A cover really can sell a comic issue and Christian Wards work for Batman Secret Files: The Gardener is incredible. The psychedelic colour choices add almost a hypnotic feel. Its cover doesn’t lie as Ward’s wonderful surreal visions carry on through the rest of the book. Sometimes whimsical and sometimes frightening.
This comes from the current head writer on Batman James Tynion IV whose work I tend to enjoy and seeks to explain the origin of the new Batman rogue “The Gardener’s” origin. This follows on from the previous Secret Files: Miracle Molly. Adding new characters to a series as known as Batman is tricky. Tynion’s run has added a few already, either explained in books like this or during the story. Only a few however have managed to catch readers attention.
Enter, The Gardener
A review of this book has to be a review of the character herself in a way. If you don’t like Bella Garten this book won’t interest you. Fortunately, The Gardener is overall a good addition to the Batman mythos. Her design and name echo classic 60’s Batman villains like Louie the Lilac. However, her character is distinctly modern. She falls into the often despised new character trope of “mysterious for the sake of being mysterious”. Gardener doesn’t hide her identity, in fact in the story she’s already known via retcons.
Unlike several other characters like this too, she talks plainly and cleanly. Explaining both to Batman and the reader, exactly her situation. Being a former romantic partner of Ivy’s for example, already explored in the main books. However there’s a wonderful depth that new characters often lack. This trap is one that Tynion avoids. She has her own goals and regrets, she’s not a trope of a vengeful ex or anything like that
The Entire Book Monologue
There are issues with the directness though, the entire 24 page book is exposition, and it’s pretty dry. What is explored is interesting, and the actual origin compels with only one part feeling forced. However, despite Ward’s haunting art expertly showing what is being narrated, it still somehow results in a story that is told rather than shown.
There is no dialogue in the flashbacks, which is most of the book. There is also one page where the narration boxes slightly took me out in confusion. Overall though the book is essentially a monologue, a character statement straight from the characters lips. Even the present scenes featuring Batman have The Gardener continue just out of narration. The art lifts the words and the lettering work help blends the two together very well.
This issue is a $4.99 special, the art alone for me makes that worth it. However this isn’t an art book it’s sold as the origin of this character and part of the wider Fear State event. If the design and the character interest you in any way this book is definitely worth picking up. This book is not for you if you want a typical Batman book. There’s no action, it is all story.
There is some value in those interested in where the Fear State event is going. The issue presents some set up to what is happening with both her and Ivy, which future issues will explore. This book serves as a framework for others to work from if this character is successful. Fortunately I think that the Gardner is interesting enough as both a character and a Batman rogue.
Having this digitally makes me want the physical copy, so I can display the cover to people.
For more DC opinions, check out this article on DC’s direction with Jon Kent Superman
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