Batman: the Drowned presents us with arguably the most interesting of the dark Batmen other than ol’ Smiley, the one whose presence immediately caused a crazy double-take: is that Batman a….woman? An aqua-woman?
It seemed out of place to have an Aqua-Batwoman in place with all these variations of a Bruce Wayne that had lost control and given in to his darkest desires, and I was extremely curious to see how this particular alternate Batman came to be. Thankfully, Dan Abnett spins a fantastic tale to give backstory to a mysterious character.
So far, these Batmen have all experienced a loss that has driven them mad. Red Death lost his friends, Murder Machine lost Alfred, Dawnbreaker lost his parents, and the Drowned is no different…sort of. In this particular dimension, Bruce Wayne is Bryce Wayne, and she has been driven mad with grief due to her lost love, Sylvester Kyle. I find that it was refreshing to have this simply be a cross-gendered dimensional version instead of a Batman that was transformed, and that this was a Heroine-loses-boy instead of the tired Hero-loses-girl trope.
This story finds Batwoman turning her focus from all of her recently murdered villains and“rogue metas” (I'm thinking the other heroes in this universe), and towards the Atlanteans, who have made war on the surface world. She slays Aquawoman first, and then retreats to begin the assault in earnest. In order to have power enough to take them on, Bryce has modified her own body, sacrificed her own humanity, to withstand and control the water, harnessing the ability to generate Dead Water.
Philip Tan does an outstanding job on art duties here, creating an otherworldly atmosphere that rings of anguish and aquatics – his Drowned is murky, sinister, and violent, bereft of anything that would present her as relatable to a reading audience. Tyler Kirkham chips in cleaner work to juxtapose Tan’s darkness, but the color work of Dean White and Arif Prianto keep things gloomy with colors that reflect the nature of this Dark Knight.
Letterer Tom Napolitano does an excellent job of not losing the story to the narrative captions, giving them a unique presentation that channels Bryce’s agony. There is, however, a strange change from the panels, going from a yellow script-looking presentation to a traditional blue-outlined panel, and it’s a little disappointing – I really like that first look, with the jagged fonts. Again, it gives it a uniqueness to the character, but the switch probably serves the narrative better as it is easier to read.
Abnett, as per usual, crafts a thoughtful story based around the loss that loses the humanity in the Batman, presenting a world where basically everything has forced the Drowned to give up the precious few human parts of her; you empathize with how the loss of a significant other would give you rage, and you can only guess how it would feel to see your people conquered from under a flag of peace.
This story presents a fearsome Dark Knight, one that seems so much more detached from the others – the Drowned has nothing left to lose in her battle against the light, and the weird thing is you kinda get where she’s coming from. This book is tremendous in hooking the reader with her journey, from the opening mystery of why she is a woman, to the last battle with Aquaman and Mera. I really enjoyed this book, and I felt this team did a great job of hitting the right notes. Really solid edition to the Dark Nights one-shots.