Batman: Broken City
by Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso (DC Comics, 2005)

Turning Batman's flagship monthly title, Batman, over to 100 Bullets teammates Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso was heralded as a great coup for the series. But the resulting mess, collected in the Broken City trade paperback, does not live up to the hype.

Batman lives and breathes in a noirish setting, but these guys have pushed the character beyond credulity and, inadvertently, into a caricature of itself. I mean, no matter how hard Batman is huffing and puffing and looming over his victim, it's hard to take him seriously when he growls lines like, "Sing to me about Angel Lupo ... and make sure it's a tune I don't already know."

The story, obviously, revolves around Batman's search for Lupo, a two-bit criminal who may have killed his sister and may have killed two parents in front of their son -- unsubtle shades of Batman's origin story. But Batman keeps making uninformed and incorrect assumptions on this case, and much of the violence that occurs seems to be a direct result of his blundering attempts to fix things.

The story makes good use of regular Batman villains Penguin, Scarface and the Ventriloquist, but makes a mockery of Killer Croc and throws a little Joker in because -- well, I guess because writer Azzarello thought he should be there. (In this case, Azzarello was wrong.) There are several new villains of the street hood variety, and the bad-guy team Fat Man and Little Boy is a poor creation I hope never to see return to these pages.

As for Batman himself, he comes across poorly here. Azzarello seems to be trying to channel Frank Miller for inspiration, but this Batman is just thuggish, more brawn than brain, and more than a little sadistic. Even a clever "grilling relaxes me" scene is spoiled by the end, with our hero's uncharacteristic revulsion at the too-bloody cut of meat he has made.

Risso, at least, knows how to draw a Batman story, so the art makes up for some of the story's failings. Some, but not all.

review by
Tom Knapp

22 September 2007

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