Batman: The Holy Terror – Alan Brennert

1 out of 5

Though a book or a comic certainly doesn’t have to be simple to be appealing, it admittedly helps when it’s pitchable. Even to oneself: what is this book about? …Whether you want to describe themes or the actual plot is up to you, but if there’s a struggle to get out something comprehensible within a sentence or two, there might be something telling about that.

So what is The Holy Terror about? The back of the book tries to boil it down conceptually, but I’m not exactly sure it makes sense: “(The Holy Terror) is a world where being different is the greatest crime… where respectability hides terrible secrets… where vengeance may be the only choice a man has.” So: something something dystopia – being unique is frowned upon; likely the upper class is up to bad business; and… sorry, the jump to vengeance being the only choice doesn’t quite connect there. And after reading The Holy Terror, which bends over backwards to map its alterna-history to Batman, this summary moreso reads like an editor trying to milk out a tagline from a very story-less book.

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell recovers from malaria, and continued his rule, resulting in a modern day America that is “a covenant nation, forged and tempered under the judgment and mercy of God.” The police are now Inquisitors; ascending to the Church is a holy cause. When Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered, he commits himself (eventually) to the latter path: becoming a pastor.

Not that The Holy Terror actually mentions this, for, like, nearly 20 of its 50 pages, which makes Inquisitor Gordon’s eventual confession that there was some conspiracy behind Bruce’s parents’ deaths not really function as the complete life upheaval writer Alan Brennert intends. And that this upstanding society member then flip-flops, post this singular conversation, to descending to caverns beneath the manor, and hacking into government records, and painting a bat – a symbol which has had no meaning up until this point – onto a nightshirt, and breaking into big-wigs homes to shake parent-killing confessions out of them… it doesn’t connect. The pages after this are just Elseworlds winkings: jamming alterna-Justice League members into the story for no reason except that it allows for about 5 pages of action in an otherwise 90% talky book; Brennert furthermore drops a main badguy into the story at page 36 – again, no real introduction prior to this – and tries to completely shortcut Bruce’s ascension to herodom via another alterna-JL cameo.

The idea of Batman as a religion-fueled avenger is intriguing, and figuring out a singular historical event to tweak to allow that to happen is fun, but that’s a story that only made it in its more sparse version onto the page. Instead, Holy Terror is panel after panel after talking without much focus, Brennert perhaps more interested in the background than Batman himself, then going back through and changing names to Bruce Wayne and Alfred. Later, when someone points out that there’s not much DC in this DC book, Elseworlds or not, Aquaman is jammed in there too.

Artist Norm Breyfogle does a solid job of working around the talking-heads pacing with greatly varied angles, and great uses of shadow; colorist Lovern Kindzierski assists greatly, here, keeping the generally somber tone with blues and whites and yellows, but achieving great range with those such that, visually, the book is not dry. But there are so, so many words, and unfortunately, not all of them have purpose, and a great majority of them just aren’t that interesting.

Perhaps as a series, and focused solely on Bruce’s story – with additional DC-verse details as needed – the stray concept here could’ve worked. But in its 50-page incarnation, I really can’t tell what the overall purpose or point was, and hardly a single page of it encourages flipping to the next one.