Batman #28 would have been better served by the title Bluebird #1. The star of this spoiler-filled issue is not Batman, but his soon-to-be sidekick, Harper Row. She drives the story and is easily the most interesting part of an issue filled with mysteries. Batman does not even appear until page nine. Even then, he sticks to the shadows. It’s beneficial that Bluebird’s first appearance is so entertaining, because the comic is largely devoid of substance and other characters.
There are really only two other characters featured in the story: Batman and Catwoman. Batman has clearly undergone some sort of ordeal, but he reveals very little change within himself. His dialogue and actions play like typical Batman: barking orders and struggling with human relationships. Catwoman is a much more prominent character, the new kingpin of Gotham. The change in her status quo is much more interesting than anything Batman contributes. Caustic remarks lace her dialogue hinting at a traumatic change in her life alongside the incredible change of having gone from anti-hero to villain. Yet both of their appearances seem to focus on hinting at what will occur in Batman Eternal.
Bluebird is able to shine in a much more meaningful way. Scott Snyder’s characterization of her has been clear from her first appearance in Batman #7. Harper Row is stubborn, clever, and a bit of a smart-ass. She recognizes that she is surrounded by giants, but refuses to let that stop her. She’s also impressive in a way that previous sidekicks were not before they met Batman. Instead of waiting to be drafted in Batman’s war on crime, she revamped his inner-city power grid as a teenager. That thread of self-reliance and determination is evident in this issue, as well. Whether she’s picking a fight with the “kingpin of Gotham” or taking down a room packed with goons, it’s clear that nothing is going to stop Bluebird.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bluebird is funny, really funny. Her back-and-forth with Batman is reminiscent of his relationship with Dick Grayson, but with less puns. She also plays off of antagonists beautifully, providing sassy responses to rhetorical questions and threats. The “feisty” comment should definitely draw out some belly laughs.
Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is very different from Greg Capullo’s regular contribution, but works to severe this issue from the regular series while providing a solid action sequence. Nguyen’s characters tend to be best served by large panels. A full page featuring Bluebird and Batman provides a real sense of who each character is. It not only features a full look at both character’s costumes, but their poses reveal each character’s essential attitude. Smaller panels fare less well, often lacking in continuity details. A large thug whose face is covered in scars is dropped only to be shown with a clear complexion. Nguyen’s work on the fight sequence reveals a clear grasp of visual storytelling. He establishes The Egyptian in several panels before proceeding to wreck up the place. There’s never any doubt what the heroes are doing and it allows for a fun, rollicking sequence.
Despite some nice characterization—on the behalf of Bluebird—and decent art, the issue bears flaws. The most obvious of which is that it’s designed to tease the audience, instead of tell a story. Much of the dialogue serves the sole purpose of hinting at events to come. The final page of the story is pure fan-service, providing a reveal that will be talked about, but does not service the issue in anyway. Snyder does his best to create a short narrative that will naturally feature spoilers. However, it is still dragged down by this set up. The issue reads more like a chapter pulled from the middle of a novel. That may be the conceit, but it does not make it a good idea.
Batman #28 is still an enjoyable issue. It features a nicely told action sequence, introduces the boisterous Bluebird, and should stoke plenty of interest in Batman Eternal. Now let’s get back to “Zero Year”, already.