Saturday, 22 April 2017

Batman: The Wrath Review (Mike Barr, Tony Bedard)

Two parents are shot on the streets of Gotham one night, leaving their son an orphan. That son grew up to be… The Wrath?!

Right: first? I’ma eat some crow! Ever since Year Two: Fear the Reaper I’ve called Mike Barr one of the worst Batman writers ever. Tony Bedard never wrote anything as heinous but he’s never impressed me either. So I’m glad that I occasionally give these bad writers a chance to redeem themselves because, credit where credit’s due, Batman: The Wrath positively stunned me with how good it was!

The book starts with Batman Special #1 by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo from 1984. Usually I hate reading ‘80s Batman comics as they’re almost always bad but this story, The Player on the Other Side, surprised me by being entertaining and interesting; it’s also essential in understanding Barr/Bedard’s succeeding comic. 

It follows a gun-toting Batman wannabe in a purple outfit calling himself The Wrath (now I see where Mark Millar got his inspiration for Nemesis - I knew he couldn’t think originally!) who blames Jim Gordon for his parents’ deaths and is out to assassinate the Commish. It’s a silly comic, even by ‘80s Batman standards. The Wrath’s origins are sketchy at best, the dialogue is very stilted and Grayle, the mob daughter and forced love interest for The Wrath, is a joke – and yet it was readable and compelling.

Then we’re into modern day Batman and the bulk of the book with Barr/Bedard’s Wrath Child. A new Wrath is in town and determined to finish his predecessor’s job - but who is he? Wrath’s origin is explained far more clearly this time around and the cat and mouse story is even more exciting as the writers push the new Wrath further. He remains an intimidating enemy whose dark past makes him compelling as an alternate Batman. He’s also a genuine challenge to both Batman and disco-era Nightwing (this book is part of the Batman Confidential series which was set in past Batman continuity).

Barr/Bedard build on 1984’s The Player on the Other Side, developing a richer story using that history to draw closer parallels to Batman and Robin’s lives. There’s also an awesome chase sequence with the Batmobile and Wrath’s Mad Max-esque car. The only real flaw is that they spend so much time on that scene that the final battle between Batman and Robin and Wrath is extremely abrupt and wrapped up in a single page! Well, that and Rags Morales gives Gordon an unforgivably naff bowl haircut!

Maybe I liked this more because my expectations were rock bottom going in but I was still pleasantly surprised to find The Wrath to be a very enjoyable read. I’d recommend it to any Batman fan and I’m glad I challenged my beliefs on Mike Barr and Tony Bedard because otherwise I’d’ve missed out on a great Batman book!

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