Review by Karl Verhoven
“Out of his town, out of his element, out of his mind?” runs the clever and appropriate tagline for this graphic novel. Whether or not that was conceived by writer Steve Niles, he earns enough credit elsewhere by playing to his own strengths while removing Batman from his comfort zone.
James Gordon asks Batman for help as friends in the Gotham Sheriff Department are having problems solving what appear to be ritual murders. A culprit was arrested for a series of robberies, yet was still in custody when the victims of those crimes began to be murdered in the same sequence as the burglaries occurred. This is happening way beyond the outskirts of Gotham City, so Batman must rely on his deductive skills with minimal back-up.
Scott Hampton’s stylish depiction of Batman is bestowed with greater atmosphere by Jose Villarrubia’s moody colouring, and while a jet pack may be low-tech compared with Batman’s more common hardware it offers some great art. Realising this, Niles, is often content to let the art tell his story, which is something other writers could learn from.
It seems everything has been tied up by the conclusion of the first chapter, yet the sense of foreboding terror is well established and drags us forward. A puzzling interlude planted earlier on then assumes significance. “Facts on faith? That should be interesting”, butler Alfred drily responds when Batman asks him to research the afterlife.
There’s an excellently shocking sequence midway through as another DC hero appears. “You live in a very small world for a man of such knowledge”, Batman is told, “You are too confined by your imagination, your rules and your boundaries.”
This is three-quarters of a very good Batman book, but unfortunately the conclusion fails to match the skilled build-up. That’s a shame, but not entirely damning as Niles has been consistently good at creating a world where head-scratching is the required response, and Hampton’s art is great.
That this was obviously a happy collaborative experience is proved by Niles and Hampton teaming again the following year for the Simon Dark series.