Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Liam Sharp, Adam Brown, Richard Starkings, and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: November 1, 2017

If this were the 1980s, when comic book events drove merchandising opportunities, the “Bats Out of Hell” storyline would be filling holiday toy catalogs for years to come.

Not only is there a proliferation of Batman variations (which alone would fuel entire toy lines!), but now, with Justice League #32, Red Death unveils a Flashmobile in a story written by Robert Venditti, drawn by Liam Sharp, colored by Adam Brown, and lettered by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt.

Kids across the world would be losing their collective minds to a) have a vehicle that wasn’t JUST for Batman and b) push the button and hear that “VRRRROOOOOOOM!” as the car revs to life, just like this story is doing under the broader Metal banner.

The second chapter of “Bats Out of Hell,” Justice League #32 divides and conquers, focusing on Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman through the thoughts and words of Cyborg. The story fills the pages of the issue with exposition and interesting matchups, before putting the heroes on the ropes by issue’s end.

That’s not spoiling (at least not too much), but in the same regard, it’s not overly surprising. The “Gosh! Wow!” moments in Justice League #32 are more art and concept driven than story-borne.

That said, the character that is taken advantage of in this comic has become more of a liability than a contributor, as this is at least the third time I can think of where a major problem could have been avoided simply by excluding this character since the launch of the New 52.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Venditti is phoning this in – hardly the case – it’s just where that character seems to be positioned in the DC Universe right now. And that impacts the story. It’s not a surprising predicament by any means, but it sure seems like DC is hurting to find the right way to handle a marquee character.

It’s a necessary evil to drive this story forward, to give Liam Sharp the opportunity to draw the rest of the League in dire straits, and to make “Bats Out of Hell” just a bit longer, and, hopefully, more rewarding.

Sharp’s art is phenomenally detailed, dark, and gritty – everything a story featuring twisted versions of familiar concepts should be. There’s a thematic thread that carries from the main Metal tale, but Sharp’s drawings are a bit more grounded than animated, inviting readers to imagine textures, smells, and atmosphere.

As those atmospheres go, Venditti and Sharp cram at least three issues worth of locations, characters, and stuff into Justice League #32, which makes the comic feel extra-sized, even though it really isn’t. Sharp flips between the various cave locations with apparent ease, giving each one its own profile, while also blending them together nicely, building on commonalities before pressing in divergences.

Andy Brown’s colors melt into Sharp’s grit, each feeding the other before completing the imagery. The cast of characters – Cyborg, Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, and Hal Jordan – all have elements about and around them that require bold, heroic shades, but Brown balances that and the harsh darkness nicely, making this an uncomfortably impressive comic.

The lettering duo of Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt cap everything off nicely. The duality of Red Death, especially, allows for a neat effect that would be quite disturbing in other media, but achieves ominous, eerie tones here.

All in all, Justice League #32 is a fine chapter in the “Bats Out of Hell” story, even if it feels a bit too convenient. Taken by itself or in the context of the grander Metal tale, it’s a fun read with some bizarre concepts leveraged for shock and awe. I’m curious to see where the rest of this storyline goes, which is exactly where I should be right now.

The Verdict: 8.5/10


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