Batman Contagion Review By Deffinition
Batman Contagion marks the first substantial arc since Bruce Wayne returned to the cowl after his defeat in Knightfall. It sets the stage for the legendary ‘No Man’s Land‘ storyline and would shape comics to come for the next ten years.
But is it any good?
Mixed reviews often plague this books (pun not intended), with many stating that they do not stand the test of time. The 90s were a funny era for comics and many titles have either aged well or badly….very badly. That is one of the main factors that has always put me off reading and reviewing this book. The worry that I won’t enjoy it and due to this it has sat neglected on my shelf for so long (how awful for me).
I’ve finally plucked the courage up to bite the bullet and read it (brave me). I’m here to find out whether this book is still worth checking out or if it is just another remnant of a bygone era.
So with that out the way let’s dive in to Batman: Contagion.
The Apocalypse virus runs rampant throughout Gotham. Created by The Order Of St Dumas, this flesh eating disease infects all that it comes into contact with, leaving nothing but destruction in it’s wake. Warned in advance of it’s dangers by Azrael, Batman pools his efforts into finding a cure but it may be too late.
From the off the book really sets the stakes high, showing us the impact on Gotham’s citizens first hand we really get the feeling that this is an unstoppable plague that will take over the world.
The poor fall in the street, the rich lock themselves away in ivory towers, both are as helpless as each other. Clearly it’s a commentary on bureaucracy and privilege. Often the rich care not for the poor and the fact they are willing to let them die whilst they live in luxury satires a selfish attitude that is often attributed to the wealthy. It’s gripping stuff that elevates the book above most and there is a lot to like in these opening chapters.
I’ve seen the effects of viral mass hysteria in real life with the fear that was caused by the spread of SARS and Ebola being the most memorable and recent. It’s really interesting to see how this could potentially play out in the real world and what the fictitious comic book characters would do to handle it. Sure we are used to seeing Batman defuse bombs, solve riddles and stop maniacal crimes, but when it becomes something invisible, intangible and deadly, it becomes a different story.
I really loved the setting for the book and it’s refreshing to see how bombastic superheroes deal with something that isn’t so…run of the mill. Chuck Dixon, the writer, has once again carried on the aesthetic that he began in Knightfall. His work is grounded, often street level, dealing more in politics than it does in action. It’s this tone that has made me come to love the writer and it really feels like a step up here, cementing his legacy once more.
Fighting the Disease
In Batman’s attempts to stop the disease he sends his allies far and wide. Even going so far as to enlist the help of Azrael, his sworn enemy after Knightsend. As the virus spreads, desperate times call for desperate measures. We really get a sense of urgency throughout the tale and there are several moments that feel like they could be the Dark Knight‘s last. I love how Dixon depicts a methodical Batman, his scientific mind comes into full effect here and if you are more a fan of the ‘smart Batman’ over the brawler then you will eat this up.
Batman is pushed so far to the brink that he must call on Poison Ivy to immunise the city. I’ve always preferred Ivy as the flawed anti-hero over the out and out villain and this book demonstrates just how likeable she can be. It’s clear this story influenced Arkham Knight and seeing her team up with the Caped Crusader adds a dynamic to the story that is rarely present in stories. Her and Batman are on some levels, both as insane as each other, so it makes sense they would find some common ground. The fact Batman has to depend on her heightens the drama and enforces just how dangerous the disease is.
She of course betrays him. Referencing ‘Masque of Red Death‘ by Edgar Allen Poe we see within Babylon Towers, the rich are partying like it’s the end of the world (which I suppose it is) whilst the plague ravages outside. Ivy having the cure holds the wealthy to ransom and they pay any price for a chance at immunity. When Batman enters to pick her up, seeing her treachery we get one of the lowest points in the mythos thus far. Gordon has followed him and the two are now trapped in the doomed building. Reminiscing over the war they’ve fought they stare out at the city as the mob outside set fire to the building. The love/hate relationship that they’ve had with Gotham is cemented here and it’s a touching, somber moment.
Around this time we also learn that Robin is infected, after breaking up looters he has caught the virus and is now at it’s mercy. Whilst till this point the disease never felt like a full cataclysm, the fact that it is now within a main character heightens the drama. Whilst this motif could’ve came earlier, the fact that Dixon was still willing to do it brings forth a feeling of imperativeness to finding a cure.
After seizing the cure from the clutches of St. Dumas, Azrael returns to Gotham. There is a slightly misguided cliffhanger in which we believe Tim Drake is dead (you find out next issue that it was a joke) but the viruses defeat comes swiftly and well paced. With a new Mayor drafted in (we will miss you Krol) and Comissioner Gordon reinstated the book’s final few arcs centre around setting up the next story: Batman Legacy.
In all honesty I felt this was slightly anti climactic and the story doesn’t really feel like it hits a home run in it’a wrap up. It’s extremely shallow (spending an issue with Tim’s angst over his girlfriend dying her hair). The lad has been at deaths door and is now worried about banal issues. It feels like a massive devolution of the arc and the themes covered here don’t feel like the best way to see out the book.
The rumours are true. Overall Contagion is an enjoyable book but it doesn’t come close to the standard that Chuck Dixon has set so far. With books like Knightfall and Knightsend he demonstrated that he could balance several themes and provide moments that would sit in a reader’s memory forever.
Contagion is devoid of those stand out battles, those memorable moments and due to this it under delivers.
It’s your average Batman story and whilst nowadays being regarded more as a lead in to No Man’s Land the book should still have enough merit to warrant a standalone read through. To me it doesn’t and that’s why it scores a…
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.