Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso
After a woman's body is discovered partially eaten, Batman's investigation leads him to Killer Croc but after question the villain Batman turns his attention to the person who hired Killer Croc to kill this woman. As his efforts manage to unearth the guilty party we see Batman is dealt a devastating blow when his efforts to capture this fleeing criminal results in a haunting recreation of the tragedy that effectively ended his happy childhood, and made him the man he is today.
I wasn't entirely certain that I was going to remain on board for this next arc, as while I've heard good things about "100 Bullets", frankly I've never been a huge Batman fan. However, if Chuck Austen's managed to accomplish some good it's that his work has satisfied my need to save a few bucks every week by dumping the titles that he took over, and the price drops by DC, combined with the impending ones by Marvel are also a big help in this regard. With this is mind I decided to stick around to see if this latest creative duo could put on a more impressive showing, and I have to say based on this first issue it certainly looks like the material has itself a harder edge, as we open the book with Batman using Killer Croc as a punching bag, and after a rather unsettling attempted rape scene, the book ends with the brutal murder of two people. However, what keeps this book from simply being an excuse to offer up a scenes of violence and depravity is how well the writing manages to insert Batman's world view into this mix, as while he's not a square-jawed, boy-scout style hero, the internal dialogue that weaves it's way through this issue makes it clear that this environment is making a real impact on the character, and it's almost reached the stage where he's given up on the idea that Gotham City could ever be free of the criminal element that has basically consumed it.
As for the art, I can understand why this creative duo has been so successful on a title that from all outward appearances seems to be driven by the celebration of revenge and acts of violence, as Batman truly looks like he's operating in a hellish environment, where the criminals are smiling from ear to ear as they prepare to commit some truly deprived act. The scene where the girlfriend attempts to seduce Batman is also exceptionally well done, as the black widow effect that accompanies all femme fatale characters is perfectly represented in this sequence. My only complaint about the art is that Batman looks a little too massive in some panels, with the panel where he's lost in his own personal anguish upon discovering what has happened on that final page being the most glaring example of a moment where Batman looks positively freakish.
This is probably one of the best Batman stories I've read outside Frank Miller's "Year One" and "Dark Knight Returns" projects, as this issue is a wonderfully hard-boiled look at the seedy world that Batman finds himself constantly immersed within, and it doesn't hurt that the mystery he's looking into is proving to be quite interesting as well. Now the final page reveal is a bit much, but it's not entirely unbelievable, and if nothing else it's something that is sure to break right through the emotional barriers that Batman has built. In the end I suspect one's enjoyment of this issue is largely dependent on how low a level one is willing to see Batman operate at, as this is a decidedly seedy environment that the character is moving through, and the four color super-heroics of the previous arc are nowhere to be found in this first chapter, as even Killer Croc is a completely deprived creature in these pages. I also like the idea that Batman does come across like he's willing to concede defeat, as his opening dialogue paints a far more realistic view of his war against crime than I've ever seen from a Batman writer.
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