Shiny Shelf

Batman: Death and the Maidens #1

By Mark Clapham on 12 August 2003

It’s ironic that Greg Rucka should count Two-Face as one of his favourite Bat-villains, as the former ‘Detective Comics’ writer seems equally split between good and bad. On the righteous, beautiful side we have ‘Queen and Country’, and most of his ‘Tec’ run. On the downright ugly, nasty side, Rucka has turned in overwrought, patronising dullardry on ‘Ultimate Daredevil vs Elektra’ and his interminable current ‘Gotham Central’ arc.

Thankfully, the coin has flipped in favour of good Rucka for this nice fat mini-series, written by Rucka and blessed with the art of Klaus Janson. So, we get subtlety, characterisation and thoughtful plotting, rather than leaden, issues-based crudity. Phew!

It helps that Batman and the other lead of this book, Ra’s Al Ghul, are not exactly prone to histrionics, keeping the tone of the book somber. This first issue unfolds slowly, giving us a sense of time as we meet one of the women in the life of Ra’s, Nyssa, another immortal. As the deathless ponder mortality, so does Batman, feeling the distance from his parents’ death, a pivotal event increasingly lost to him with age. These two threads come together at the end of the issue, with Ra’s making a surprising request. It’s all very interesting, as is the promise that this is in some way a ‘last’ conflict between the two. Can the series live up to this promise, not to mention the threat of nothing being permanent in comics? Time will tell – for now it’s unclear whether this will be a ‘Killing Joke’ or a ‘Last Laugh’.

The signs are promising. Although a slow-burner, Rucka’s script is solid, dealing as it does with two character he’s clearly fascinated with. And who can blame him? The ‘demon’s head’ is one of the more complex villains in the vast ranks of Batman’s opponents, and Bruce Wayne himself is endlessly rich. Also returning to the world of Gotham City is Janson, whose work here is clean and classical. The shadows are deep, and Steve Buccellato’s colours add richness and bursts of warmth to Janson’s stark images.

Rucka is a major figure in DC’s plans now, with high profiles gigs on ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Adventures of Superman’ forthcoming. If he can keep his good side forward, and produce work of this quality to order, then his exclusive contract will be worth every penny DC are paying him. ‘Death and the Maidens’ is an optimistic indicator, and a worthy addition to the already outstanding range of ‘Batman’ titles currently being published.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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