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Long Shadows takes place in the immediate aftermath of the death of Batman in the Final Crisis storyline. Without a Batman, Gotham is being taken over by criminal gangs. The Penguin is once again intent on becoming the criminal overlord of Gotham, whilst Two-Face is off on his own personal mission. Long-time allies Dick Grayson (the first Robin) and Alfred are attempting to come to terms with the death of Wayne and trying to stop Gotham from going to hell.
The storyline (briefly) explores the idea that Gotham NEEDS a Batman. Although Grayson is still fighting crime, he is doing so around the margins, refusing to appear as Batman. As such, the power of the legend is dying and criminals are starting to re-assert themselves. Underlying this story is the powerful idea that the real impact of Batman lies not just in one man fighting crime, but in providing a symbol of hope, in a beleaguered city.
In many ways, Long Shadows is the perfect transition novel. It sees Dick Grayson struggling to take over the mantle of The Bat frightened that he will not be up to the task and will sully the memory of his friend and mentor. It's always been widely anticipated (in both the real and the comic world) that Grayson would ultimately take over from Wayne but the transition is handled well. Had Grayson simply stepped into the costume without any issues, it wouldn't have rung true and fans would have felt cheated. As it is, Grayson's agonising is realistic and adds extra depth to the storyline.
Long Shadows is also a key Batman title in the on-going Death of Bruce Wayne story because it establishes that Dick Grayson is going to be a very different type of Dark Knight from the one we have known from the last 10 years or so. Over the course of this novel, these differences are highlighted well, with various characters making observations on how Batman has changed (not necessarily realising that it is a different person under the cowl). Grayson actively seeks out attention, allowing himself to be caught on camera, rather than lurking in the shadows; he is more talkative and his combat style is different to Wayne's. This gives a strong feeling of both continuity and a new beginning. Continuity because Dick Grayson's Batman is essentially his Robin all grown up; a new beginning because there is clear blue water between Bruce Wayne's Batman and Grayson's. This allows the writers to explore different aspects of the idea of Batman as a vigilante, role model or figure of hate.
It's also one of those stories that has all the elements needed for a successful story: emotion, action and an interesting (if slightly run of the mill) storyline. The prologue in particular is an emotional affair as Alfred and Grayson share their feelings about the loss of their friend and try to work out what they need to do next. It's nice to see Alfred get a larger role, too and there are some particularly emotive scenes where Alfred's stiff upper lip British exterior fails him for once.
There's also a really strong dynamic built up between Alfred and Grayson as Dick settles into his new role. Again, it's a sharp contrast with the one that existed between Wayne and Alfred and this helps to reinforce the idea of change. Alfred is treated as much more of a partner in the endeavour, an equal, and an essential partner in the fight against crime. Grayson relies on Alfred's assistance far more then Wayne did (or ever admitted to) and during the course of the book, Alfred's help proves invaluable on several occasions.
The dialogue between the two is a lot more fun, as well. As already noted, there is some excellent writing that effectively conveys the emotional issues which need to be dealt with, but there's also a spark of humour, too. Grayson is more willing to open up to Alfred than his mentor and there are some excellent conversations between the pair which are light-hearted, but also reveal the deep respect each has for the other.
Lest you run away with the idea that this is a very dialogue-heavy book, let me reassure you that there is also plenty of action. The plot features The Penguin attempting to take over Gotham by stealth, so that he doesn't attract the attention of the new Batman. It's not the most complex storyline in the world, but it's still a satisfying one. Add to this Two Face's attempts to confirm his suspicions that Batman is (literally) not the man he was, whilst trying to scupper The Penguin's plans and you have a storyline that proves very satisfying.
It has an excellent ending that will carry a deep emotional pull for regular Batman readers, whilst also setting up a potentially intriguing storyline that has the potential to reveal some long-hidden secrets that could have major implications for the way Grayson views Wayne.
If the story is good, the artwork generally matches it. It reflects the same shift in tone from the old Batman to the new one, with less of a reliance on shadows or darkness. The artwork is a lot lighter (without ever descending to the day-glo depths of Schumacher's film Batman) and even in the midst of combat, Grayson is less grim, willing to enjoy what he is doing and (heaven forbid!) smiling.. True the quality of artwork slips a little in the early stages of the final part, but it soon gets itself back on track. Essentially, the artwork perfectly complements the story, capturing that same sense of continuity (Batman - albeit a different one - fighting crime), yet reflecting the change from Dark Knight to Not-Quite-So-Dark-Knight.
So why only four stars and not the perfect five? Well, because although this is a good title, it doesn't have that little bit extra that would make it a great one. There are several elements of the story that have been used before, so whilst it is well told, it's not particularly innovative one. It's also one that will be confusing to anyone unfamiliar with recent storylines, particularly Batman RIP, Battle for the Cowl and Final Crisis, so it's not a story for newcomers.
All in all, though, the signs are promising that Dick Grayson will be an excellent replacement Batman. Of course, we know that eventually Bruce Wayne will return to claim his mantle but in the meantime, the Cowl is safe in the hands of his first pupil.
Batman: Long Shadows
Judd Winick, Mark Bagley and Ed Benes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012