I picked up this book on a whim from my local shop, when I saw it in a stack with a couple other Elseworlds titles: Red Rain and the second installment- Bloodstorm, Dark Allegiances and a nice looking Arkham Asylum trade. I thought they seemed interesting, and I was hoping to build up a few different stories to try and incorporate into a “retro” or “throwback” review segment. So that is this book, and this review. So sit back, relax, and go back in time with me to January of 1992 when this book was released, and then back even further back to America during the Civil War (1863, to be precise).
If you’re anything like me, you would be able to (at least guessing) figure out that this book is probably about the “war between the states” (aka the Civil War in America) from the title’s incorporation of the colors blue and grey in the title. Not to mention it seems VERY old timey, because there is a Batman on horseback, and that hasn’t been very popular in Batman storytelling since the Dark Knight Returns (at least that I remember, anyway).
The book opens immediately with some narration setting the scene of the Civil War, and President Lincoln’s predicament, where someone is stealing federal reserve silver and gold and in doing so, is effecting the war efforts in the north. So President Lincoln tasks Batman with trekking across the country to the Wild West, and using his skills to find out who is stealing the silver and gold, and stop them. So right away, I was expecting to see a lot of Batman just straight up punching bad guys clean off their horses on like every page- but this is an Elseworlds book, so all bets are off. Batman uses guns in this story, which really threw me for a loop at first, but I was able to slowly settle into this idea and accept it.
Batman (as a “fop” aka Bruce Wayne) as a Union Officer, travels by stagecoach cross country to, through some VERY contrived scenarios, meet up with the different “secret” government agents, who would come to aid Batman’s quest for justice in the Wild West. The fact that the Red Robin character was a half-blood Indian warrior was a bit off putting, but not half as much as off putting as the fact that all of the African American men living in the mining communities, who agreed to fight alongside Batman as an informal militia were referred to as “The Dark Knights”. This really just made me shake my head. I mean, this book isn’t THAT old, it is still considered a Modern Age comic, but it doesn’t really come across as such, at least in parts.
I did like how the book LOOKED- the artwork is fantastic, and also helps to belie just how old this book is. It doesn’t have the art style of a 23-year-old comic, and I really like that. It helps to make this book look like a timeless story. The story, as a whole, is fairly solid, and it had a really good pacing to it- I was able to read this all in one sitting, though since I paid quite a bit under cover price for it, to have paid $6 for this book two decades ago, I would probably have felt a bit cheated.
Batman’s horse, Apocalypse, was a really interesting addition to his “crew” in this story- rather than having him use some sort of railcar, or a stagecoach, to just have a bulky and pitch black horse as his “Batmobile” was a nice twist. I did really like the way Batman looked in this book as well- he was much like the old-school Batman; he smiled a lot, even wearing the cowl. The addition of guns just made it feel like it could have been a story that was shelved during the early days of The Dark Knight.
I wasn’t completely sold on the twist that came at the end of the book, when it turned out that someone close to Batman was the secret leader of the bad guys all along, and Batman convinces the lower level bad guy (who got double-crossed by that secret leader) to join him in bringing down the leader. The big showdown was really beautifully drawn, but I didn’t really feel much emotional attachment when **SPOILERS** (but, seriously- this book is more than 20 year old…) Red Bird (aka- the Native American analogue to Red Robin) dies. I thought it was fitting that SOMEONE close to Batman die in the book, but I think that it had a stronger affect **SPOILERS** (and, again- its 20 years old…) when Apocalypse was killed.
This was a fun and interesting story, and it was a unique version of Batman that I did like seeing. I think that if a book set in this version of the Batman universe was to be made today, that it could really have a bit more cultural sensitivity, and incorporating a bit more historical connection to the war effort at large. I liked that this story wasn’t just Batman on the front lines, and he punches Robert E. Lee right in his slobbery jaw (I am just assuming here, I bet they would never paint Lee in a very favorable light…) and knocks him right the heck out; like a play on the classic images that float around the internet of Captain America punching out Hitler (and Hitler never looked buff or smart in any of those images, either).
I will be looking for more stories that feature art from Alan Weiss & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, because if this was a book that is 20 years old, I could only imagine how their skills have improved in the time since then. Though, I do worry that since I don’t recognize their names, that it will end up being that they are a pair of creators that were prevalent in the 90’s, but once the comic book bubble popped, they dropped off the face of the Earth… here’s hoping that is not the case, though.
These Elseworlds books all seem like really fun and unique stories, and being that they are older books, they should be pretty easy to come by (though I imagine that there are quite a few books that are harder to come by, just because they are 15-20 years old) but that they probably have lots of these kinds of books sitting in the one and two dollar bins at most comic shops. I wish that DC had continued this line of books, because I think that there are lots of stories that are outside the canon of the New 52 and the new DC You that could and should be told right now.
This book doesn’t really read like a book for young readers, but it seems like this would be a fun and unique story to give to someone who likes Batman, but cant bring themselves to try and wade through all the volumes of Batman stories that have been published in his 75 year history. Rather than going back to the beginning, whether that be Detective Comics, or even back to the new Batman number one from the beginning of the New 52, that is quite a daunting task for someone to undertake- so a standalone book like this, or Red Rain or Dark Consequences can make for a low accessibility hurdle entry point for new readers.
Check this book out, but bear in mind that it is twenty-three years old, and that it doesn’t have the sensibilities of a book that is written in this modern internet age; but is still and fun and engaging read with some seriously impressive artwork.