I had heard that John Layman did a nice little reclamation project on this title, and after reading his opening chapter, I have to agree. After the drudgery of reading the previous two trades, this one doesn’t feel like work. I was actually interested in seeing what adventures Batman is up to!
My favorite part of this trade is the approach Layman uses to participate in the overwrought Death of the Family crossover. Rather than dwelling on the faceless Joker himself, Layman creates the Merrymaker and his band of lunatics for Batman to take out. Admittedly, the “mystery” of Merrymaker’s identity is so predictable I literally guessed it the first time the character is mentioned, but this isn’t about the mystery. Instead, the book focuses on Batman putting a stop to some new villains (thank goodness) using different levels of punishment. The fact that Bats sometimes just scares off poseur kids is a great touch and one of the best bits of character Layman uses.
With Joker abducting the Penguin for Death of the Family, that leaves a vacuum in power at the Iceberg lounge. In steps Emperor Penguin, the former boss’ assistant. He’s a sharp one, this new crime boss, and that is never clearer than in his backup stories. My favorite is the story where he takes out a new criminal arriving in Gotham because the guy is just too smart. The folks at the top have to protect their perch.
Layman uses some classic villains in this collection, and my enjoyment of them varies based on their use. Poison Ivy and Clayface have some new roles to play; roles that let them exhibit some personality that hasn’t come out in the past. Using these well-heeled villains in a new way gives them new life. However, when Mr. Zsasz shows up, he’s just like he always is; the perfect villain for the new 52. Honestly, in the hyper-violence of the new 52, a guy with a knife who kills dozens of people is about as dead-on as can be.
Jason Fabok takes over on art, and I liked his clean style. He gets to draw some neat Batman armor, hitting the spot for the more toyetic among us. He also has nice takes on Clayface and Poison Ivy. Ivy is a difficult character to get right, but Fabok does a nice job making her look like a heroic villain (or maybe a villainous ‘tweener?)
This isn’t GOOD enough for me to collect, but dang it is nice to actually look forward to reading other Bat books when I get to the library!