Captain America and Batroc the Leaper: Ze Best Zere Is? [Review]
Batroc the Leaper's not a character who commands much respect in the Marvel Universe. As a French mercenary trained in the style of kickboxing known as "savate," his role is usually to play the part of the Washington Generals to Captain America's Harlem Globetrotters. He's a foe who often finds himself swatted aside in a comical manner and is only barely competent enough to present an obstacle, so it's tremendously impressive that in the span of a single issue, the creative team of writer Kieron Gillen, artist Renato Arlem, and colorist Nick Filardi have crafted a great story that presents Batroc as a dignified character.Told entirely from Batroc's perspective, the Captain America and Batroc the Leaper one-shot follows the Leaper through an arms heist that he's been hired to protect from Captain America, staying true to his history as not a particularly nice guy. It's a story that gives us a glimpse into the mindset of a man who is willing to enter the same fight over and over again, aware that he'll most likely never win but seeing each battle as a test of his own abilities.
It works on a surprising number of levels: as a practical explanation for the continued existence of the character despite his apparent ineffectuality; as an inspirational metaphor for humanity's constant desire to prove itself by attempting to achieve the unachievable, and as a book in which a ripped guy in red, white and blue spandex punches a Frenchman with a hilarious mustache and beard.
Batroc's a villain, so making him too likable and relatable would have risked straying too far from the character's legacy. This isn't a redemption story, and at no point is it revealed that Batroc secretly funnels all his evil-doer money to keep an impoverished French art school-orphanage fed on bread and wine. But Gillen manages to walk a fine line, and there's a wonderful balance here where we can understand and sympathize with his emotions, while still recognizing him as a bastard who's only out for himself.
I was more than a little reminded of Gail Simone's Secret Six while reading this, as we follow a villain who's in it more for the money, the challenge and the adventure, rather than out of some twisted ideology or a desire to see others suffer.
As for the art, Arlem and Filardi's work supports the story, but stopped short of ever really blowing me away. The run-down apartments Batroc inhabits are a nice touch and set the right atmosphere to the story, as do the early backgrounds of some less scenic neighborhoods in Paris, but for most of the heist the book's visuals are more basic, focusing on characters alone.
Still, I definitely suggest checking this one out. The story builds up to a moment of inner struggle where Batroc's sense of practicality must fight against his own pride, and both that moment and the resolution that follows are well-earned. I can't think of any other single issue that's been as fascinating a character study of a cult-favorite comics personality.