Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Dustin Nguyen (The Veil), Alex Konat & Mark McKenna (Harvey Bullock), Jamie McKelvie (Leslie Thompkins), Chris Cross (Stephanie Brown) and Guillem March (Vicki Vale)
Despite the title, this one-shot issue doesn’t really deal with the question of if Batman is alive or not, aside from a line at the end and someone actually reading an issue of the fictional Gotham Gazette with the headline “Batman Alive?”
Instead, we have a series of vignettes narrated by the character The Veil, who was introduced in the recent Last Rites arc of Batman. The story moves from side characters of the Bat books, following them through their day in a world without Batman. The first tale is of GCPD’s very own Detective Harvey Bullock, who just so happens to be investigating crimes from the recent Battle for the Cowl tie-in book Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight (also written by Nicieza). From there, we move to Leslie Thompkins opening up a new clinic after returning from her exile from Gotham. The next story shows Stephanie Brown being Spoiler and stopping some bad guys. The last little short is Vicki Vale covering a ball where sons of the Bat, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, are in attendance. And as the book began, so it ends with The Veil with her narration.
For the most part, the stories stand alone. However, aside from Bullock, the stories do flow immediately into one another chronologically, using some of the same characters and setting as transitions, and some characters do make repeat appearances. Bullock’s story doesn’t seem to follow the natural flow that the other stories line up in, and there really isn’t a transition between it and the following story. This makes Bullock’s story seem detached from the rest, as if it were thrown in at the last moment just to reference Nicieza’s Azrael.
For most of these stories, it helps to be somewhat familiar with events in the Bat books over the last year or so. Aside from Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight being part of the plot in Bullock’s story, knowing the final story arc in the Robin book explains the tension between Robin and Stephanie and why gang members are helping build Leslie’s clinic. Even out narrator, The Veil, was just originally introduced just a few months ago. Because of these references, the book may confuse some of the less hardcore Bat-family readers.
Overall though, each story shows each character in the transition period between Bruce’s death and the new Batman, but nothing is really added to the characters. Not much in the way of development to show how Batman’s lost or reappearance has changed them, with Vicki being the exception. She actually shows some distress at no longer being together with Bruce, which is unknown to her partially due to his death. She also makes a revelation or two that’s worth checking out.
As you may tell from the artists listed, there are plenty of them. One for each story. In Bullock’s story, Konat and McKenna give a lot of their characters, especially Bullock and Commissioner Gordon, pudgy and cartoony faces that seem almost out of character. McKelvie draws Leslie’s tale in a very clean, simple fashion with thick character outlines that is almost akin to an animated series’ comic adaptation.
The shift into Cross’s art with Stephanie’s story is obvious with Cross emphasizing detail everywhere, from the backgrounds to the faces. Unfortunately, Cross’ art also seems to follow the cartoony trend of the rest of the book, which looks off with the detail he puts into the faces. Also showing the obvious shift between the two is Tim Drake, going from McKelvie’s awkward teen with some scrapes on the face and being forced to dress up, to Cross’ mobster look with scars across his eye.
March’s Vicki Vale tale has my favorite art of the book. Whereas the rest of the book has vibrant and almost cartoon-like coloring by Guy Major, March picks up double duty by drawing and coloring, and it looks great. The drawing is clean. The backgrounds are fairly simple, with more detail afforded to the main characters of each panel. The colors are soft and pastel-like and look as if they were done by hand with great care. Not to mention how attractive Vicki looks. It’s also the one that looks the least like it was originally animated, which is a plus.
The final page, however, returns to Major’s colors and Nguyen’s art for The Veil. As a somewhat fitting image, the last panel features a very Miller-esque Batman and Robin that screams The Dark Knight Returns, for obvious reasons given the book’s title of course.
It’s a decent enough one-shot featuring random side characters. If you care about any of them, give the book a look. I particularly recommend the Vicki Vale story. Not only does it look the best, but it also has the best plot of the tales and possibly has the most plot importance. Her story saves the book from being merely mediocre.
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10