DC’s line of Wal-Mart exclusive comics has been an interesting experiment, attempting to bring in new readers by putting DC comics in a high-traffic retail space. But comic-book collectors are aggressive creatures, and many of these books were scooped up in bulk because they contained new stories by A-list DC creators like Tom King, Andy Kubert, Brian Michael Bendis, and Nick Derington. It’s unclear just how significant the reach of these Wal-Mart books has been in terms of new readers, but enough time has passed that DC is reprinting the previously exclusive material so the entire fanbase can check it out. Batman Universe #1 kicks off an expansive Batman tale that takes the Dark Knight to a variety of DC locales, starting in his home base of Gotham City before venturing to Gorilla City, Thanagar, Dinosaur Island, and the Wild West.
Batman Universe is Bendis’ debut writing a solo Batman, and the humor in Bendis’ writing creates a more playful hero reminiscent of the iteration in the iconic Batman: The Animated Series TV show. The crisp, vibrant artwork by Derington, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Josh Reed reinforces that cartoon connection, and in a world where brooding Batman is king, it’s a delight to get a version of the character with a brighter worldview. This exclusive extended preview of this week’s Batman Universe #1 highlights the craft and imagination of this stellar creative team, opening with a clever two-page sequence that shows the readers the world through Batman’s eyes. These first-person panels show Batman driving the Batmobile, climbing up a building, and swinging through the air, stripping the visuals of superhero dynamism to offer a more methodical depiction Batman’s process.
And then the perspective shifts to the goons on the ground, about to get their asses kicked by a guy dressed as a bat who just fell from the sky. This brings a rush of spectacle to the artwork, and the restrained storytelling of the previous pages gives this splash even greater impact. The fight scene that follows is outstanding. Derington’s linework packs a lot of detail into panels that move with thrilling energy, and he gives each individual Riddler their own look and personality. Stewart’s colors add texture and visual accents to Derington’s inks, and the biggest joy of this story is seeing how the art team interprets a wide array of DC environments and characters. Bendis takes full advantage of his collaborators’ immense skill, and it makes Batman Universe essential reading for fans of the Dark Knight.