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Review: Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)

I predicted based on reading Batman: Urban Legends volumes 1 and 2 that going forward I’d probably enjoy the collections of shorter stories better than the volumes with just one or two stories in them, and with Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 3, that’s proven itself true. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either of the two stories collected here — Mark Russell and Karl Mostert’s Ace the Bat-Hound story might very well be called a masterpiece — but ultimately the volume left me cold.

Reading Batman: Urban Legends in monthlies, the reader gets at least more than two stories, and that variety allows for range especially in terms of stories' relevance to the rest of the ongoing DC Universe. Urban Legends Vol. 3, however, presents us with two stories where the stakes are relatively low — we know the characters will get out alive, just as we know these events aren’t likely to ever be mentioned again — and so I felt impatient with the book as a whole.

Had Russell’s “Hounded” been released as its own miniseries, such that I picked it up “of my own volition,” I might feel differently. And I recognize no one walked me to the comics shop and made me buy the book, but DC did release these stories as Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 3. I’m interested in things like the adventures of the Outsiders in future volumes, and so therefore I feel like I have to read the interstitial volumes of Urban Legends even if they have nothing to do with that; I recognize that’s silly, to an extent, but also that this is likely an audience that understands that pull, and why I might feel impatient with a book I didn’t have to — but kind of had to — read.

[Review contains spoilers]

I have enjoyed lately Vita Ayala’s work with Nubia and the Amazons and related work, so I had some hope for the Batman/Zatanna story “Bound to Our Will,” even though were the book simply offered as a standalone miniseries, I might’ve skipped it. This may not be a popular opinion, but I am not so enamored by the idea of a Batman/Zatanna relationship, which I believe — correct me if I’m wrong — is a somewhat recent retcon by way of Batman: The Animated Series. Also that I feel by now, between the animated series and James Tynion’s Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina and etc., Zatanna and young Bruce Wayne’s tale of love gone awry has been told, and Ayala didn’t offer anything here in particular that I didn’t think I’d seen before.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Indeed, while the powers that be bill this as a Batman/Zatanna team-up, I think they’re rather overlooking the best part, in which Zatanna is largely absent and Batman is paired with John Constantine. Though we get of course the requisite Bat-brooding and mistrust of Constantine, Ayala warms the relationship to the point that by the end, Batman and Constantine are trading some rather explicit jokes for run-of-the-mill DC fare, if not outright flirting. That’s something I haven’t seen before, and adds interest to an otherwise mundane and repetitive story. (Batman and Zatanna’s “reviver” keyword is more laughable than moving, though I thought the final scene of Zatanna becoming a full-fledged member of the Bat-family had more possibilities.)

In “Hounded,” Russell’s conceit is to tell a “super-pets”-esque story, but totally straight — the animals (for the most part) don’t talk, and there’s nothing overtly cutesy about the events, which under Mostert’s talented pen get at times downright bloody. I enjoyed Mostert immensely in Tom Taylor’s DCeased: Unkillables; here his art reminded me more of Chris Burnham, but previously I’ve compared him to Frank Quitely, and in all “Hounded” assuredly has a We3 vibe.

Russell is as Russell does, of course, and I felt at times his trademark parody got in the way, this being perhaps more a mis-fit of my disposition on the book with Russell’s style rather than any commentary on Russell’s work itself. (As a representative example, his riff on villain’s warehouses is clever but I’m not sure I was in the mood.) At the same time, there’s some lovely language philosophizing throughout the story on the idea of people living their lives in cages of their own making, unable to be more than who they believe theirselves to be. This is contrasted, if a bit on the nose, with the book’s various abused animals, who rise up over their own circumstances to become heroic and selfless — we look at them as animals but we’re really the animals, etc., etc.

Again, though, I’ve never seen the super-pets attempted so seriously before, and it’s a take worth some attention (DC Universe by Mark Russell would be an interesting collection). The semi-serious approach to what might otherwise be comedy is right in line with Russell’s work on Flintstones and the Wonder Twins.

Messily — and no fault of the creators — DC posits “Bound to Our Will” as taking place after Justice League #71 — between Brian Michael Bendis' Justice League Vol. 2: United Order and Justice League Vol. 3: League of Chaos — which, yes, is kind of a waypoint for Zatanna, but also has no more bearing on the story than if DC hadn’t anchored it at all. At the same time, “Hounded” seems as though it must be an “Elseworld” by virtue of the fact that Ace the Bat-Hound, if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t actually patrol Gotham with Batman in the here-and-now, and incongruous appearances of Two-Face and Poison Ivy, among others.

Not that that must take away from your enjoyment of the story, but Urban Legends has not until now (that I recall) presented itself as a book containing Elseworld-type stories, having been involved in “Fear State” and developments for Tim Drake in Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 2, for instance. There’s a place for “just so” stories, but if I wanted those I’d go to something like the recent revivials of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight; “Hounded,” despite its quality, seems like Urban Legends betraying its premise.

2.0

Rating

If you’ve the patience, read Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 3 between Urban Legends Vol. 1 and Urban Legends Vol. 2. But if the blank space on your shelf won’t bother you, you can also safely skip this book and come back to Mark Russell’s take on Ace the Bat-Hound another time.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]



This post first appeared on Collected Editions | Blog, Collected Comics Review, please read the originial post: here

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Review: Batman: Urban Legends Vol. 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)

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