Monday, 5 May 2014

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom (The New 52) Review

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom (The New 52)

Metal Batman outrunning Apache
helicopters in Africa. Your argument
is invalid.
Writer: Judd Winick

Artist: Ben Oliver

Collects: Batwing #1-6

Background Information:

There was a time when Bruce Wayne had disappeared from Gotham City, leaving his protégé Dick Greyson to take the mantle of Batman. When Bruce returned, he returned with a vision: a global network of Batman allies- people who had taken the mantle of the bat all over the world. That’s where Batwing comes in. Batwing is David Zavimbe, a former child soldier for an African Warlord in the Congo. Long since escaped from his oppressors, David takes on the tech-armour of Batwing to take down those who would let the Congo descend into war again.

Apparently DC’s Congo is more peaceful than the real one.

Review:

At first, it struck me as strange that Batwing was still going while Nightwing was getting cancelled. Surely, Nightwing is a far more popular character than this African knock-off, right? After reading The Lost Kingdom, however, I have conceded that Batwing has definitely earned his place in DC’s New 52.

If you're a bat-character, you need to have a
statement to that effect.
So in this volume, Batwing’s chasing someone called Massacre; a guy wielding dual machetes who really wants to see a former superhero group called The Kingdom dead. As he tracks Massacre down, Batwing  gives us glimpses into his past as a child soldier and starts to discover the ugly truth about The Kingdom.

Alright, when dealing with race in comics, you have to be careful these days. Somehow, you need to make your lineup diverse without it seeming like gratuitous “diversity for the sake of it”. Never mind the fact that white characters need no justification for their race; if you’re an Arab, Asian, Hispanic, or anything other than a white American, you’d better have a damn good reason for not being so, or you’re just playing the race card. Batwing gets around this by its very unique setting. Africa is full of, well, Africans, so the most likely candidate for a superhero is probably going to be black. But David isn’t a hero just because there is no white guy around; his skill comes from his time under a warlord. This is one of those times when race actually does matter; I doubt Batwing would have had the same punch if David were a white dude who ended up a child soldier, so the whole thing feels rather natural. Not even the most arrogant racist could fault this one artistically.

But that isn’t what makes The Lost Kingdom great. While reading, you get the feeling that writer Judd Winick actually understands the Congo; he seems to get the great political unrest and the many dangers that surround that part of the world. Granted, this is coming from a guy whose only knowledge of African warlords comes from the Kony 2012 campaign and The Gods Must Be Crazy, but it’s still one of the rare comics that actually makes you feel smarter for reading it. You somehow feel like you’ve gained a greater insight into the world just by finishing this volume. Marvel fans often boast that because much of their action is based in New York, rather than, say, Gotham. But I would be so bold as to say that there is more of the real world in Batwing than in any Marvel comic currently on the shelves.

I know DC said you'd get your own book,
but...
My only qualm with Batwing is that it feels like it has to include Batman to be legitimate. DC were so close to having a great, relatively new, ethnic character who didn’t need to stand on the shoulders of other characters, but ruined it a little by reminding readers that DC also does Batman. And no; he doesn’t actually need to be here. It may as well have been one of The Kingdom, which I would have liked to see more. I like Batman, I really do, but if DC keep using him everywhere, he’s going to turn into Wolverine; which would cheapen the guy beyond belief.

Art by Ben Oliver is perfect considering the setting. Somehow, you can feel the African dry heat radiating off the pages. Straight away, you can tell that you’re not in the US- it looks like what you would expect Africa to look like.  Some fairly minimalist background designs in parts helps keep the focus on the action, and Batwing looks just as dynamic and awesome as you’d expect.

The Lost Kingdom does diversity perfectly. Batwing almost stands entirely on his own two feet here, and that’s insanely refreshing. It gets a four and a half out of five race cards.

**** ½
+ Diversity done right

+ Excellent setting

+ Art conveys a real sense of the location

- Does Batman need to be in every DC book? NO!

Alternate Option: Static Shock

Okay, it’s actually nowhere near as good, but if you’re desperate for a non-white hero, you could do worse (you could do Mr. Terrifc... urgh, what a train wreck).