By Matt Tuck
The Next Batman #3 premiered this week, and while the issue makes valid points about the modern justice system, John Ridley’s script tends to bash readers in the face with overt social commentary.
I get what Ridley and artist Laura Braga are doing in the pages of Next Batman, and it is a worthy mission. How can anyone not get it by this point? Next Batman #3 is heavy on reminding us that this future Gotham lives under the rule of a fascist state. Imagine if Batman were dropped into George Orwell’s 1984, and that is Next Batman.
Do not misunderstand me; the idea of a private police force that has installed itself as judge, jury and executioner is not out of place in today’s unstable political climate. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the protagonist of such a story is an African-American who must cover his entire face unlike his white predecessor.
In this issue, Tim Fox/Batman rescues two Gothamites wanted for murder as they face what is basically a public execution. The remainder of the comic sees Tim leading them through the Gotham underbelly as they flee the universally feared Magistrate, a private police force who make their own rules of engagement.
There is plenty of action for old-school Batman fans, and the title is all too aware of the implications of its premise. Oftentimes, the issue felt largely inspired by Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta.
I applaud the effort and the use of the superhero genre to engage this subject, especially when it involves a character so famous as Batman. After the cultural awakening from 2020, it is a worthy topic to explore. Frighteningly, the idea of a fascist state created by a privatized police force with “shoot on sight” orders against American citizens is not as distant and fictional as we would like to believe. Should it be a theme in a comic? Absolutely, and it follows a tradition of comics as social commentary that goes back to the likes of Moore, the X-Men, and even Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.
The problem is pounding readers over the head with it.
While I enjoyed the premise of the story, seemingly every panel hammered the point across that world of The Next Batman could be our own. There was no subtlety to it, just straight up pounding its readers in the face with social commentary panel after panel broken up by action sequences reminiscent of Batman: Year One.
I respect what Ridley is doing with The Next Batman, and it is achieving its apparent goal of making us aware of the implications toward modern America. This is just the third issue for the story arc, and Tim Fox’s introduction as Batman is far from finished. As he develops into a more round and dynamic character, hopefully this story will find its heart inside the ongoing social themes.
This is a decent read with decent art, and it is making a point that deserves to be heard on a large platform. But the constant reminders and commentary on a fascist death squad that operates under the guise of protecting the citizens were done in a heavy-handed way. Does Ridley assume his readers will miss the point if it isn’t so direct? It would be a refreshing change to find out.
READING SOUNDTRACK (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH READING RAINBOW)
For today’s review, I want to try something new. What songs could be paired with this issue? The obvious choice would be some retro rap, like Public Enemy or NWA, but I heard Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” while I wrote the review.