Batman is finally taking that long awaited European vacation and he has brought a friend. So fun.
"Batman Europa" has been a long gestating project. By some accounts this project has been in the works for the past ten or eleven years. Fingers have been pointed at the artist Jim Lee but sometimes a talent such as his is hard to corral given the high demand for his work.
So how does it look after such a long wait? Let's take a look.
Our story begins with a struggle between the oldest of foes, Batman and his arch nemesis, the Joker. The reader may think they are locked in mortal combat but as the story plays out, we may actually learn this is but a prequel to the end. And despite their grievous wounds they are actually trying to help each other out.
A Killer Beginning
Writers Casali and Azzarello have a few flips and twists in store for us not the least of which is the cold opening we were treated to. The actual beginning is a bit of a flashback where the Dark Knight finds himself locked in a struggle with Killer Croc and the scales of this conflict aren't in Batman's usual favor.
Croc isn't necessarily a pushover, but Batman is having a harder time than usual subduing the toothy one. This is what provides him with his first clue that something isn't right.
Alfred has called Batman back to the Batcave and to his astonishment the Batcomputer has been infected with a virus. Simultaneously, Alfred deduces the virus on the computer mirrors the ailment that has afflicted Batman and the infection is likely fatal to both.
Casali and Azzarello do a narrative quick step here. While seeming like a bit of a cheat to hurry the story along it also serves to highlight Lee's artwork and get us to those flips and twists I spoke of earlier.
With Batman under the weather, Alfred's intuition provides a break for the Dark Knight and his inference into the humor involved sets Batman across the globe. (If you've read the comic not only does Alfred provide much needed detective skills but his reward is to prep the Batwing. Anything else you need Batman? Dinner perhaps?)
On To Berlin!
Thanks to the Batcomputer and the ever resourceful Alfred, the virus is traced back to Berlin. Batman is forced to do some leg work on his own (Yes, that was a mild dig at Batman's over-reliance on Alfred.)
I shouldn't be so tough on Batman here. This is one of the 'flips" I was referring to earlier. Casali and Azzarello have Batman at about 75 per cent and it is refreshing to see Alfred provide the much needed brain work and help point Batman in the right direction.
Alfred isn't a superhero, he's just invaluable.
Enter The Clown Prince
Easy on your manservant Caped Crusader, he's gotten you this far.
Batman enters a local night club trailing a lowlife hood. What he finds is the not so funny aftermath to the Joker's handiwork.
We get a brief history lesson on the "duality" of Berlin, how two cities, Collon and Berlin, were forced together into an unlikely alliance that morphed into something no one could predict.
This serves as a narrative precursor into one of the major twists to the Europa story line but it doesn't exactly explain how Batman ultimately finds out where the Joker is.
Maybe I should ask Alfred.
No worries, Batman finds the Joker and makes a grand entrance in his own particular idiom.
Batman and the Joker do their usual pas-de-duex. Trading jibes, trading bullets and trading punches.
Actually, the punches are a little one sided with the Joker taking the recieiving end of many knuckle sandwiches which leads us to this little reveal.
Yes, the Joker has the virus too.
You may not be surprised to learn there is a woman involved. What is surprising is the Joker got to her first. (Another flip.) After getting someone to spill his guts (literally) the Joker got him to spill the beans. The young and lovely Nina came into a lot of money but when you stand up against Batman and the Joker you'd better come up with the truth.
She confesses she know where the trail leads next and it is Prague.
Thus gives us our biggest twist of them all.
Batman and the Joker working together.
Overall I found the first installment of Europa to be an uneven but intriguing effort. Having two of comic books most ardent antagonists teaming up isn't the most original idea but placing them out of their regular milieu and having the clock tick down on them is compelling.
The way the narrative skipped ahead was a bit jarring at times but it can be forgiven given the captivating nature of the artwork by Jim Lee and his team.
I really liked the "Cyber-green" palette Lee and his colorist Alex Sinclair employed. It made many of the panels a bit antiseptic and digitally cold. It was also was evocative of the Joker and his hair. Not to mention the reptilian menace of Killer Croc.
I always loved how Jim Lee has drawn Batman. Here we get a unique look at Batman springing into action. Arms crossed over the chest instead of the usual spread wing look.
Lee and Sinclair employ a watercolor and pastel aesthetic to some of the panels also. Seen above is a good example. The eye tends to linger on the panels adding depth to an otherwise thin story line.
Perspective is always appreciated. Here we have the Bat perched high atop the "Siegessaeule" statue that dominates the Berlin skyline. (At least we think it is the Siegessaeule. Some of the details are off, but where else could he be? Tip of the cowl to uber friend Eileen for her help.)
Part one of four "Berlin" get three out of five "Batwings" as a rating. On to Prague and perhaps more depth and no doubt some great art.
(Another tip of the Cowl to artist "Jerhler" over at Deviantart for the Batwings. Here's the link. )