New Gotham City antagonist the Ghost-Maker gets a compelling, bisected introduction in Batman #102. Still reeling from the aftermath of 'The Joker War,' Tynion's new main title ensemble - Batman, Oracle, and Harley Quinn - start about the task of rebuilding their networks and lives in this 'new' Gotham. But a player has made the scene, the Ghost-Maker, cutting a bloody swath across Gotham in an effort to "do what Batman won't."
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Carlos D'Anda, and Danny Miki
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Though we have seen this sort of set-up before, with characters like Jason Todd, Hush, and Azrael, Tynion adds a canny bit of 'untold history' around the Ghost-Maker, explicitly connecting the new character to Bruce Wayne's training pre-Batman.
Guest artists Carlo Pagulayan and Carlos D'Andra also add a neat double-feature like energy to the introductory issue. Cutting between the present, which is handled by Pagulayan, and a lengthy flashback to the Ghost-Maker and Bruce's first major encounter, detailed by D'Andra, Batman #102 reads like a double issue but moves with the same drive and speed of the rest of the post-#100 issues.
We open on our 'new' Gotham. Though things have seemed largely on their way toward being rebuilt, someone is continuing the fight, "mopping up" the unpunished corrupt cops the Joker used to infiltrate the power structures of Gotham as well as the remaining die-hard Joker henchmen. This is our first look at the Ghost-Maker, and James Tynion IV really plays up the moment. Though these opening pages are a bit narration heavy, Tynion keenly lays out the idea and mission of the Ghost-Maker in a pretty chilling and evocative way. Designed by Phil Jimenez, the Ghost-Maker looks like a cross between the Red Hood and the Prince of Persia, given a coolly striking color scheme of off-whites, softer blues, and gleaming silvers and greys.
Tynion then doubles down on this introduction, threading through his mission, which seems to be fairly close to Batman's but with a more lax attitude toward taking lives, both in the rest of the issue's action and the issue's lengthy flashback set piece. As Batman attempts to orient himself to his leaner new status quo, both Ghost-Maker and Clownhunter have been carrying on throughout Gotham, coming to a head as the pair of anti-heroes clash over their target of a 'Smiler' HQ (the ghoulishly fun name Tynion provides to the harder-core Joker henchmen that operate in the city).
This three-fronted battle gets a neat bit of historical foundation as well, switching from the present action to 'years ago' when Bruce was still traveling the world, training for his war on crime. It seems that even then he and the Ghost-Maker were at odds, jockeying to be taken in various masters after the Ghost-Maker killed one of their shared teachers after the lessons were complete.
Again, the idea of a "secret peer" in crime-fighting in Batman isn't a new one, but the way Tynion eeks out the characterization and history of Ghost-Maker, tempered by his directed, purposeful violence in opposition to the Gotham heroes, is really interesting. And adds a new layer to the 'new' Gotham that Tynion is building, alongside the check-ins with Batman, Babs (still apparently operating off-panel as both Batgirl and Oracle), and Harley Quinn, who adds an unexpected street-level charm to the whacking great heroics and history of the Batman/Ghost-Maker centered A-plot.
Artists Carlo Pagulayan and Carlos D'Anda also provide Batman #102 with a cinematic visual range that keeps it from ever looking drab. In the present day, Pagulayan adjusts very well to the industrious and sleek look of Gotham City, as well as the stagey action and hero shots one needs to see in a Batman title. His introduction splash of the Ghost-Maker especially is a very well-produced page, keenly blocking Ghost-Maker in such a way that allows readers a full look at his costume and posturing. The pair then upshift into action very well in the latter pages. Squaring off Clownhunter, Batman, and Ghost-Maker for the position of 'Gotham's Next Top Hero', Pagulayan and D'Anda trade-off admirably, the present standoff operating as a sleek, highly produced action set-piece while the past fight is a gritty, rough-and-tumble highlighting of Bruce and Ghost-Maker's skills out of costume.
It all culminates in yet another resoundingly solid issue of Batman. Though a touch expository in parts, Batman #102 finds James Tynion IV still committing to his 'new' era of the main title, injecting new characters, new perspectives, and new street-level avenues of narrative that were absent in the more baroque and conceptual Tom King Era. Let's just hope Bruce Wayne and his allies survive long enough to enjoy it.
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