What I love about Comics, over any other form of entertainment, is that often times they’ll console their absurdity. How many stories started out because an artist sketched something for fun? How many jokes turned into fifty issue series’? You see, in Comics the writer is given a great privilege often restricted in other mediums; freedom.
Wanna write a story about Superman becoming a Communist? You can! Wanna write about Batman becoming a Vampire? You can! Wanna write a story about Wonder Woman fighting the Tasmanian Devil? You can!
So in that spirit, DC published a series inspired by their collectable mini figures of a dozen or so characters reimagined as bikers in a desert wasteland. Which basically comprises of all these heroes and villains looking really cool- you take some proponents from the Birds of Prey and Gotham City Sirens, mix them up with 1984 and Mad Max and then add Sons of Anarchy-that’s Gotham City Garage and it sounds like a great idea.
But there’s a difference between a good idea and a good execution. As for the final product I can only say; “Eh, it’s alright.”
So the story itself revolves around a handful of characters, heroes and villains that have been re-imagined in this else-world story. The world itself has been mostly destroyed after an invasion by Darkseid, which was narrowly fought off. The result being that the vast majority of earth has become a desert wasteland and the one remaining City is Gotham, now known as the Garden.
Unlike the Garden of Eden, this city isn’t exactly a Utopia. It’s a Fascist regime run by Governor Lex Luthor and enforced by his robot army of Gardeners, lead by the face of this oppression; the Batman.
Inside the City resides Kara Gordon, the “daughter” of police commissioner Jim Gordon and “sister” of Barbara Gordon- who works as both Oracle and Bat-Girl for the regime. Kara herself isn’t really a full believer in the regime. Every citizen has been implanted with these chips that overload their brain with dopamine, essentially brain washing them into become blissful and obedient citizens-the technology known as “Ridealongs“.
Yet despite this Kara herself has become an inactive dissonant. In the first issue she arrives home after helping re-programme some random citizen who was about to be gunned down by the Gardeners, only to find her father- seemingly drunk out of his mind- warning her that the regime has found her out, that they know who she really is and they’re coming for her.
At this point Fascist-Batman breaks through the window and Kara makes a break from it. Following the orders from her Father she makes it to the peak of the city and breaks through the barrier (oh, yeah- the city is under a dome shining light from a red sun) so when the barrier breaks she manages to fly away until she’s shot down.
At this point any reader who know’s their shit can discern that Kara isn’t a Gordon, but a Kryptonian. This world’s equivalent to Supergirl. We later learn that when she crashed to earth she was apprehended by Lex Luthor, but Jim Gordon took pity on her so he broke her loose, reprogrammed her memories and his other Daughter (Barbara) to believe that they were sisters and that they were both his daughters.
There’s a number of issues I have with this. Namely that we learn pretty early that Kara herself is a pretty big deal in the Garden, being the daughter of Jim Gordon is basically considered royalty. So one day Jim has a fourteen year old daughter that he never mentioned before- and nobody noticed?
It’s not like he reprogrammed everyone’s memories. Also, even if everyone just rolled with Jim having this random new daughter- how the hell did neither Batman or Lex Luthor notice that Kara Gordon looks an awful lot like that alien that escaped our top secret facility not too long ago?
Often this series pushes the limits of my suspension of disbelief, which you need a lot of when reading comics- but come on.
At this point she’s rescued by a motorcycle gang of female Heroes and Villains. You got Silver Banshee, a Supergirl villain who let’s out a sonic scream- kind of like Banshee from Marvel. Then you have Big Barda, a warrior from Apokolips who now resides on earth. You got Harley Quinn, former psychiatrist turned…you know who she is. Then you have Catwoman, this worlds Mercy Graves (Lex Luthor’s personal assistant) who’s taken up the title.
All of them are lead by Natasha Irons, a heroine known as Steel. She’s related to John Henry Irons, the original steel. She runs a garage/bar that serves everyone in this desert wasteland known as the Freescape.
So in one issue we’re introduced this post apocalyptic world, briefed on this Fascist regime in the one remaining city on earth, then Kara immediately flees this regime and is immediately rescued and soon adopted by this biker gang. All of this happens in one issue.
That leads to one of the major issues I have with this series; the pacing.
This entire series goes from break neck speeds to random jolts and you’re left with the literary equivalent of whiplash. This is a twenty four issue series and I genuinely feel it would have been far better if it had been spread over, say, fifty issues. That way the writer could take their time, engage in some more thorough world building, flesh out some character moments- ensure that nothing at all seems rushed.
This series reads like it were a Saturday morning cartoon where all this information is squeezed down into a twenty five minute run-time. If your target audience is children then you don’t have to worry about the rough edged on your world building or the pacing issues- kids wouldn’t mind that. All they really need is a decent action sequence or a joke every five minutes.
