Batman is here.

*He's alone tonight.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #200

What we have here is Eddie Campbell co-writing a thoroughly ok Batman comic. Clearly, this is a book that wants nothing more than to provide some steadfast, slightly old-fashioned Batman entertainment, and that’s exactly what you’ll get. Not a drop more, though, and nothing of particular excellence, taken among other straightforward superhero outings. It’s Batman and the Joker in a busy Gotham hospital, with a bomb hidden somewhere in the city and the villain in a life-threatening state, the secrets of the explosive’s hiding place tucked away in his head. Campbell is teamed on the script with Daren White, a Bacchus cohort who also co-wrote the prior Campbell Batman project, the prestige format Elseworlds Batman: The Order of Beasts. That was a fairly engaging book, sending a smart, polite Caped Crusader (he’s put in the same lineup of legendary crime-solvers as Sherlock Holmes) off to solve a series of strange murders, with lots of animal-costumed secret society hi-jinx along the way. Campbell’s art afforded the project a delicate, ominous feel, the colors often misty or overcast, but never overbearing.

Campbell does not provide the art for this one - that task is reserved for Bart Sears, an artist reputed for his exaggerated musculature and sometimes chaotic visual storytelling, very nearly the opposite of Campbell’s approach on his prior Bat Book. But lo and behold, Sears is a surprisingly fit pick of this one; I can’t say I’ve been following Sears’ visual development closely over recent years, but his work here seems relatively restrained. Yes, there’s still the occasional bit where a big full-body image of a character takes up a whole side of the page, though it's all confined to pages marking the passage of time, or characters actually waiting around in the context of the story, so it’s largely unobtrusive to the story's flow. Batman has muscles atop muscles (within muscles, surrounded by muscles - and oh those thin ankles!), and he grits his teeth an awful lot when he fights, but his stumpy-type cowl looks pretty neat, the action is never unclear, and the rest of the cast looks more averagely-proportioned (if only to emphasize the power of the title hero).

More importantly though, his style complements the drive of the script, a forward-momentum Emergency Room drama with Batman in the middle. This particular Batman isn’t quite the same as Campbell’s and White’s gentlemanly investigator, though he does rely as much on his brain as his brawn, and there’s little in the way of angst or agonizing - this costumed fellow is a man of action, fundamentally decent of heart but always ready to get things done, and get them done well. The tone of the story at times evokes an earlier age of Batman - witness the opening splash, one of those eye-catching panels that don’t really represent the beginning of the story, but a teaser of what’s to come, with narration and the ‘real’ beginning picking up afterward. Batman strides into the ER, the Joker in his arms, injured folks sitting all around, and Our Hero brushing them aside while bellowing: “These people will have to wait. Save this man first!” It would have been funnier had the page been less closed-in on Batman and more filled with the injured and elderly (the page looks strangely cropped, actually), but the point gets across. And, in authentic fashion, the story pretty much brushes off this kicky idea when it actually catches up to it.

There’s really not a lot that sticks in this story at all, come to think of it. It’s an anniversary issue, as you’ve probably noticed from the title, so it’s 44 pages of story (with a corresponding price hike to $4.99), and the material doesn‘t quite fit snugly into the space. Opening set-up scenes of everyday life at Gotham General drag on for too long, and offer little in the way of originality or wit to compensate. There’s an amusing, if somewhat familiar flashback vignette with one of the Joker’s goons narrating a fight between his boss and Batman, the small-timer’s blasé just-a-job attitude meant to provide the laughs. A climactic chase down the hospital corridors offers some fun (I love how the Joker is constantly clicking his heels in the air), but ultimately comes off as contrived. And then, after all that running, a whole bunch of otherwise unexplained plot points are covered via captions on the very last page, which seems unduly abrupt.

I don’t think this book was angling for anything beyond pleasing superhero entertainment, but there’s faults that detract from even that basic level of engagement. Still, it’s not at all a terrible script, just stretched and indelicate. Perhaps one comes into an Eddie Campbell work (no matter that he doesn't handle every task) hoping for something else, something more ambitious, but that would be misreading the intent here - this is simply a Batman book, and on that level, it’s an ok one.