Review by Karl Verhoven
Their Dark Designs follows Tom King’s long and ultimately contentious run on Batman, which ended with City of Bane, and new writer James Tynion IV plays it safe over the start of this bulky collection by setting Batman against Deathstroke. That’s drawn by Tony S. Daniel whose sparkling visual imagination has graced many acclaimed Batman runs over the early 21st century, forming a statement that the comforting familiar has returned. It’s not that Tynion doesn’t supply mysteries and surprises, but there’s no longer a couple of collections to wait before they’re revealed. The crowd-pleasing continues with a plot that builds to incorporate the key Batman villains, a previously unrevealed mastermind and the introduction of new foes.
That Guillem March quickly takes over the art, also very accomplished and in command of the big image, is no hardship. Much of the title story occurs in slashing rain, and March makes the most of the atmosphere over several scenes, one in a graveyard looking great, although Catwoman is overly objectified. Some art is provided by others, with Jorge Jiménez illustrating the key flashback reveal stylishly, presumably the audition for his drawing all of The Joker War, which follows.
Gotham needing rebuilt and Bruce Wayne providing both plans and funding runs through the background of what’s otherwise mayhem involving new technology, with Batman’s costume frequently torn, which doesn’t speak well of his suppliers. The Designer is the big new villain. He may have stature and inspire fear, but looks ridiculous in a pimped-up, ermine collared red cloak and a bandage mask with a stylised gothic font ‘D’. Also on the negative side, a manipulative and all-powerful villain who’s been pulling strings behind the scenes for years, yet has remained unseen and unknown is an idea used before.
However, Tynion earns credit by introducing additional viable new villains, all too rare in superhero comics these days, and in the short term at least Punchline has proved quite the hit. She’s associated with the Joker, one of several threats used, and he’s responsible for the best line in book. “The Crown Prince of Crime. Your reputation precedes you,” notes the Designer. “That’s the whole point of a reputation, isn’t it?” replies the Joker.
Several artists work on short stories showing Batman meeting five assassins sent to Gotham, and collectively they’re not very credible. The way Batman not only survives, but continues to be active after assorted injuries incurred, you’d think he was Superman. However, the bullet wound chapter is very nicely drawn by John Paul Leon.
The Designer might be a damp squib, but he’s a means to an end, and that end will, in the medium term at least, severely curtail Batman and his ability to fight crime in Gotham. Their Dark Designs is perhaps a couple of chapters too long, and characters surviving killing wounds or remaining active after other injuries stretches credulity in the main story also. Overall, though, Tynion produces a page-turner resulting in something new for Batman and setting up The Joker War efficiently.