I Am Batman #1 provides readers with the next chapter of Jace Fox's journey in becoming Batman, although this monumental issue is hampered by a lack of context explaining the circumstances of Fox's rise. Several months ago, DC Comics announced that Jace Fox, the estranged son of Lucius Fox, would become Gotham City's next Batman. Fox's story arc was guided by John Ridley, the acclaimed screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave and creator of the award-winning TV series American Crime. Ridley's Fox is an activist Batman, one looking to fight disparity, inequity, and a tyrannical police state instead of ghoulish supervillains. This new Batman is a fantastic reframing of a protector of Gotham City, one that comes not from the ivory tower but rather the corners of the city that people would rather forget.
In I Am Batman #1, Ridley and artist Olivier Coipel show Fox in his first outing as Batman. Readers see Fox gently scold some taggers, chase down a joyrider who nearly hits a bystander, and disarm some vigilantes fueled by online conspiracy theories while rescuing a few police officers in the process. In terms of a "debut," I Am Batman #1 is decidedly un-splashy, but that tells us more about what sort of hero Fox will be than any sort of colorful fight against a Joker or a Penguin. This is a new Batman with a different agenda, and we see those differences play out on the page.
Coipel turns in another phenomenal issue, proving once again why he's one of the best modern superhero artists in the business. He and colorist Alex Sinclair show readers a Gotham that's familiar but different. It still has the same gritty fabric as other versions of Gotham but without some of the fantastical architecture. It's a more grounded take on Gotham City, a perfect backdrop for this more low-key and street-level version of Batman.
Another example of this more grounded style is in how Coipel shows Batman on his motorcycle. Instead of a flashy Bat-cyle or Tumbler, Fox drives a normal motorcycle. There's still plenty of room for Coipel to work his magic - a chase scene with Batman and the aforementioned joyrider still features streaks of light and cool moments, but there's no high-tech weaponry or flashy branding on display. It's a stripped-down vehicle for a stripped-down Batman, and Coipel does an amazing job in using imagery to set a subdued and steady tone for the series.
My major problem with I Am Batman #1 has nothing to do with the actual story being told in the comic, but rather the confusing way that this story seems to fit within DC continuity. Fox was first introduced in Future State, a "possible future" that may or may not come to pass. However, he also recently appeared in Batman: Fear State Alpha #1, a comic in which Batman is still alive and active within the city. I Am Batman #1 uses pieces and little bits of story from Fear State and the similarly named Future State - the Magistrates seen in both of these comics have taken over law enforcement in Gotham and are framed as a central antagonist. However, it's unclear exactly when I Am Batman #1 takes place, and the comic doesn't provide any sort of real context for readers as to what sort of threats Batman is facing beyond a few in-passing comments.
This seems like a good way to alienate the potential new readers who might be interested in checking out the new marquee Batman comic starring an African-American Batman created by what's probably DC's most A-list creative team. If I were a new reader that hadn't been paying close attention to the tangled web that is DC's current Batman line, I would probably come away from this comic feeling a bit frustrated and having questions that took away from my enjoyment of the comic. As a comics reviewer with access to DC's recent Batman comics, I still had to do way more cross-referencing than I should have to understand where exactly this comic is supposed to "fit" in DC's line. It may have made a bit more sense to release this comic after Fear State resolved itself, or at least provide a bit more backdrop for I Am Batman to pick up on.
Hopefully, I Am Batman can provide a little more context in future issues, because I'm really enjoying everything else about the comic. I love the tone of the series, the fact that it feels different from other superhero comics, and the interesting angle that Ridley and Copiel are taking on Gotham's Dark Knight. Jace Fox has a bright future ahead, and if the first issue is any indication, people will be talking about I Am Batman for a long, long time.
Published by DC Comics
Written by John Ridley
Art by Olivier Coipel
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Olivier Coipel and Romulo Fajardo Jr.