Review by Ian Keogh
War Drums is a collection of Batman material culled from his monthly titles during 2004, with some back-up material from Robin’s comic. The central theme isn’t apparent from the start despite being concisely highlighted in the opening chapter, and that’s of Batman’s latest plan to undermine the criminal gangs of Gotham City.
Celebrity status and underage pregnancy clash in a story that also manages to involve Mr Freeze in an unusual manner over the three parts of ‘The Surrogate’. Writer Anderson Gabrych, responsible for all the non-Robin content, adroitly contrasts Dr Leslie Thompkins’ influence on the young Bruce Wayne with present day events in which she’s been abducted. It’s very effective, incorporating a chasm of a disagreement concerning how Wayne might best be applying his time and resources, and throws in a neat twist that underlines both sides of the coin. Gabrych follows that with a tale involving a mythical monster and social deprivation. Both have surprises, even for seasoned Batman readers, and both are graced by excellent art from Pete Woods. There’s never a problem following the story, yet he fills the environments convincingly and his action sequences are great. For an artist whose career only really kicked off in the 21st century he has a pleasingly old school approach, and using differing styles on a chapter featuring Batman training Robin is notable.
That’s a complete contrast to the work of Damion Scott on most of the remainder. Scott’s background influences come from hip hop culture, and that influences his approach to methods of illustrating ordinary people. He designs pages, exaggerates figures to good effect and provides a great sense of personality definition. It doesn’t always work, sometimes resulting in very odd looking people, but his Batman is great, jagged and imposing.
The Robin material is written by a pre-Fables Bill Willingham, who’s very good with the soap opera aspects. Tim Drake has promised his father he’ll no longer be Robin, Spoiler has her eye on taking that slot, despite being warned off by Batman, and his love life, or potential love life, is complicated. That’s the least of his worries, though, as someone has isolated the twelve teenagers in Gotham most likely to be Robin and is killing them. The problem with them is that while established as good at their horrible trade, they never convince as someone that Batman should have any trouble with, yet he does, and that transmits as contrivance.
Any remaining art is handled by Brad Walker, who illustrates a couple of shorter chapters spotlighting Green Arrow and Onyx, their purpose eventually tying into the main story. His pages look more traditional than either of the other artists, but are also a viable approach delivered to high standards.
There’s continuity to these stories that leads into three volumes of War Games, but War Drums stands alone well enough as a solid collection of Batman stories. It’s now included in DC’s revised breakdown of the entire War Games plot over two bulky paperbacks in Book One.