Batman: No Man’s Land Volume 1 Review (New Edition) By Deffinition
The Road To No Man’s Land has been a rocky one so far. Inconsistency has plagued the run and it’s difficult to fully assess how I feel about the build up thus far. We had some absolutely classic issues but they sat amongst the dull and repetitive. Overall I’m unsure of exactly how the major arc itself will turn out.
I’ve heard nothing but good things in regards to it. Many stating that it’s one of the best Batman stories ever put to page. However, these opinions may be marred by nostalgia and the fact that upon it’s release, it didn’t have much competition. Nowadays there are countless classic Bat based stories so it may not stand up as highly in new reader’s eyes.
That’s purely what my perspective will be. Having never read this story before I’m wary as to how good it will actually be. Whilst it may be unfair to mark it with the harsher 2017 eyes that I possess (that’s not a super power by the way) I have to come at it from a modern audience standpoint.
That’s a long winded way of saying ‘will it hold up?’
Let’s find out!
The Dark Knight’s City Is Dead
Gotham is a No Man’s Land (Hence The Title). No one is allowed in or out. The desolate city is now a hot bed of criminality. Only the strongest and smartest survive and from the off you will Get strong elusions to the classic film, Escape From New York. Gangs and Madmen lurk on every corner claiming their territory with a mob mentality. The entire town is completely alien to the dark Metropolis it once was. This is Hell.
Instantly I was sucked in by this aesthetic and it immediately established itself as better than it’s predecessors due to its dark tone and bleak hopelessness that is rife throughout the pages.
Batman is gone and whilst the book takes a while to reintroduce him the payoff is worth it. The creative team show glimmers of him in the shadow and it really adds the mythological status that is often missing from the character, firmly back into his persona.
I love the way he spray paints Bat symbols onto street corners. Similar to it’s use in the Dark Knight Rises, it gives the surviving citizens hope that there is someone out their looking after them. A silent guardian, a watchful protector…(insert the rest of the poignant speech from the end of The Dark Knight).
I absolutely love the strategic approach that Batman takes to breaking down the gangs. Realising that most of the leaders will not want a coup to be formed, he figures out that all of the foot soldiers will be heavily under armed. This theory is proved correct when he discovers that every soldier in Scarface’s territory only has one bullet. Arranging trade deals in order to trap the gangs and take them down, Bruce is able to showcase his militaristic mentality.
It’s a solid take that firmly places the Caped Crusader as superior due to his brain rather than his brawn.
Take Em To Church
The mid section of the book focuses on a Church Community in central Gotham. Trying to rebuild and shelter people during this time of poverty is difficult but it’s great to see that some Gothamites still have good within their heart. This plot point thematically symbolises rehabilitation and we see Batman guide criminals towards the center in order to turn them away from the criminal lifestyle they have lived thus far. Scarecrow even becomes a member of the sect and it adds the hope that if he can change anyone can. At the core of Batman, is the belief that anyone can become good, it’s why he took Jason in and refuses to kill his foes. So it’s great to see it brought up here and established as an ideology.
This is reflected in the transformation of Two Face. Harvey now seeks out those trapped by the rubble, flipping his coin in order to decide whether to save them or not. Whilst still deplorable, it shows a brighter side to the character and that there is still kindness within.
Of course this peace doesn’t last long and like all things in the city, it becomes rotten. Presented at such a high level in the story, we really become attached to the characters. Each piece works brilliantly as it’s own little drama and provides a plot element that I never really thought would be in a Batman story, but still work considerably well.
As the GCPD slowly begin to retake Gotham, we see the re-emergence of the Supervillains. Black Mask provides an enticing foe in this land of the mask and it’s great to see the dichotomy that characters like this provide. Batman must learn to compromise with vigilantes such as Lock Up and Huntress in order to save the city. In the past he disagreed with them due to their lethal tactics, even going as far to have Lock Up jailed. However, now he realises that whilst he may not cosign their methods, the fact that they aren’t Evil makes them allies.
Rarely seeing Bruce, Batman becomes like almost like a Judge Dredd archetype. A hero with one purpose and identity who never rests or breaks until his mission is fulfilled.
“The Brave Squire”
We get a wonderful chapter towards the books end which has Alfred narrate his journey thus far. Told in the form of a bed time story, it’s a really entertaining ride that acts as an informative plot device to get new readers up to speed.
Unfortunately it’s preceded by an underwhelming Joker story that sees Azrael try to take down the clown prince of crime. Potential is squandered here and The Joker’s entrance should have provided a lot more excitement than the B story it is relegated to. Luckily the villain is redeemed in the story of Sarge.
A one shot within the book tells the story of Sarge. A retired war veteran who refuses to vacate his home no matter how much chaos surrounds it. Similar in tone to Gran Torino, this segment feels like that film crossed with The Dark Knight. From Sarge’s point of view we see Gotham’s past, it’s decline and how, no matter what, he will never give up his home.
I absolutely loved this tale and recommend that you pick it up just to see how engrossing lives of Gothamites can be. Standing tall as the books definitive highlight, it doesn’t rely on action scenes, nor over the top villains. It uses humanity to leap from the page and is outstanding from start to finish.
Unfortunately this quality is quickly dropped when we see Superman return to Gotham.
When hearing about No Man’s Land I always wondered why he didn’t intervene. This chapter showcases that he can’t really be bothered to deal with the politics of it and even when helping, he regrets it due to the disparity that the citizens have within their hearts. Batman also acts as an affront to him. Telling the Man Of Steel, that he shouldn’t help, it’s not his city, he doesn’t understand it.
I’ve always hated when writers take this stance with Batman and here it makes the least sense.
If Superman were to exist he could sort out the problem of No Man’s Land pretty quickly but the creative team want this to be a full run so for poor reasons, The Blue Boy Scout is relegated to onlooker. It squanders his potential and is a rather hamfisted way to remove a quick solution from the equation.
The Wrap Up
We close the book on a phenomenal Thomas Wayne story and a middling Murder mystery. The former is a great telling of a young Thomas Wayne finding his strength when he thought he had none. It’s used to inspire Bruce to drive his mission through the city and acts as a brilliant finale for the book.
The latter lacks but it doesn’t hang around long enough to really marr the book and is therefore not a huge detractor.
No Man’s Land is great from start to finish. Whilst there are a few dud chapters, the overall quality of the stories within will leave you with a lasting positive impression. Featuring a wealth of well developed characters and plot lines, it really drives home the theme that there is good within us all. Sending a message of hope and solidarity, No Man’s Land is a brilliant reminder of just how good Batman stories can be.
That’s why it gets a…
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.
Thanks so much for checking out my article. If you liked it please subscribe to my Patreon by clicking here! Buying graphic novels, cinema tickets and games isn't cheap so every penny towards it helps. If you can pledge an amount that you wouldn't miss if you dropped it in the street it would make a big difference to me and my website. Please donate whatever you can. Thank you, Paul.