Batroc the Leaper is a gag character, at best. A guy with buff legs and a penchant for losing isn’t going to be a leading villain any time soon. Thus, you might be forgiven for ignoring this one shot. Kieron Gillen crafts a fleeting character piece that shows us the psychology behind a man who dresses in purple and yellow and tries to kick other men in the face while bouncing around a crime scene like a pinball. You might think there isn’t much character work to that role but you would be wrong.
Batroc is played completely straight in this issue and it works to his advantage. It’s like seeing Batroc as the lead in “The Professional.” There is honor to this zany villain and we understand better what he does and why he does it his own way. This isn’t a man trying to take over the world; He’s just a guy trying to turn a buck and hold his head high in the process. He might be laughed at for never beating captain America, but at least he usually holds his own.
The actual narrative of the heist in this issue that pits Frenchman against American is thin. This isn’t about telling a story; It’s about building a character. It’s also about hinting at a new relationship. Batroc is used to facing off against Steve Rogers, but here he has James Barnes to deal with. The fluent French and Soviet fighting styles completely change the playing field.
Much like the Crossbones one-shot last week, this issue is thin on actual Captain America storytelling, and is much stronger for this missing element. This is Batroc’s tale and you are drawn straight into his mindset and possible future. He’s not an evil man, and he is entertaining. I don’t think he could hold his own series, but he certainly needs to be somewhere within an ensemble cast.
Renato Arlem’s art is kinetic and enjoyable, if inconsistent in moments. His Batroc is formidable and impressive. Though his legs may be the focus, it is easy to forget how broad he is across the chest. He fills the panels with both his frame and his ego. The laying out of the fights is frenetic and fun and with a character like this, the physical aspects must look impressive. It comes apart, however, when many of the panels feel like they are being acted out on a stage with a few props but no real depth of reality. Nick Filardi doesn’t help hide these moments with his colors. Though, there is one panel of Batroc standing over his broken kick bag that looks sublime. The whole comic should have looked washed out and rueful like this panel.
“Captain America and Batroc” is a comic that looks at the capes of heroics, but not through an omnipotent lens. This is about guys who may dress up a little funny but their business is still crime, be it committing or halting it. Gillen takes this element seriously and the result is a comic that treats you seriously in return. This isn’t the redemption of a villain but the offering of more to come. If more is like this, then it could be great.