The origin stories of the Batmen from the Dark Multiverse continues with Batman The Drowned. Previously, we have had The Red Death, The Murder Machine, The Dawnbreaker, and The Drowned. With The Merciless, Batman has gained the power of Ares, the God of War.
Generally, I love Peter Tomasi’s writing. And let me just off the bat (ha), that this is a well written issue. I have no problems with the story. It all makes sense. My problem stems from something that they decided to leave out of the issue. In past reviews, I frequently preach that storytellers should show, and not tell. It is something I was taught, and was an idea that stuck with me. Sometimes, alluding to, or hinting at, works. Here, Batman’s internal narration is used to surprise the reader, and it does not work nearly as well as if we had actually seen the scene describe.
Like all Batmen, The Merciless is born from tragedy. In a battle with Ares, Wonder Woman, whom this Batman loved, dies in battle. Against what she had previously told him, Batman puts on the helmet of Ares, and gains the power of the god of war. He realizes that he has been waging war all wrong. His “rules” would no longer hold him back. War was not about being right or wrong, it was about survival. But his love for Wonder Woman remained. Her death is what transformed him from just Batman, to the god of war. When he came through the portal with the other Dark Batmen, he was unable to even look at Earth-0’s Wonder Woman, because it was too painful.
On Earth-0, the heads of all of DC’s shady government-ish groups are meeting to discuss what to do about what all has been happening. General Lane wants to drop a huge bomb on Gotham. Of course, Steve Trevor thinks that is a terrible idea. The Merciless ends up attacking them. General Lane thinks to hell with all of this, drop the bomb here. The bomb drops, but The Merciless absorb the energy of the explosion. Near the end here, The Merciless confronts Trevor, there had been a Trevor on his Earth that had died in an early war. It is here that Batman reveals to the reader that Wonder Woman was only stunned by Ares. She had tried to take the helmet from Batman, but he killed her for it.
In the course of this story, that is a shocking revelation. I like the development that he had made this decision to abandon everything he held himself to because of her death, and she’s not actually dead. But, I would have rather turned the page and seen that. Start with Wonder Woman coming to after Batman has killed Ares. She sees him with the helmet on, and becomes terrified. She pleads with him to take the helmet off, but he refuses, touting how this will help him finally win his war. Still talking softly to her, she reaches for the helmet. The desire to win the war and survive takes over, and he knocks her back. This action is what kills her, either by force of the blow sword he had in his hand. This would have been much stronger than simply saying, yeah, I killed her.
Francis Manapul’s art is good. When showing The Merciless in action, it conveys a sense of the power he possesses. I do not know who made the decision, but I liked making this Bruce older looking than the others. There is a point where he removes his helmet in the present day, and it is the more traditional Greek god under the helmet. Long, grey hair and beard. A small thing, but a nice detail that was added to the character.
And that’s The Merciless. It was a good issue that I recommend you read, but they possibly should have made some different choices on what to include and what not to include.