few uneventful pages. Visually, the sequence is equally chaotic and not in a story sense; there isn’t a cohesive sense of geography in Molina’s panel-to-panel work during this heist, which creates a disorienting and confusing (if gorgeously illustrated) jaunt through what is a perfunctory Batman crime-smashing session.

Molina makes the effort to give the issue the epic scope it’s seeking, and he gives Bruce Wayne a hunky, polo-tucked-into-cuffed-khakis fit that is reminiscent of Morrison’s well-loved “Batman as Bond” concept. But it just ends up serving as yet another reminder in this issue of how great former runs on Batman have been, and how derivative this issue is.

One panel that popped

Batman stands menacingly and unharmed in the middle of a fire. “$#@%!” exclaims Firefly in Batman #118 (2021).

Here’s your standard-issue shot of Batman, all mood and simmering intensity, with an appropriate reaction from his quarry. Williamson and Molina are clearly having fun working on Batman, and there is at least some good Batman crime-fighting to be found here as a result.

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