Batman: The Ankh
(2001 - two issues, prestige format, DC Comics)
Writer: Chuck Dixon. Art: John Van Fleet.
Batman: The Ankh is one of those projects where you can kind of wonder why it was made -- or at least, why it was presented as two-issue prestige format mini-series totalling almost 100 pages!
The story is that an immortal Egyptian woman, Katar, blowns into Gotham (and teams up with Killer Croc), triggering some mysterious museum robberies, and vanished billionaires -- leading Batman, and sidekick Tim Drake, to investigate.
The art is by John Van Fleet who is one of those guys with a kind Art-art style (as opposed to conventional comic book art) mixing paint and what looks like sometimes photo-collages. I've seen his work a time or two before, and been mixed on it. I don't know if I'm just in a less forgiving mood, or whether this is lesser work, but I found the art here quite disappointing. The imagery is often confused and muddy, the technique too obvious (the cut and paste of photos with drawings) and the basic fundamentals of comic book storytelling are weak, with stiff figures in the action scenes, and equally stiff poses in the talking head scenes.
But Dixon's script shares equal blame. For one thing, it's a 96 page story that, in the 1940s, would've been told in 12 pages (part of that is because Dixon and Van Fleet indulge in a lot of big panels). The story is pretty basic and straightforward, and as with a lot of super hero comics, there's little effort to dress it up with plot twists or supporting characters. Other than Batman, Katar, Croc, Tim, and maybe Alfred...all the other characters are just plot points. And even the main characters are given very little in the way of characterization or emotion, Batman himself a pretty non-descript hero. There are a few cute quips, but a lot of the dialogue is pretty stiff and clunky -- though that may be partly attributable to the art (stiff art in a comic comparable to a wooden actor delivering lines).
The mystery and clues veer from painfully obvious to unlikely leaps of logic, where there's little sense anyone (Dixon, his editor) is even worrying much about narrative coherence. Like the scene where Batman flees from police. Okay, I know Batman has had his outlaw phases, but since Commissioner Gordon first summons him with the Bat-signal, I'm guessing this isn't one of them -- but presumably they just figured they needed an extra action scene. Or the villainess knocks out Tim Drake while he is following her henchmen, then kidnaps him to her lair...then says she cannot allow him to leave alive -- when, um, she was the one who brought him to her hideout! And so on.
The story begins with a rather lengthy prologue, establishing Katar's origin and backstory. It's some 20 pages that never manages to be anything more than just a predictable progression of generic events. And by giving us all that at the beginning...there's no real surprises later. They might have been better to have Katar start out an enigma, that we only learn about as the story progresses.
Still, there is an unexpected attempt to twist the motives and the ending, giving it a more human touch than simply Batman battling another generic rogues gallery wanna be.
Look, I sympathize -- Dixon is a working writer. His pay check is predicated on, you know, writing something, anything, churned out for a deadline. And as a twenty page regular issue, this probably would've been a perfectly okay -- perfectly run-of-the-mill -- adventure of the month. But it crumbles under the weight of its size and format...rather like an Egyptian mummy itself.