Writer Garth Ennis has his fans and his detractors, but one thing both groups would probably both agree on is that Ennis doesn’t much like American superheroes. When he does write them, and it isn’t some kind of work-for-hire he does a half-assed job on, they often look foolish next to the sorts of characters Ennis really does like, the more antihero types or serious military men. That Ennis’s distaste for the genre produced The Boys, something a lot of people really dig, means that we probably shouldn’t expect too many superhero stories from the guy, not when he can do other work that he generally prefers.
All that is prologue to something that surprised me: he wrote a Batman mini-series that came out last year.
Issue: Batman: Reptilian#1, June 2021
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Liam Sharp
The Plot: Something is attacking Batman’s greatest enemies is a savage way that gets the Dark Knight’s attention.
Commentary: Apparently, this story came about in the form of Ennis doing a favor for a friend. His Preacher collaborator, artist Steve Dillon, was hurting for work, and Ennis knew his name attached to a collaboration with Dillon could help. While it is true Ennis doesn’t care much for superheroes, he apparently doesn’t mind Batman so much. What he’s said about Batman is that Batman is “just a bloke,” but where Batman loses Ennis is his rogues gallery. Ennis can’t seem to appreciate how a bunch of relatively scrawny idiots in Halloween costumes would dare to attack this giant, dark mound of muscle with the giant car. He’s clearly not one, in Ennis’s view, to be messed with. Regardless, Ennis apparently figured he could write the sort of Batman story he’d like, get Dillon as the artist, and DC was bound to pay for it.
But then Dillon died, and Ennis decided not to bother with the idea for a while. Fast forward to more recently, and Ennis just dusted the old script off and more or less handed it off to DC and artist Liam Sharp. And so, Batman: Reptilian sees print in a six issue mini-series, the first issue of which is available on DC Universe Infinite.
OK, let’s see where this goes.
For one thing, Ennis has a very clear idea on who his Batman is, and it works as a more or less traditional Batman. He’s dark, creepy, and Alfred is nearby to do all the dirty work that Bruce Wayne is too absorbed to do himself. The opening scene shows Batman approaching a professional boxer on the street. The boxer had just been acquitted of the violent assault on a young woman, and he and his lawyers are meeting the press outside the courthouse. Batman walks up, past the media, and taunts the boxer as someone who knows he’s both guilty and a coward, getting the boxer to attempt to throw a punch at the Dark Knight. It ends when Batman rather easily beats the snot out of the boxer and simply claims “self defense” as he walks off to the Batmobile to return to the Batcave.
But something is up. A couple of Batman’s old foes have been violently attacked by…something. The henchmen are dead, and the masterminds seem to be barely alive. Batman sees this for himself at a crime scene with Scarecrow and Mad Hatter, and he learns later the Penguin and the Riddler suffered similar attacks. Batman’s investigation shows an angry, impatient hero, but he is getting results. Apparently, one former henchman reported that, at a recent meeting where Batman’s rogues all argued over who had the right to try and kill the Bat (a regular occurrence apparently) while the henchmen all had friendly catch-up sessions, something happened and everyone momentarily pulled weapons on each other, even the normally friendly henchmen. The bottom line seems to be something big and nasty is out there hunting Batman’s enemies, and it even has the villains on edge, whatever it is.
By the by, the idea that Batman’s foes routinely meet and argue while their underlings just sit back and grab some beers or something rather amuses me.
This is actually a pretty solid story, aided by Sharp’s dark artwork. There’s a lot here to like, and the way Sharp, evoking a style that looks like a cross between Dave McKean and Sam Keith’s respective work, creates a very moody, seedy-looking Gotham City. It might have been nice to see what Dillion could have done with this script, but it is equally hard to imagine it working the way it does without Sharp’s art. Ennis, for his part, has established what his Gotham, here in a mature reader’s comic, is like and it isn’t pretty. This is a Gotham that might need a Batman, and Batman here isn’t even remotely a comforting figure. So, yeah, I’ll be going back to this mini-series as new issues come out on DC Universe Infinite. I really want to see what sort of a menace Ennis thinks is worthy of a character like his Batman and what Sharp’s artwork will make it look like.