Review: Batman: Secret Files #1

[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]

Writers: Tom King, Ram V, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Jordie Bellaire, Tom Taylor

Artists: Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Elena Casagrande, Jill Thompson

Penciller: Brad Walker

Inker: Andrew Hennessy

Colorists: Jordie Bellaire, Matt Wilson, Trish Mulvihill

Letterers: Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Deron Bennett, Tom Napolitano

 

Summary

Catch a glimpse of some never before seen stories of the Dark Knight!  Some are from new talent, and some are from established talent.  Some are mystifying what-ifs, others in-depth character studies, others just a ton of fun.  What happens to those that get exposed to the fear toxin?  Is too much alone time a bad thing for even Batman? Five great tales await!

 

Positives

Overall, these five stories are a great showcase of the full breadth of tones, styles, characterizations, and more that can be brought to the character of Batman.  From the Batman who wants to do everything to the Batman who just needs to get the job done, a Batman that gets carried away, a Batman that goes to far, and Batman the master detective.  So much of the character is on display here through many different styles of art, and that is great to see.  Especially we can see the same writer on Batman for years, its good to change things up.

“True Strength” is the ultimate what-if story.  What if Batman could get the powers of Superman?  Wouldn’t everything be solved?  And yet, as Batman ponders this choice, he can’t help but think about whether or not who he is without powers is enough.  Its easy to say that powers don’t make someone a hero, but its another thing entirely when faced with the opportunity to receive super powers that can change the world in an instant.  Mikel Janin is no stranger to DC Comics or Batman, and his art is fantastic as always.  It looks so real that you can see Batman’s hand shaking and almost feel his pain.  The story is made even more powerful from the fact that there is almost no dialogue.  The entire story is narrated by a third party, or possibly Batman himself, hypothesizing the situation, and the only conclusion that can be drawn after the situation plays out is the question Batman asks Alfred: “Am I enough?”  Well, is he?

“The Nature of Fear” explores the differences between how Batman handles fear versus how others such as a GCPD officer may handle fear, and it does so brilliantly.  Ram V’s writing is very matter of fact.  The officer describes the scene in perfect incident report fashion, only saying what you need to hear to get a good picture, but there is more to the story and writing.  The art starts in a 9 panel grid that DC fans may be used to seeing from Tom King.  Like the writing, it clearly and methodically describes what happened.  As the fear gas comes into effect, however, the 9 panel grid begins to fall apart, and like Officer Fielding, we begin to see something more horrifying.  As the structure securing the story in place begins to fall apart, we begin to realize that the narrator may not be as reliable as we thought.  By the time Batman is dragging Officer Fielding through the metaphorical tunnel of fear, fear is in complete control of the page, and while everything may appear normal when we return to the present, the spaces between the 9 panel grid are black, filled with darkness and have been since the beginning.  Perhaps Officer Fielding didn’t go the write way.  “The Nature of Fear” was a complete story that inspired me to think about how I feel about fear, and hopefully, it does the same for you all.

Some say that comics are just silly fantasies and that they don’t have anything real to say, yet these first three stories address the power needed to cause change, the realities of fear, and now, with “One” by Cheryl Lynn Eaton, the realities of gun violence and corruption.  One would not think Batman employs discriminatory policing, but Yeselle Derrick, the witness to the five teenagers murdered by gun violence, “don’t ever see [Batman] on the Hill,” only in Midtown.  Things only get worse when Batman realizes that the violence was perpetuated by Wayne Enterprises drones that have fallen into the wrong hands, presumably due to corruption within the U.S. government.  It plays out a story all too real, and just like many of us in the world we live in, Batman is at a loss when he learns it.

“Enough” is a story about loneliness and what it can do to a person, even Batman.  Up in the mountains to catch what he thinks is Man-Bat, the more time Batman spends isolated in a cabin surrounded by bad weather, the more uncomfortable and paranoid he becomes.  Its heartbreaking to learn how fragile Batman really is sometimes.

The final story, “The World’s Greatest Detective, and Batman” is simply amazing.  It explores a close relationship between two characters who both happen to be detectives, and yet you could not have more different perspectives.  Batman has all the technology and resources he could need at his disposal, but as Detective Chimp is there to show, sometimes that can be a burden.  Batman may always be patrolling the streets of Gotham, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like he actually understands them. All Detective Chimp has is, “a magnifying glass and a hat,” but he is able to find clues Batman didn’t even know existed, and ultimately, he is willing to give others a second chance because he was given one.  Sometimes it takes a little banter to bring the Dark Knight down to earth, and there is plenty of that in this story.  The art also brings the characters to life in the best way.  Batman looks as deadpan as he sounds, and you can tell that Detective Chimp is having all kinds of fun.  Its a fantastic conclusion to a great collection of stories.

Negatives

While this is a great collection, its not perfect.  One unfortunate consequence of having five different takes on Batman is that there is almost certainly going to be one that isn’t as liked.  For me the weakest is “Enough”, but it could be different for some.  I think multiple interpretations and perspectives are always a good thing, even when I don’t like some of them, but others may not feel that way.  “True Strength” and “The World’s Greatest Detective, and Batman” are fantastic bookends to this collection and I have no negatives for either story.  For “The Nature of Fear,” Ram V’s writing is a little too dry at the beginning, and my attention wasn’t grabbed until part way through, mostly due to Fornes’s art choices.  While those choices are fantastic, I am not always a fan of his art style.  The facial features are often rugged and seem kind of sloppy.  I can respect a more rugged style, but this didn’t quite fit for me.

“One” was a good story, but Cheryl Lynn Eaton did little to make me care about Yeselle while she was trying to make me care about a more systemic problem.  It would have been nice to feel something from that character.  The art was also well done, but did little to further the story.  Finally, “Enough” just didn’t mesh with the rest of these stories.  It felt less like a Batman story than any of the others, and was kind of boring while trying to make a point about Batman’s loneliness that I feel has been made better.  The art is also nothing special and doesn’t really depict Batman well at all.

 

Verdict

A great collection of stories that has flaws just like the central character.  I recommend any Batman fan read this to get some great perspectives of the character in five great stories.

 

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Ari Bard

I am currently a Sophomore at Case Western Reserve University studying mechanical engineering. I have been in love with DC since I saw the animated series and movies in the early 2000s. I started reading comics regularly at the start of Rebirth. My favorite character is Martian Manhunter.