Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)
The book opens with Batman racing the clock to rescue a young boy who has been kidnapped, as he had hoped he would be able to be in & out with the boy before Killer Croc returned from the ransom pickup. However, while he's able to quickly take out the thugs who had been left behind to prevent such a rescue, Batman's plan hits the skids when Killer Croc returns with the money thirty-seven seconds early. However, we see Batman isn't one to be caught flatfooted, and in spite of a recent mutation that Killer Croc looks to have undergone, Batman figures out a way of dealing with his more powerful opponent. However, while he was busy fighting Killer Croc the ransom was removed from the scene by Catwoman, and given Batman was already a bit dubious about Killer Croc being able to orchestrate a plan as elaborate as this kidnapping, we see Batman is hot on Catwoman's tail to uncover the identity of the true mastermind. However, given Catwoman has recently started playing on the side of the angels, Batman's curious why she looks to have returned to her criminal ways. However, when his batline is cut by an unseen party, Batman is sent tumbling into the crime infested alleys below, while Catwoman's employer is revealed to be...
Yes I've jumped aboard the bandwagon, but when you've got a creative team with this much buzz surrounding them, it's difficult to resist the urge to take a look. So did this first issue of the Leob/Lee run convince me that this book is now a must read title? Not exactly, but it did serve to convince me that I should try out a couple more issues, as it is a fairly entertaining super-hero romp, and given I'm a big fan of Catwoman's new title, I can't deny that final page left me quite curious. On the other side of the equation though, I can see signs that Jeph Loeb is falling into the pattern that so many Bat-writers have in the past, in that ever since Frank Miller demonstrated that a well prepared Batman could take down a powerhouse like Superman, it has seemed like the writers have been gun shy in offering a Batman who is anything but infallible. Simply put every battle Batman enters he's a regular boy scout in his "always be prepared" approach, and thanks to his ever handy utility belt, the writers are never left in a situation where Batman actually has to sweat out a victory, or secure one by the skin of his teeth. This issue introduces use to the new, improved Killer Croc, who Batman has never encountered before, and naturally Batman already knows his achilles heel.
Now I will give Jeph Loeb credit for giving us a look inside Batman's head throughout this issue, as the opening sequence is a great display of his professional approach to this rescue mission, as he utterly devastates a group of hired thugs, by neatly exploiting their various weaknesses. The book also shows signs that Jeph Loeb might break free from the pattern that has kept me away from this book, as Batman does make a mistake, or at least something that can be seen as a mistake, when the money is stolen while he was busy dealing with Killer Croc. There's also a fairly exciting cliffhanger finish as after Batman's rope is cut, he's sent crashing to the ground, and he's in pretty sorry shape, as a group of armed thugs move his way. There's also the idea that he's thrown for a loop as he's trying to figure out how Catwoman is connected to the kidnapping plot, and as such we've got a mystery where at the moment we know more than Batman does, which is always a welcome situation, as we get to follow the steps that he takes to reach the reach the conclusion that we already know. It's also nice to see that Jeph Loeb does seem to be quite enamored with drawing upon Batman's rogue gallery.
Of the artists who made the mass exodus to form Image in the early 1990s, I think the one that left me the most disappointed was Jim Lee, as he was really coming into his own on those early issues of the new X-Men book. Well, here we are more than a decade later, and since I only have his old Marvel work for comparison, I have to say that while the coloring effects have gotten better, the only real change I see in Jim Lee's art is that he's gotten much stronger with his body language. I mean sure Catwoman engages in some arched back/chest out & butt shots that tell me Jim Lee hasn't quite exorcised the 1990's demons out of the his system, but the art also delivers some great looking Frank Miller style action, as the page where Batman is engaged in a rooftop chase with Catwoman is a wonderful bit of work. The scene where Batman tumbles to the ground is also a wonderful bit of action. As for the new design of Killer Croc, given I was never really enamored with the old design, I do like the decidedly more bestial appearance the character gains in this issue. Jim Lee also turns in a pretty imposing Batman, though I will admit that he's a little too bulked out for the high agility maneuvers the character makes in this issue.
I'll admit I've never been a big Batman follower, as my collection only includes the Frank Miller works (Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One), and the issues that I picked up for about half a year, after the attention grabbing Batman: Death in the Family story. Now I'm familiar with his corner of the DCU, as I do pick up the various satellite titles (Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, Birds of Prey & Harley Quinn), but truthfully most of my Batman exposure comes from his time in the JLA. This opening issue by the new creative team hasn't convinced me that I'm missing the boat by not becoming a regular Batman reader, but it is a pretty solid read, and I'll give them a couple more issues to convince me of the idea that Batman should be added to my pull list. Plus, if nothing else with a creative team this solid, I can be assured of an entertaining read while I'm waiting to be impressed. Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee is simply too good a combo to pass by without taking a peek at what they're up to.
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