But the series itself is rated teen (12+) so that target audience is never going to see this. So if you’re targeting a teen or adult audience, you need a little more drama than just fruitless action. One of my major gripes with comics is that often times every writer feels that they have to include at least one action screen in every single issue. That’s not the case, some issues can just be dedicated to character moments or setting up future plot-lines- we don’t always have to see a fight to know that people are busy.
So in that mindset I would have liked to see Kara’s day to day life at the Garage, her struggle with dealing with her deprogramming, trying to remember her former life- all of that. But we aren’t given a preview to any of that, which is a real shame.
One of the cool things about this series is that we get to see other characters re-imagined into this universe. You get all sorts; The League of Shadows, Poison Ivy, Clay Face, Guy Gardner, Alfred Pennyworth- but my favourite above all else is probably Jason Todd.
I’m getting some really strong Mad Max vibes.
So in this universe Jason Todd (former slain Robin, reborn as an anti-hero; the Red Hood) is the leader of a rival biker gang called the Red Hoods. In the second or third issue they and the Garage crew go head to head trying to steal this truck full of weapons and supplies heading towards the Garden- which soon goes all to hell as they head through a cavern that is actually the embodiment of Clayface.
It’s one of the stronger issues in the series. There’s a lot of good ideas shown throughout but often times I just can’t help but see the wasted potential. Like Jason Todd is never brought up again until the end and I feel that would have played a really good role for compelling drama. Like Kara herself could be used to represent the former obedient citizen turned into an uneasy dissonant. Her connection with Barbara would represent that former life of blissful obedience under such oppression and her connection to Jason would represent the joy and chaos of freedom.
It’s a real shame that the series has numerous cases of wasted potential. Like when Batman kills Jim Gordon, he doctors some footage so that Barbara believes that Kara killed their father. So you’d assume that this motivation would lead to a showdown between the sisters- but no. What happens is that Barbara discovers that Batman lied like two or three issues after the fact, inspired by her interactions with a fight between Harley Quinn and her weird boyfriend.
First off, who in their right mind believes in Harley Quinn? Let alone this version of Harley Quinn- who is a rebel trying to sabotage the regime you seemingly want to maintain. Why would you even listen to her in the first place?
I know it would have seemed a bit cliche to have the unwilling friend/family member face off between a mislead friend/family member- but when you set something up you ought to follow it to it’s full fruition. No one really complains about Cliches unless they work improperly.
As for the merits of the series, there’s quite a few. I like the art style for the most part, the writing is serviceable and I have to credit the fact that each character sound unique and possesses their own personalities. Which sounds like a peculiar credit since you’d think that all writers would be capable of creating and maintaining characters with their own individual, believable personalities. Sadly that’s not the case.
Of course when you’re dealing with established characters you need a good understanding of their personalities in order to satisfy long time readers. For the most part the writers do justice to the characters, but there are a few that are a bit off. Though it’s an else-world and therefore you have to give some legroom for blaring changes, but I couldn’t stand what they did for Dick Grayson.
In the series he’s said to be Batman’s former partner, meaning that he was a former Gardener or at most he worked as Robin. The latter part I find a bit too unbelievable. This Batman is a cold, calculating killer- he neither needs a Robin nor would benefit from having a Robin around him, unlike the typical Batman who greatly needs a Robin to counteract his violent and dark tendencies.
The character of Dick Grayson is essentially like a culmination of both Batman and Spider-Man. You have the former’s detective prowess and martial art skill, but you have the latter’s personality, charm, wit and acrobatic style. This version of the character seems to be a borderline narcissist and a raging ass-hole.
Less Dick Grayson, more Guy Gardner.
Then at the end of the series they tease this weird relationship between Kara and Dick and I literally cried out loud “Oh, fuck off!” there’s zero chemistry between the pair, zero thematic relevance, zero personality parallels- I couldn’t think of anything less appealing than this relationship.
Two dead fish have more chemistry than these two.
But anyway, just like Todd, Dick Grayson is in the series briefly- serving only as fan service. Which is a real shame because there was a real opportunity for a great scene between a former Robin and a Fascist Batman. I’m telling you, the wasted opportunity in this series breaks my heart.
Another character I don’t think lends itself well to this series is Lois Lane. Her presentation in the book is way off. Her personality is far too eccentric, she comes off less like the real Lois Lane and more like Vicki Vale- and there’s nothing on this earth that I hate more than Vicki Vale.
Vicki Vale is like Diet Lois Lane, store brand Lois Lane, Market price Lois Lane- if Lois Lane fell out of a truck and rolled along into a puddle of mud- she’d still be classier than Vicki Vale.
God I hate you, Vicki Vale.
