There’s a common internet meme which states that you should always be yourself unless you can be Batman, in which case always be Batman. This seems to be true of comics, as well: a comic should always focus on its own cast of characters… unless you can get Batman to appear, in which case focus on Batman.
That applies to Green Lanterns #16 anyway, as the usual space-cop duo dynamic is shaken up when Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz travel to Gotham City to help Batman with a bizarre case. A string of homicides have been caused by people driven to madness by a sudden intense fear of Batman, apparently due to some online videos which paint the hero as a villain. This is beyond his usual enemy the Scarecrow’s ability, the Bat believes, so it must be the Sinestro Corps who are behind it. Hence calling in Simon and Jessica.
This issue gets a lot of comedy mileage out of Simon and Jessica being both terrified and in awe of the Dark Knight, marvelling at the Bat-Cave and pointing out how scary-looking he is. There’s a lot of fun to had from seeing the stoic Batman from the point of view of some less intense heroes and writer Sam Humphries nails that here, though without making the character a Lego Batman-type figure of fun.
However, their partnership is not all plain sailing as Simon’s decision to carry a gun – in case his power ring fails during battle – puts him at loggerheads with Batman. While it was a good idea to address the different methods of the heroes, their protracted argument is possibly strung out for too long, lasting almost a quarter of the issue. That said, it does turn out to be of relevance later when, in a shocking twist, Alfred becomes infected with the Bat-fear and steals Simon’s gun. It’s a terrific cliffhanger to end on, as seeing Bruce Wayne’s beloved butler Alfred turn on his master is just so intrinsically wrong. The final reveal that it is indeed Scarecrow who’s behind the mystery, having got his hands on a yellow power ring, also sets the stage for some interesting things to come.
Behind the humour and character dynamics, there’s also a very timely message hidden under the superheroics: that fake news and propaganda which tell us to hate the wrong enemy can cause a dangerous atmosphere of fear. It’s not drawn attention to (at least not in this issue), but it is an interesting undercurrent to the story nonetheless. It would be fascinating to see this further explored in future, though without it becoming too heavy-handed.
Away from Humphries writing, artist Neil Edwards provides some bold yet precise, detailed work. His Batman, in particular, is a full-on grouch, with a permanent scowl carved into his cowl – something that fits with the issue’s brooding, fear-inducing presentation of him. There are also some fun panel layouts which keep things fresh, even when the plot has stalled, such as the split face between Bats and Simon during their gun argument.
The first issue of the ‘Darkest Knights’ story arc is unequivocally Batman’s book. It’s on his turf, features his supporting characters, the central mystery concerns him and it’s his detective work that leads them onto the right track. Because of this, Green Lanterns stars to feel rather short-changed and there’s a slightly disjointed feel to proceedings due to the Bat-hijacking of the book. That said, it’s a solid opener to an intriguing new arc that looks to do something interesting for a familiar villain and potentially address some timely real-world themes.
The Green Lanterns have their spotlight stolen by Batman in a solid issue that sets up an intriguing new story arc.