Review | Batwing #1

Written by Judd Winick.
Art by Ben Oliver.

By Rao, the New 52 is full of surprises. First it turns out that the new O.M.A.C. is Kirby-style fantastic fun, and now this: Batwing, which a lot of people assumed would bite, is actually damn good. It’s not only the art that sells it—Ben Oliver’s gorgeous, lush artwork is the star here—but writer Judd Winick has concocted an intriguing story too.

The book’s title makes obvious which franchise this character hails from. A brand-new hero, he just made his debut in the pages of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. Batwing is David Zavimbe, a resident of Congo; he’s billed (embarrassingly) as the Batman of Africa. But that foolishness is not on Winick, who didn’t dream up that hook. Given that Bruce Wayne fights crime in one city with the aid of Robin, Batgirl and Batwoman, it’s absurd that an entire continent should fall under the purview of one lone hero. Winick realizes this, so he wisely sets up a backstory about Africa’s first super-team, whose members have disappeared, one of whom turns up dead.

A popular whipping boy among comics fans, Winick has written some turkeys in his day, but he’s also turned out some very good comics. His superhero work, such as the Kyle Rainer Green Lantern, veers from heartfelt to humorous, and there’s potential for him to hit both notes here. (He did as much in his masterwork, Pedro and Me, a graphic memoir about his relationship with Real World co-star and AIDS activist Pedro Zamora.) He’s not there yet: This first issue of Batwing fixates on grim but compelling action, complete with a truly stunning cliffhanger. If he keeps this up and manages to add moments of levity, Batwing’s a keeper.

Winick hit the jackpot in the artist lottery when DC brass assigned Oliver to this book. These painterly pages (partly the work of coloring genius Brian Reber) hum with energy, thanks to Oliver’s zippy angular layouts. There’s not a single perpendicular intersection between panels in all 20 pages, yet the layouts aren’t ostentatious. Oliver also displays a masterful grasp of negative space, using the pages’ pure whites sparingly but very effectively. People will buy this book just for the art, and suddenly they’ll discover that they like plotting too.

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