Review: BATMAN THE RED DEATH #1 (SPOILERS)

By JIM CASTON

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, reader of my inaugural professional blog post: for a while, I stopped reading comic books on a consistent basis.

I’d occasionally pick up a graphic novel if it was about a character that I was interested in (Green Lantern, The Flash, and Iron Man being my top picks), and I’d try to keep up with the events happening in their respective universes. Ultimately, however, between the rising cost of the comics themselves and the constant “shaking up of the status quo”, my enthusiasm for the comic book characters I had grown up with dwindled away and almost died entirely. I just stopped caring.

BATMAN: THE RED DEATH, and the DARK NIGHTS METAL story arc in general, rekindled that enthusiasm and then some.

At first glance, the idea behind the characters included in METAL are something like locking two 17-year old metal heads in a room and being ordered to make Batman “more badass”. It really, really, REALLY shouldn’t work. But it does. Each of the characters in the one-offs are an amalgamation of Batman and a member of the Justice League, with The Red Death being The Flash. Each issue takes a facet of Batman’s personality, twists it, then ratchets it up to 11. The Red Death takes Batman’s hunger for justice and his need to protect all of Gotham City, and corrupts it.

In this telling of The Red Death’s origin, Batman is trying to take the Speed Force from The Flash, because he knows exactly what he would do with the power that he feels Barry Allen has squandered. Despite Batman’s training, his extensive research, dedication and determination to become the best superhero he can be… not even he can be everywhere at once. Barry, on the other hand, is trying to keep Batman from making the same mistakes he’s made. He’s tried the things that Batman is thinking of, seen what it can do  (*cough*Flashpoint*cough*).

Not to be deterred, Batman manages to get the upper hand on The Flash and temporarily slows him down by using the same cryostasis formula that Mr. Freeze uses on his wife, which allows Batman to knock The Flash out cold (no pun intended..maybe). When Barry wakes up, he finds himself strapped down to the hood of the Batmobile, which Bruce has managed to refit with a repurposed Cosmic Treadmill design. With The Flash acting as the worlds least willing hood ornament, Batman drives straight into the Speed Force… and vanishes.

Batman and the Flash

Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, Colors by Ivan Plascencia

What comes OUT, on the other hand, is The Red Death. The rest of the issue is Batman with a new suit, superspeed– and Barry Allen riding shotgun in his head, screaming at him to stop before it’s too late. But, even a combat-veteran Batman with The Flash’s impressive power set, crime in Gotham City is still RISING. After confronting (and literally cutting in two) The Scarecrow, he looks up at the same bleeding sky that was over Central City and realizes all his efforts were futile.

The Red Death

Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, Colors by Ivan Plascencia

As much as I would like to… I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who have not read this yet. What I WILL say is that this comic elicited such an intense reaction that my jaw literally fell open, and all I could say was, “Whoa.”

The artwork in this issue by Carmine Di Giandomenico (artist) is absolutely astounding, with the thick, almost blurry lines perfectly getting across the sense of speed and doom in the issue. Scott Snyder (writer) and Joshua Williamson (writer) have done an amazing job of creating [and writing] a character that is both scary AND tragic. Knowing that Barry Allen, the “Fastest Man Alive”, is trapped in the head of someone he was simply trying to help not to make the same mistakes he had– it’s just the right kind of gut-punch that sold me on this story, and made me excited to see just where this story would go.

The Flash is one of my two favorite DC heroes, and this issue threw me for a loop every single time I’ve read it. I give BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1 a well deserved 5 out of 5. As for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m truly excited to read comics again. And I’ve got this story arc to thank.

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