Thursday, 5 January 2017

Batman: Death and the Maidens Review (Greg Rucka, Klaus Janson)

When you’ve read as much Batman as I have you basically look to the new stuff only in hopes of a great Batman story. So I was really surprised to find this overlooked 2004 storyline, Death and the Maidens, to be a hidden gem - and by Greg Rucka no less (I’m not a huge fan)!

Batman has been destroying Lazarus Pits (magical pools that rejuvenate and heal humans) leaving the centuries-old Ra’s al-Ghul, whose long life depends on the Pits, vulnerable. Ra’s is dying but makes a deal with Batman: give him a Pit and in return he’ll give him a way to speak to his dead mother and father again. But Ra’s daughter, Nyssa, has other plans for her hated father and she’s going to use her half-sister Talia to help punish him… 

So this was unexpectedly awesome! Rucka introduces us to new character Nyssa and her conflicted and complex relationship with Ra’s clearly and compellingly. We see their story unfold over the course of the book but it’s told well so it never feels overly complicated or the flashbacks awkwardly placed. I was so into the al-Ghul’s family history that I’d have still enjoyed the comic without Batman! 

Meanwhile, Batman has an equally interesting parents/kids-themed plotline where he embarks on a lucid dream quest to talk with his dead parents, Thomas and Martha. Without giving anything away, it’s thankfully not some syrupy, overwrought reunion and forces Bruce to ask some tough questions on his life choices. I thought it was fascinating stuff - seeing Batman emotionally challenged like this can be really exciting when it’s done as well as it is here. 

I liked Klaus Janson’s art for the most part (his style is a mix of Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin) and thought his pages in Ravensbruck were especially haunting and memorable. Often though his figures are a bit too warped and sketchy and his ridiculously-waisted Talia was laughable - like Rob Liefeld/Captain America bad! 

Aside from the silly Superman assassination plot that felt tacked-on at the end, Rucka’s story is fast-moving and enthralling - it’s quite a thick book comparatively but I blew through it because of the quality. The ending too is brilliant, it’s just a shame DC failed to stick with it. 

Greg Rucka and Klaus Janson’s Death and the Maidens is a great Batman book - highly recommended to all fans of the Dark Knight!

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