Shiny Shelf

Batman: Room Full of Strangers

By Mark Clapham on 22 February 2004

In theory, the combination of indie-comics creators with big mainstream properties is a win-win deal: the creator gets increased exposure and a fat cheque, helping to promote and prolong his more personal work, while the big comics company gets some reflected credibility and an innovative new take on their properties.

This isn’t necessarily how it always works, though. Some creators simply aren’t suited to superhero or mainstream action work, they can’t write an exciting adventure plot, they can’t keep the story cracking along as required, and the end result is uninspired. In some cases, the mainstream work can seem phoned in, either because the creator doesn’t care enough or is incapable of realising that what they’re doing has been done a million times before. This can have a detrimental effect on the creator’s reputation – for instance, I’ve heard great things about writer/artist Andi Watson’s indie work for Oni Press, but having suffered his lacklustre writing on ‘Buffy’ and ‘Namor’ I’m not going to risk my money on ‘Love Fights’, and my general impression of Watson is poor.

As such, I approached this one-shot with apprehension. I’ve not read much from writer/artist Scott Morse, just the odd short in Oni Press specials, and what I had read seemed to encapsulate the worst elements of the indie comics scene – uninspired observations about everyday life wrapped in eccentric artwork, the mundane masquerading as the profound. Sure, the art was pretty – but what’s the point if there isn’t… well, a point?

Thankfully, either I misjudged Morse or he’s one of those guys who works better to a tight brief than when allowed full creative freedom, as ‘Room Full of Strangers’ is a pleasing one-shot that does justice to the characters while telling a distinctive story.

Batman’s involvement in this one-shot is pretty minor, although his presence is felt throughout. Tying surprisingly tightly into current continuity, Morse’s story concerns Commissioner Gordon on holiday following his retirement at the end of ‘Officer Down’. The seaside hotel where Gordon stays proves to be less of an escape than it seems, with a killer on the loose and a child who believes Batman is his father running about the place. Wherever he goes, Gordon is reminded of his former life, and ends up engaged in exactly the sort of adventure he was trying to get away from.

This is a small story about a group of ordinary people, starring a character whose main characteristic is his everyday decency, and as such it’s a far cry from your average Batman comic. Morse proves to be exactly the right man for this kind of story. He writes both Gordon and the locals engagingly, with a good ear for everyday speech. His art is expressive, bringing the nuances of the characters to life in quirky ways. Morse’s style of painting is very distinctive, especially in his use of colour, and this helps to convey the atmosphere of a small coastal resort. This is especially effective in the night time scenes, with characters outlined in light colours and filled in with dark tones. The visual storytelling is clear, with interesting angles employed throughout.

There are always plenty of Bat-titles on the shelves – they’ve always been consistent sellers, and one-shots and mini-series are ten a penny. This is more interesting than most, boasting a unique take using an under-utilised character. Although the price tag is high, the gorgeous artwork is worth that price on its own. If you can squeeze another Batbook into your reading schedule, ‘Room Full of Strangers’ is well worth a look.

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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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