This version of Lois Lane is a radio personality in the Freescape, one of the few places that actually report the news in the desert wasteland. Alongside of course Jimmy Olsen, her friend who in this universe lost his legs during the Darkseid invasion when he was a kid.
His characterisation is pretty sound, as is Wonder Woman’s.
Now it’s not really surprising that the characterisation of Wonder Woman is so good, considering the fact this writing team also worked on the Rebirth series (well, the first half of it at least) which is probably the best Wonder Woman series’ ever since the New 52 started.
This version of the character is pretty cool. For the longest time she was considered to be a myth among the riders, idolised by Kara but eventually she appears in the darkest hour to save the day. Apparently everyone of importance lives withing a twenty to sixty mile radius of Gotham city.
We don’t get many other glimpses of any other Justice League characters, outside of a brief subplot featuring the Flash which is soon tied up. Which is a real shame, I’d have loved to see an Evil, Fascist Justice League to counteract the bikers. All we get from the Garden is a brainwashed Lobo and Black Adam and they’re wasted at the end of the series.
Again, a lot of missed opportunities.
Probably one of my main gripes in the series comes up at around issue 14, in which Batman discovers the location of the Garage and he aptly attacks it, subdues almost everyone of the gang, then Wonder Woman pops in to save the day.
I have a number of issues with this. Namely that Batman would be dumb enough to go head first into an enemy’s lair, without back up or a plan, and regardless is able to beat the shit out of almost everyone- even the Meta Humans.
I mean Batman beating the shit out of Batgirl and Banshee? Sure. But Batman beating Big Barda? A Woman who could go toe to toe with Wonder Woman? Nah. As a huge Batman fan, I have to admit that Wonder Woman could beat the ever living shit out of him any day of the week- with or without powers. The same applies to Big Barda.
So after beating the shit out of him, the team holds Batman prisoner. Barbara shuts down his implants in the hopes that’ll shut off his Obedience to Luthor, but in actuality it seems that Batman is a Fascist through and through- with or without the implants.
There’s some promise of an interesting dynamic between Barbara and Batman, like how she’s torn between her new life of freedom and her old life of blissful obedience. Batman would personify that latter life, but he’d diminish it by being the man who killed her father.
Barbara always goes on about how Bruce always seems to find a way to get into your head and plays mind games, but we never actually see any of that. Probably one of the stupidest lines in the entire series comes from Barbara near the end of the book.
In the final fight between her and Batman, she parody’s the line he said to her father before murdering him; “I’m glad you’re the only Gordon I have to kill today” which is a great line. Very villainous and yet it implies a sense of care for Barbara. But Barbara bastardises it by saying; “I’m glad you’re the only Fascist I have to kill today.”
…Ok, there’s so much wrong here.
First off, this entire fight sequence takes place during a war between Lex Luthor’s now diminished army and the Bikers. So it’s implying that after this one fight, she’ll just sit out the rest of the battle like “Yep, you guys got it…cool“. Secondly, you’re battling an authoritarian regime- you should hope on killing as many Fascists as humanly possible! To do otherwise is a disservice to your cause!
God this is just…so much wasted potential mixed in with a little bad writing. Leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
But on a lighter note, I really loved the presentation of Ra’s Al Ghul, Black Canary and Green Arrow. Their voices just sound spot on and I really hope the writers decide to write a Green Arrow series some day. It’d be class.
The whole dynamic and subplot between Black Canary and the League of Shadows is one of the stronger elements of the book, but like almost everything else the story falters due to the break neck pacing and this overwhelming feeling that the story has been rushed. This entire subplot takes place in less than two issues, it should at the very least cross over into six.
Despite it’s faults, the series does have it’s strengths in most character presentations and some often stellar plots and cameos. But it falters with the pacing and the shallow world building. It ends anticlimactically and sets up a sequel series that will probably never be addressed.
Which is a real shame because I’d like to see the baby Super man being raised by a group of bikers and facing off against a Darkseid invasion. I’d like to see more from the League of Shadows and whatever is left of the old world. I’d like to see the Green Lantern Corp show up- I’d like a lot of things that I don’t think this series will ever properly address and it saddens me that it never will.
This series is less like 1984 and more like the Biker Mice from Mars, or that one series of Yu-Gi-Oh where they all road motor bikes. It’s not as compelling as say Superman: Red Son or as entertaining as Snyder or King’s Batman run- it’s not even as ground breaking as Brian Azerrello’s Wonder Woman run.
What it is however is a decent series that would make a great kids cartoon, but lacks the depth to fulfil an adults expectations of compelling storytelling. I’d recommend checking this out if you’re a fan of else-worlds, dystopian or post apocalyptic epics and you need to kill a few hours.
However if you want something with a little more depth, less bad writing and a better continuity- then I recommend you check out something else.