Reading issue twelve, though, my fears began to dissipate, for Judd Winick proves himself to be thoughtful and diligent. Batwing is such a staggeringly complete picture of sub-Saharan Africa, paying careful attention to the different ethnic and social differences across the continent while still fitting a coherent superhero narrative into nah, it sucks.
Beyond the one-dimensional characterization of AFRICA! as a single culture–villain Lord Battle rules the fictional Tundi as a surveillance state and plans on nuking a portion of Nigeria, but nothing is made of any social differences between the two nations– or how insulting it is that the hero needs Batman, Nightwing, and the (mostly white, Westerner) Justice League International to defeat the villain, Batwing is an incompetent comic book. There’s a bunch of useless splash images, including a full two-page spread Marcus To devotes to the superheroes…posing in front of a monitor (such misuse reeks of pretension), and Winick drops in exposition that neither serves the plot nor explains the characters (“I was a ranking soldier in Chinese military with high security clearance,” one JLI member says to Batwing. Good for him, but it had nothing to do with anything). What’s worse, it’s so po-faced in its attempt to say something about the plight of Africans, that it’s impossible to laugh at the ineptness. And for all the words it devotes to the subject, why does it seem to lack any context? In interviews, Winick had bragged about how he “put the time in” on his research, yet that supposed work never shows up: in this issue, we learn that Nigeria has “states,” but that’s not unique, and nothing else is gleamed (Winick can’t even be bothered to build up his fictional country beyond the phrase “surveillance state”); the previous arc was set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and made a huge deal out of child soldiers and warlords, but ignored details like the DRC being a French-speaking country, that it was formerly called Zaire (Miguel Rosa dissects more of Winick’s “researched” Africa here), or anything beyond the Fox News/CNN artifice of violence, misery, and mysticism.
This brings us to the twist regarding Lord Battle’s power, a maudlin scene that becomes ludicrous when all it takes to defeat him is to move him fifty feet so that he’s outside the border of his apparently-tiny country (spoiler alert: the good guys win). Winick subtitled this issue I Am One With This Land, implying that, without Battle, the country will become savage and sickly. One thing Rosa points out in his blog is how Winick claimed he “didn’t need to create villains” because Africa has plenty of real ones, but here is an example of him creating one (and one with magic powers that keep a country alive, to boot) to represent how dire the continent is. Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira used the cartoonish villainy of Reverend Achebe in their Black Panther run to mock such condescending attitudes: Achebe’s purposefully disproportioned face, ears, and elongated body made him a Wile E. Coyote figure, and the revelation he was really working for American interests solidified that he was our projection onto the continent, rather than a representation of real evil. Winick and To (and Ben Oliver before him) use equally cartoon-like figures, but treat them seriously to pamper our savior complexes, rather than address anything related to actual problems (systemic corruption and globalized demand for minerals and oil fuelling conflicts in some countries, for example) in ways that don’t trivialize real suffering. Pseudo-social-awareness and poor craftsmanship shouldn’t be accepted in any medium, especially one that insists it wants to be taken seriously.