By Alexander Webb
Welcome to another installment of Flashback Friday with your comic book (and fitness!) consigliere, Alex. Today, we take a trip back to the 90's and dive head first into the Batman epic, No Man's Land, Issue 1.
Reading those two words, your brain (I assume, as you are fellow comic geeks) immediately goes to, 'Oh, geez. What now?'
No Man's Land.
'What is that, a movie? A song? A level in Super Mario 64??'
What if I told you they were one in the same, our beloved Caped crusader's terminally turmoiled town and the ominous, barren description of a place you wouldn't want to be caught dead in? Well, they are. Here's why.
Eight months ago, the government sealed off Gotham and declared it a no man's land, meaning it was deemed uninhabitable and unsafe for society. A building-shattering earthquake was to blame; even Wayne Manor wasn't immune to the aftershock effects. Most residents left. Some, like Police commissioner Jim Gordon and literally all of Arkham Asylum's residents, decided to stay.
How does one maintain order in a chaotic environment such as this? If no one is supposed to be there, who makes the rules? Where is the line drawn between justice enforcer and rule-bending criminal? Issue 1 poses interesting questions while showing readers just how this other half is living on a daily basis.
After a priest convinces a chopper pilot to help him drop off a load of food for the sectioned-off inhabitants of Gotham, the tired and hungry start to take advantage. An apple here, a candy bar there. Who's to say what belongs to whom, though? Thievery abound, we find ourselves going through the daily struggle of a post-crisis Gothamite.
Before any more story details, I have to say this was an excellent way to open this book up. Writer Bob Gale shows readers how tough a life without law and order would be. We get a range of perspectives, from Sgt. Harvey Bullock, who stayed behind as per Gordon's wishes and delivers his own rough version of justice; to the Penguin, capitalizing on his industrious background to control a large portion of Gotham; and finally, the residents who stayed behind to either gain notoriety or to disappear, fighting tooth and nail for a bite of food.
What's missing from this review so far? …Oh right, Batman.
No one can find him. Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon (serving as our main narrator), reports on his three month absence; Nightwing and Robin maintain the same position. Where's he been? Can't he help keep order in this lawless town? Jim Gordon doesn't care. He feels betrayed by his comrade, lamenting that Batman would have come back by now if he really cared. Maybe he doesn't care; maybe being the Vigilante has always been about taking the easy way out. If Batman's rough, not-answering-to-anyone style of crimefighting is the easy, convenient way, then Gordon's law-abiding, constant-red-tape police work is definitely the hard way.
Tensions are running high in this new Gotham, and a fantastic story is being set up. What's a good story, though, without some good artwork? Alex Maleev delivers with a retro-looking pencilling that has worked well in recent times on New 52 issues of Batman and The Dark Knight. Maleev draws like the old Superman comic strips of the 50's; nondescript style, italicized word bubbles. What took my breath away were his sweeping vistas, like the two page spread of a Gotham City in shambles. Great detail and shadowing in a simplistic format. Visually satisfying to say the least.
We see our hero finally turn up on the final page. Looks like there may be hope for Gotham yet, in the form of a spray-painted Bat symbol. What happens next will blow you away. Stay tuned.
Alex Webb is a fitness trainer by day, Batman-enthusiast by night. Ask him about fitness, comics, RPGs, and answering life's mysteries via Twitter and Instagram @officiallywebb