BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 by Peter J. Tomasi and Francis Manapul
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 isn't the strongest of the Dark Batmen tie-ins to DARK NIGHTS: METAL. However, it is still a fantastic comic book, worthy of the god of war it depicts. With fantastic characterization and amazing work by Francis Manapul, this issue is a must-read.
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DC’s DARK NIGHTS METAL event has been an unexpected high from the company. The series has taken the most brilliant aspects of the company’s 75+ year history and jammed it all together into a book that is equal parts over-the-top and gritty. Many fans will agree, though, that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s visions of Dark Batmen truly define this series. Stemming from Batman’s own fears and self-doubts, these villains highlight aspects of this popular character that very few want to admit. So far, four different writer & artist teams have tackled THE RED DEATH, THE DROWNED, MURDER MACHINE, and THE DAWNBREAKER in separate comic book one-shots. This week, Peter J. Tomasi and Francis Manapul bring war to the DC Universe with BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1.

The Helm of Ares

The Merciless #1
BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

In the Merciless’ home universe, Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman have fallen in love while working together. As with Waynes in any dimension, however, this love is doomed to fail. Ares, the god of war, develops an enchanted helmet that amplifies his already immense powers. During the war to end this god, Diana falls but manages to knock the helm from Ares’ head. Alone and desperate, Batman dons Ares’ helmet and uses his newfound strength to kill the villain.

Wearing the helmet, however, comes at a cost. Bruce’s humanity slowly slips away, leaving him lusting after the blood of his many enemies. So when his world was destroyed, Merciless vowed to band with the Batman Who Laughs to bring war to the DC Universe. Where does he begin? With Steve Trevor, Amanda Waller, and the heads of the world’s most powerful organizations.

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Divine Corruption

The Merciless #1
BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 page 12. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 is a very good comic book, and, alone, I think it stands up rather well. While I’ll go into more of the positives of this installment later, I will say this issue didn’t have quite the impact on me as the other DARK NIGHTS: METAL tie-ins. In each of the Dark Batmen stories, we’ve seen the villainous Bruce Waynes do battle with his Justice League counterpart. We were allowed to see each pained expression as Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Victor Stone, and Arthur Curry lost their homes. These stories managed to drum up intrigue by creating scenarios where our favorite heroes lost. They also did so with a certain vindication, almost ensuring that we’d see their day of vengeance.

THE MERCILESS #1 didn’t quite have that same personal factor. While the Merciless’ backstory truly intrigued, I never felt wholly connected to the events within the DC Universe proper. Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller both have the potential to bring life to a scene, but they weren’t given that opportunity here. They can only bicker amongst themselves under the Merciless’ influence, and that leads to a story that feels somewhat like a high school drama until the fists start flying.

More importantly, I don’t understand why Wonder Woman didn’t make more of an appearance. The other stories took much of their impact from the superheroic cameos. Our superheroes cannot lose, but Dark Batmen readily defeat them. I understand that this takes place further into the main events of METAL, but it still feels like a loss. The Merciless readily defeats a group of humans. That doesn’t have the same impact as him defeating the Amazonian Warrior.

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Facing War

Though the impact of the story didn’t quite hit home, BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 is still a fantastic comic. Looking at the DARK NIGHTS: METAL event, the Merciless has had the least impact on events amongst the other villains. While I felt a little more apathetic toward the narrative’s impact on Earth-0, this Batman’s backstory is incredibly well-handled. Peter J. Tomasi is perfectly at home when he delves into the Merciless’ head. No matter how dark or horrible it would be, I want Tomasi to write an entire novel from this perspective. The Merciless drips character. It’s truly terrifying to hear him grieve the death of Wonder Woman on one page and extol the murders of Gotham’s criminals on another.

I also have to give Tomasi credit for placing us directly in the backstory. It isn’t told in summary. We see the events happen before us. It gives a more prescient weight to said events, forcing us to see the Merciless in action. Tomasi is a master of plotting, and this story rarely slows down. It feels like we’re walking into a war on each page. The events throughout this book are high energy, making this rather dense story a fairly quick read. I breezed through this on my first read and I immediately jumped back in for another go around. This story is simply that good.

The Art of Battle

THE MERCILESS #1
BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 page 6. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

With such a gritty, dark plot, THE MERCILESS #1 runs the risk of overwhelming readers. Luckily, Francis Manapul’s amazing artistry accompanies this title. Manapul’s style looks very cartoony, with a focus on a saturated color palette. Looking at his artwork, I’d never have pegged him for this series. His work on TRINITY and the New 52 FLASH fit well for stories steeped in hope and teamwork. For this gritty romp, I feared it wouldn’t work.

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However, I found myself eating his art up. Manapul has such a deep talent in eliciting emotion. Throughout the book, his typical stylization dominated, giving rather dark events a bit brighter outlook. Certain spreads, though, truly showcase this artist’s talent. When the Merciless first appears on the page, he’s this massive, imposing force of destruction. Immediately, Manapul’s careful attention to detail takes the forefront. In Manapul’s hands, the world at large isn’t a dangerous place. The Merciless corrupts it all and ruins our perceptions, and that puts his talent on full display.

Final Thoughts: BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1

While not my favorite of the Dark Batmen tie-ins, BATMAN: THE MERCILESS #1 presents a fantastically realized main character and a beautifully depicted world. The Merciless might not have had the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman in this issue, but I cannot wait for the day that the two face off. Tomasi and Manapul grabbed my interest almost immediately in developing the Merciless’ mindset and motivations. While I didn’t particularly relish in the Earth-0 events, the empowerment and corruption of the Merciless is well-constructed and utterly believable. Much like the other DARK NIGHTS: METAL tie-ins, you must read this story!

2 Comments

  1. Nicholas Ulanowski

    Nicholas Ulanowski

    October 25, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Another Batman book? Jeez.

    Batman is actually my favorite hero and even I am saying, “Another Batman book? Jeez.”

    Reply

    • AJ Zender

      October 25, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      Nicholas, I actually kind of agree. They have definitely oversaturated the market with Batman books. However, I’d still give THE MERCILESS a try. I have to give DC credit for only giving one issue to each of the Dark Batmen when they could have given them entire long series. But yes, another Batman book. Let’s hope they don’t overdo it.

      Reply

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