The phrase “needs no introduction” was crafted for men like John Ridley. He is a writer, director, and producer across various media including movies, television, cartoons, and comic books. He famously won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave in 2013. John Ridley attaching his name to anything is worthy of pause. When one hears that John Ridley will be writing a series of books with DC’s flagship character Batman, it becomes a must-read. And yes, Batman: The Deluxe Edition, is extremely well written. But when the book is finally closed, can one say that it was truly an enjoyable experience?
Batman: The Deluxe Edition features several stories. The bulk of the book is Future State: The Next Batman #1-4, but it also features Batman: Black and White #1, Batman: The Joker War Zone #1, and a story called 3 Minutes. The Batman that is featured here is not Bruce Wayne, but instead is a man by the name of Jace Fox, one of the sons of Wayne’s scientist extraordinaire, Lucius Fox. The featured character, nor the book itself, spends too much time on worrying about this Batman’s legitimacy against the huge shadow that Wayne’s Batman casts on Gotham. Jace knows he is a different type of Batman and does not struggle with how he is perceived nor with how he compares to Wayne and frankly, the book is largely better for this. Jace is Batman. That allows one to get to the meat of the story quickly.
The narrative for Future State is complex without being complicated. The municipal government has mandated surveillance and facial scanning for the residents of Gotham and, in turn, has declared mask-wearing illegal. As our current reality is also dealing with mask-wearing in a different manner, it is a very interesting world that Batman finds himself in. A militarized police force is hunting him down, as Batman tries to navigate the balance of his family and his desire to help the citizens of Gotham. The other books featured in the graphic novel have fewer interesting questions to answer but are narratively well crafted.
Character depth is where this novel truly struggles. The Fox family characters do little to grab the imagination. Tanya Fox, Jace’s mom, serves as the most prominent civilian character in the story. She is helping the mayor with his legal battle to uphold the police state of Gotham. Her chief motivation is that she hates Batman for the various issues that have happened in her family. However, readers don’t get to see the background turmoil that has happened to the Fox family. We know Lucius and Tanya have had a falling out. We know that there is turmoil between Jace and his brother Luke, but nothing is ever explained.
The dialogue in these panels feels forced, and the characters feel shallow. In contrast, the character beats in the other three stories are a lot stronger. The best of these was in Batman: The Joker War Zone #1. It is odd that in a story with fewer sections one can get much more nuance from the Fox family relationship. Also, the banter between Lucius and Alfred in 3 minutes was excellent. Lucius really comes into his own as his own separate character from the “Batman clan” in this story.
Artistically, everything featured is excellent, but the belle of the ball is Batman: Black and White #1. The artist Olivier Coipel does amazing work bringing out such detail in the characters without any use of color. The visceral grittiness is exhibited in every fight scene. The heaviness of the darker moments is palpable. I appreciate the care that went into creating this work. Kudos to each of the artists and their crafting of black hair, especially black women’s hair. This is something that the mainline comic industry continues to struggle with that indie comics have gotten right for a long time now. Care was taken with this book and the black experience.
John Ridley’s Batman: The Deluxe Edition is a trade paperback with some faults. Shallow character development aside, the overarching narrative of the government and its response to vigilantism and its citizenry is compelling. The additional stories round out a strong book worthy of the name, John Ridley, that is literally as big as the title on the cover of the book. Batman: The Deluxe Edition is available and in stores now.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat ’em ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.