Garth Ennis hasn’t got much of a history with Batman. I think he did an issue back in the late eighties, plus in Hitman he had the titular character puke on him, so there’s that. Garth Ennis, as we know, doesn’t really like superheroes, so why the hell have I just got through a new Batman comic written by him?
“Reptilian” should have been done five years or so ago, written by Ennis for his Preacher cohort Steve Dillon to illustrate, but Dillon’s health deteriorated and the collaboration wasn’t to be. Enter Liam Sharp, a UK comics stalwart who I remember best from his Marvel UK work, especially on Death’s Head. Sharp and Ennis are old pals but have never worked together, so the script was held onto, dedicated to Steve Dillon and finally completed.
Ennis freely admits that he doesn’t follow Batman, and so the best way to approach this six issue series is to pretend the last thirty years of the character never happened. Obviously the focus is (or will be) on Killer Croc, mainly because Ennis pretty much despises Batman’s gallery of lunatics. It shows pretty quickly, as some of them don’t last the issue, and you get the feeling that by the end Ennis will have gleefully scythed down most of Arkham Asylum’s intake, taking special care over the Joker, who he calls “…the worst of the lot, probably the most annoying character in all of the comics”.
True to form, “Reptilian” is dark, both in tone and art, Liam Sharpe delivers a painted style that’s halfway between Dave McKean and Simon Bisley (when he’s trying), and if you like either of those you’ll be a happy bunny here. The script is brutal, with Batman being miserable as hell and not a man to waste words. It makes great use out of the fact he doesn’t kill, making it more of a threat than actually killing someone, which takes some doing. Batman is as dark a knight as he ever was, with his public humiliation of a heavyweight boxer who’s also a rapist kicking things off as they mean to go on.
As a fan of the creative team I was expecting to enjoy this, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the utter bleakness of it, although a few lines did make me snigger. That said, it’s a great start to the series, and I imagine it will be eagerly devoured by Ennis fans and Bat fans the world over. DC’s Black Label imprint has been a reliable source of adult aimed material, and with “Reptilian” they may have their best yet. See you next month, same bat-time, same bat-channel!