Not Broken At All

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Though acclaimed in their own right with their superb collaboration on DC/Vertigo’s 100 Bullets, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso had their hands full with their recently concluded, six-issue run on Batman titled, Broken City. After all, how could they even approach, much less top, the mammoth Hush storyline by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee?

The answer - and to paraphrase Sinatra’s signature song – they did it their way.

In Broken City, Batman is after someone he suspects is behind the brutal murder of a pregnant woman found in a garbage landfill. To make matters worse, the suspected killer, Angel Lupo, just happens to be the victim’s brother. In the process of his search for Lupo, he indirectly causes the murder of a couple, witnessed by their son much as Bruce had seen the slaying of his parents. This development steels the Dark Knight’s resolve to put down the murderer and no one’s about to stop him.

True to their roots, Azzarello and Risso waste no time in amping up the action and violence as seen in the first pages of issue #620 (the first part of the arc) as Batman interrogates Killer Croc (who he suspects has something to do with the murder) in his own inimitable, painful style. Croc loses a few pounds of teeth and Batman gets his first lead in finding the killer.

By having Killer Croc beaten viciously, Azzarello sets the tone that Batman is not above any means, except killing, to get his point across and obtain the information he needs to get to the bottom of things. He clearly gives the reader a glimpse as to just why Batman is fearsome to the Gotham underworld for his methods.

While Tarantino-esque violence may be the order of the series, Azzarello’s writing also shines with the use of humor throughout the arc, which gives Batman a new dimension. In one scene in issue #620, Batman finds a hooker in the bed of the suspected killer and engages her in an innuendo-filled dialogue, while uncharacteristic of the character, this was quite entertaining. Azzarello brings Batman’s dry wit to the forefront with great success.

Moreover, Azzarello also demonstrates a great understanding of the “Bat-canon” with his interpretation of the various nemeses that appear throughout the book. The conversation Batman has with The Joker in issue #625 has shades of the exchanges between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and shows another aspect of the almost-symbiotic relationship between these longtime arch-foes. It’s almost funny on the surface but if one reads closer, the exchange is quite deep and somewhat defines the relationship between Batman and The Joker.

However, what really made the story work was the twist in the end as to why the woman was murdered and who was responsible. I would have never seen this in a million years considering which Gotham underworld character is involved. Azzarello hit pay dirt with the conclusion and I guarantee surprise with it.

As good as the arc is, there is a sense that it was lengthened a bit to fit the standard six-issue-arc-to-be-released-as-a-TPB-soon requirement. After reading the whole story, four issues would have been adequate for it. The search for the killer took too long and could have been resolved earlier with the clues already given to Batman. It is just a little tiring to read Batman looking for Angel Lupo issue after issue after being given so many leads. If he can take down the JLA in six-issues, shouldn’t finding a small-time criminal be a much easier task?

The most difficult thing to adjust to with this arc is the fact that Jim Lee is no longer doing the artwork. Eduardo Risso had big shoes to fill and fill them he did. While Lee’s work was stunning, Risso’s style is nothing to sneeze at either. There is an undeniable Frank Miller influence in his work, which really suits the noirish nature of the story.

Risso’s Batman has a more sinister look to him than the heroic touch Jim Lee gave his interpretation. We see a Batman usually in the shadows, looking very ominous and intimidating. This is by no means a pretty-boy superhero interpretation, but more of the Dark Knight as Miller had established. By inking his own pencils, Risso is in complete control of the artwork and it shows.

The subdued coloring of Patricia Mulvihill also contributes greatly to the grim mood that permeates not only the characters but Gotham City as well. The varying shades of gray and dark colors set the mood for the entire arc. Atmosphere is important in a book like Batman and Mulvihill shows that she has an astute understanding of that.

The Lowdown: Coming after Loeb and Lee must have been packed with pressure for Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso but the 100 Bullets creative team hold more than their own with the Broken City storyline. With a grittier take on Batman, the duo’s fluid collaboration infuses the book with their unique style of storytelling and artwork and adds enough twists to keep the reader in the story. While not as high profile as the preceding storyline, Broken City is a very good story and is a fine follow-up to Hush.

- Jose Clemente

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