I have reclaimed my precious Batman book from the vulgar custody of my smarter-than-the-average foes. I cannot divulge the details of my glorious victory; suffice to say in fifteen years my procedures will have become the status quo, and I pray in advance for the passing of decorum. Now - comics!

Batman: The Order of Beasts

Sadly, there was no Mr. Bear among the membership of the title gentlemen’s club. Too Russian for the story’s fine gentlemen, perhaps? Uncomfortable memories of Full House on the part of the creators? Aside from this glaring omission, the book stands as one of the more successful Elseworlds titles I’ve read, placing Batman soundly in the tradition of classic literary and pulp detectives and personalities. He’s even compared to Sherlock Holmes; we are not told if the Master Detective is a real or literary sleuth in the book’s world, but I’d bet on the memory of a very real Sherlock still being fresh in the minds of England’s public in the 1939 of the book’s setting. This is the sort of story where Batman politely converses with the police, sipping tea and discussing clues. It’s a young man underneath the cowl, insecure and eager to please.

The plot involves a young Bruce Wayne traveling to England to broker an exclusive sugar transportation deal, anticipating turbulence in typical supply lines due to increasing Nazi aggression. Young Master Wayne does not care for bully tactics, and he is prepared to fight back. The older men of England, however, the rich and powerful, they are eager to appease. A secret society reveals itself, where gentlemen gather dressed as animals in tribute to ancient pagan rituals. Their purpose is to honor the traditions of a finer day, unsullied by the war and disappointment of the twentieth century. But strange murders soon begin, questionable politics are unearthed, and children’s nursery rhymes are cited among the clues. I won’t spoil the mystery, but Batman quickly discovers that these old men are really children, cowering into dress-up fantasies of ‘better’ days, indulging in silly parties (scantily-clad ladies a must), and generally putting their heads in the ground as fascists lurk around, leaving a weird mix of nursery-rhyme and divine providence to run amok.

The book is co-written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White, and fully painted by Campbell. Soft colors are used for daytime and interiors, while Batman’s night world is heavily grey, with sparing use of other hues. Campbell certainly seems to be having fun, gently playing up the absurdity of the ‘pagan’ rituals. On a side note, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Boar (that is a boar, right?), who spends the entire book doing nothing but sitting around and looking ridiculous, until he finally just takes the damn mask off; it must’ve been too heavy. There’s an action climax among giant bells, a generally listless romance with a young singer for Mr. Wayne, and deadly lemons. I also suspect there may be several literary allusions that I’m missing. It’s an engaging book, fun and sharp. The $6 price is fine for 48 lovely pages of art, and the story is worth your time.