WRITER: WARREN ELLIS | ART: BRYAN HITCH | PUBLISHER: DC | FORMAT: SINGLE ISSUES | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Tragic vigilante. Master martial artist. Brutal psychopath. James Bond in a bat suit. The Batman means a variety of things to a lot of people. Ask a hundred fans what makes Batman the best, and you're likely to get a wide range of answers. From camp playboy to mean and brooding antihero, the Batman can be anything his writers want him to be. But, for the World's Greatest Detective, Batman hasn't been doing a whole lot of, uh, detecting recently.
Not so Warren Ellis's Batman, who spends the first issue of The Batman's Grave deeply ensconced in a murder mystery most foul. It's a refreshing change of pace from having the Dark Knight fighting the Batman Who Laughs' Dark Multiverse or struggling to reclaim Gotham from Bane and an army of Arkham escapees. There's room for all kinds of Batman story of course, but it's lovely to get something as slow and atmospheric as this, once in a while. Even its title is evocative of a dark and Gothic mystery we can't wait to get to the bottom of.
But wait we shall. There are 12 issues to this run, and the first two are remarkably slow and deliberately paced. The titular Batman's Grave refers to, well, Batman's grave – not yet filled, but waiting – and how it ties into Issue # 1's murder mystery remains to be seen. In a turn of events which is either poignant or badly timed (see recent issues of Tom King's Batman), Alfred Pennyworth narrates, burdened with the knowledge that one day he will have to lay the Dark Knight to rest. Because, let's face it, there's no way Batman will live to see his dotage. There's the profound tragedy to the idea of a parent (and yes, Alfred might as well be by now) outliving their child, and The Batman's Grave finds Alfred struggling with a sense of great doom, dread and guilt. And a hangover that might just be related to the above.
Before that, though, a fight sequence which takes up almost half of Issue #2, magnificently illustrated by artist Brian Hitch. Hitch brings the same sense of cinema to Batman as he did The Ultimates and The Authority. His Batman is, unfortunately, a little cumbersome and awkward looking in a few panels – a side-effect of the book being so detailed and 'overlit' – but his cityscapes, interiors and action sequences are unmatched. Overlong as it may be, Issue # 2's big fight sequence is one of the best since The Killing Joke. Combined with that first issue twist, it's almost pure horror cinema.
There are a lot of ideas at play here, and Warren Ellis is giving little away so far. Wherever it might end up, The Batman's Grave is off to a solid beginning, both in terms of story and theme. One can't wait to see how Ellis and Hitch fill it in.