Four years ago, DC Comics attempted to unify their continuity and style as a means to attracting more comics readers and consumers. It failed, they actually lost readers and consumers by moving in the opposite direction from where their main competitors (Marvel & Image) succeeded. By 2014, DC Comics started backing away from the New 52’s business plan; they gave editor Mark Doyle the leeway to reconfigure the Batman line of books which brought unique titles like Grayson & Gotham Academy, they created the Convergence event as a means to loosen up their continuity constraints, they introduced a new line of diverse titles from up and coming talents, they brought Frank Miller back for The Dark Knight III and long gestating projects have started to see the light of day like Multiversity, Wonder Woman Earth One and this weeks Batman Europa. DC Comics has gone from having the most consistently similar content for their titles to essentially now throwing anything against the wall to see what will stick. And that’s produced a lot of great content, Mutliversity is one of the best comics of the last five years, they have one of the most diverse line of creators and titles, they’ve unearthed some fantastic new talent in the likes of Tom King or Babs Tarr, they’ve given a much larger platform to overlooked creators like Gene Lueng Yang or Steve Orlando and they’ve allowed younger work for hire writers to grow and find their voice like James Tynion IV or Brenden Fletcher. There is a lot to like from DC Comics right now but with that said, they’re are in a weird place; they had a business plan that didn’t work and now they seem to searching for their next step and that means they’re going to create some weird books & Batman Europa is exactly that. It’s not great but it’s not bad either; it’s just strange.
Batman Europa is about Batman discovering he has a deadly virus that will kill him within one week if he doesn’t find a cure. The virus in his computer tells him the virus in his body originates in Europe and Batman goes to Berlin in search of a cure. He runs into the Joker who also happens to have the same virus and the two are forced to team up as a means of survival. That’s a pretty bonkers plot by any measure. It’s not Silver Age Superman with a lion-head bonkers, The Joker becoming the president of Libya bonkers or Rob Liefeld drawing the Young Blood’s guns bigger then their bodies bonkers but pretty bonkers by the standards of superhero comics in 2015. It’s a weird madlib’s of different ideas and plot points but the book plays it straight and that actually helps the comic quite a bit.
Batman Europa has two things going in it’s favor; it is beautifully illustrated and it understands how to create an engaging mystery within it’s premise. The former is a byproduct of an all star level art team jamming the fuck out. Giuseppe Camuncoli does the layouts, Jim Lee does the finishes, Alex Sinclair does the color and it looks marvelous. There is a pulpy rough line quality to the art with Jim Lee’s strong detail work in the finished product which creates an urban gothic feel that’s accentuated from Sinclairs muted color work. It slightly classical in a way that really establishes a tone for the book from the outset and gives it a consistent aesthetic for the entire issue. Writers Matteo Casali & Brian Azzarello play off the art’s inflection while establishing the plot’s conceit subtlety and with a level of nuance. For an issue that is mainly set up, they manage to not only build up the stories tension, but have that tension pay off in some fantastic individual moments. The sequence of Batman breaking through an apartment window and The Joker firing his pistol indiscriminately is especially thrilling because of all the little things that lead up to it within the main story-line.
There are more then enough things to like in this book but it’s aforementioned eccentricities almost feel like a distraction. When it’s all said and done; based on what we know from this single issue, this is a comic about Batman & The Joker traveling around Europe to find the cure to a deadly virus that will kill them within one week that Batman discovered by reverse engineering a computer hack in his IT system. Batman has to team up with a man that has cut off the hand of his Butler/Father Figure/Closest adviser, killed Jason Todd, a handful of Gotham police officers & who knows how many countless others, kidnapped his entire makeshift family, turned the Justice League and his entire city into weird clown zombies intent on murdering him and basically pushed Bruce Wayne to the point that he’s completely divorced the entire concept of Batman from his psyche while forcing Jim Gordan to take over in a bunny rabbit robocop suit and that’s just in New 52 continuity. I understand that the DC fictional history thing is entirely fluid but I’m pretty sure The Killing Joke is canonical in almost every context of The Joker. That’s a villain that makes a great story partially because he’s unrelentingly evil, he’s well past the point of redemption. So the decision to pair Batman, a dude with no superpowers that chooses to fight crime out of an overwhelming need to bring justice to an unjust world, with that villain in Europe to work together is a strange idea which is partially why the mechanics it took to get to that point are equally as strange. Batman Europa is a strong debut purely on the terms of it’s craft but it has a high probability of being incredibly stupid due to it’s odd story choices. I’m not saying this issue is stupid but I’m not saying it isn’t either, it’s just really strange, very well done in the abstract and kind of off putting.