The comics have a long, convoluted and wildly inconsistent history with licensed brand crosses. DC in particular has been going through this lately, offering branded ties ranging from work on the absurd alone, in fact working as great comedians, or simply to be absolute trash. But his latest crossover might be worse than comically bad: it’s just dull.
This week the publisher published Batman/Clan Faze #1 – by Josh Trujillo, Scot Eaton, Norm Rapmund, Tony Aviña and Josh Reed – a team between the world’s greatest detective and his myriad allies in the Batfamily and the titular FaZe Clan, the eSports organization setting up teams for video games ranging from like shooters such as Call of Duty, fortniteand Counter-Strikesports games like Fifa and rocket league. It’s… well, it might not immediately strike you as the most potential-laden partnership, but what follows is a comic book nightmare: the Riddler has developed his own type of VR headset, the NygmaBox, who ain’t just been scalped by resellers (step aside, PS5 and Xbox Series X, Gothamites have speak!), but… brainwash them and make them commit crimes. Much worse.
After Tim Drake makes the fatal mistake of telling Batman that the only way to beat a player is to work with another player, what follows is Batman going to FaZe Clan’s Hollywood headquarters to recruit Apex members, Banks, Rain, and Temperrr to get themselves uploaded into the connected virtual world of NygmaBox (don’t worry), beat the virtual avatars in Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery to collect coins (don’t worry), then use the digital avatars brainwashed NygmaBox users to raise against huge virtual Riddler (do do not worry about it).
It’s… well, it’s not great. For some reason, Oracle is able to hack into the NygmaBox system to turn Apex, Banks, Rain, and Temperrr into RPG class-based powered digital avatars – a Tank, Ranger, Healer, and Mage – which seems absurd given that none of the games FaZe Clan are known to play competitively are RPGs (Batman doesn’t even make virtual weapons, maybe?). Each member is paired with a member of the Batfamily (the aforementioned Tim as Robin, plus Batwoman, Nightwing, and Batwing), who not only do not do get hacked power-up updates – rude, Barbara – but largely exist to stay dumb to allow fellow FaZe to attack and save the day four times in a row. Hell, for one Batman the Batman comic himself is surprisingly useless, largely hanging out with Oracle in the Bat Cave monitoring FaZe’s progress until it’s all over. FaZe Clan is reverting to former regular players, Riddler seemingly has no repercussions for being the gaming industry’s most specific disruptor, and Batman is apparently getting mildly addicted to video games.
But here’s the thing: As strange as a team-up between Batman and a group of pro gamers might seem on the surface, it didn’t have to be. “People are trapped in a viiiideeeeeeo gaaaaaaame and it is to players helping duped heroes” is such a boring premise, and we’ve seen examples where these kinds of brand links can really work. DC crossover comics with KFC weren’t allowed to be as good as them, because they not only leaned into the inherent absurdity, but embraced it as a contrast to the absurdity of superhero comics in general, transform colonel sanders into a multiversal figure worth any of the editors Crisis events. Hell, even in the gaming space last year we had the surprisingly fantastic Batman/Fortnite series, which took the structural premise of the beloved battle royale shooter and used it to strip Batman as the central character, exploring Batman’s very identity as a symbol and as a person in fascinating ways. Yes, really, in a fortnite comic!
Maybe Batman could have been investigating something at a tournament FaZe Clan played, maybe he’s being attacked by a cavalcade of Bat villains, and some Bat-Family members are there because, eh well, a bunch of them are young kids and young kids are interested in watching streamers and esports. Maybe something could have relied on the fact that FaZe Clan players were good with computers and went for a tech angle. I don’t know, DC Comics isn’t paying me to write this fucking stuff. As for the creative team, who have already done some fantastic comic book work, one of the highlights being Trujillo’s delicious sports comedy. Dodge the city– this could have been a circumstance where the contractual obligations to any agreement made between DC and FaZe Clan could have made it impossible to try and do anything more involved beyond that basic premise. We don’t know, all we’re left with as readers is a bland, not even nonsensical comic strip where the word “Gamer” appears every other sentence.
It didn’t have to be so boring. But hey, it could have been worse: at least it’s not as bad as partners with a weapons manufacturer and having to back out at the last minute.
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