Comics have a long, convoluted, and wildly inconsistent history with licensed brand crossovers. As of late, DC in particular has gone through this, delivering branded tie-ins that range from working on absurdity alone, actually working as great comics, or just being absolute garbage. But its latest crossover might be worse than being comically bad: it’s just dull.
This week the publisher released Batman/Faze Clan #1 — from Josh Trujillo, Scot Eaton, Norm Rapmund, Tony Aviña, and Josh Reed — a team up between the World’s Greatest Detective and his myriad Batfamily allies and the titular FaZe Clan, the eSports organisation fielding teams for video games ranging from the likes of shooters such as Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Counterstrike, to sporting games like FIFA and Rocket League. It’s… well, that immediately might not strike you as the most potential-laden of partnerships, but what follows is a complete nightmare of a comic: the Riddler has developed his own kind of VR headset, the NygmaBox, that isn’t just being scalped by resellers (step aside, PS5 and Xbox Series X, Gothamites have spoken!), but… brainwashing them and making them do crime. Much worse.
After Tim Drake makes the fatal mistake of telling Batman that the only way to beat a Gamer is to work with another Gamer, what follows is Batman travelling to the Hollywood HQ of FaZe Clan to recruit members Apex, Banks, Rain, and Temperrr to get themselves uploaded to the NygmaBox’s virtual connected world (don’t worry about it), beat virtual avatars of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery to collect coins (don’t worry about it), and then use the digital avatars of the brainwashed NygmaBox users to rise up against a massive virtual Riddler (do not worry about it).
It’s… well, it’s not great. For some reason, Oracle is able to hack the NygmaBox system to transform Apex, Banks, Rain, and Temperrr into powered-up digital avatars based on RPG classes — a Tank, a Ranger, a Healer, and a Mage — which feels absurd given that none of the games FaZe Clan are known for playing competitively are RPGs (Batman doesn’t even do virtual guns, perhaps?). Each member is teamed up with a Batfamily member (the aforementioned Tim as Robin, plus Batwoman, Nightwing, and Batwing), who not only don’t get hacked power-up updates — rude, Barbara — but largely exist to stand around being plot-stupid to allow their FaZe compatriot to do An Attack and save the day four times in a row. Hell, for a Batman comic Batman himself is surprisingly useless, largely just hanging around with Oracle in the Bat Cave monitoring FaZe’s progress until everything just ends. FaZe Clan goes back to being regular old gamers, Riddler faces seemingly zero repercussion for being the gaming industry’s most highly specific disruptor, and Batman apparently becomes mildly addicted to video games.
But here’s the thing: as strange as a team up between Batman and a bunch of professional gamers might seem on the surface, it didn’t have to be this way. “People are trapped in a viiiideeeeeo gaaaaaaame and it’s up to gamers to help the duped heroes” is just such a boring premise, and we’ve seen examples where these sorts of branded tie-ins can really work. DC’s crossover comics with KFC had no right to be as good as they were, because not only did they lean into the inherent absurdity, but embraced it as a contrast to the absurdity of superhero comics in general, transforming Colonel Sanders into a multiversal figure worth of any of the publisher’s Crisis events. Hell, even in the gaming space last year we had the surprisingly fantastic Batman/Fortnite series, which took the beloved battle-royale shooter’s structural premise and used it to strip down Batman as a character to his core, exploring the very identity of Batman as a symbol and as a person in some fascinating ways. Yes, really, in a Fortnite comic!
Maybe Batman could’ve had to investigate something at a tournament FaZe Clan played at, hell maybe it gets attacked by a cavalcade of Bat villains, and some of the Batfamily happen to be in attendance because, well, a bunch of them are young kids and young kids are interested in watching streamers and eSports. Maybe something could’ve leaned on FaZe Clan’s players being good with computers and gone for a tech angle. I don’t know, DC Comics isn’t paying me to write the damn thing. As for the creative team — who’ve all done fantastic comics work before, a highlight being Trujillo’s delightful sports comedy Dodge City — this might have been a circumstance where contractual obligations to whatever deal was made between DC and FaZe Clan might have made trying to do something more involved beyond this basic premise infeasible. We don’t know, all we’re left with as readers is a bland, not even interestingly absurd comic where the word “Gamer” appears every other sentence.
It didn’t have to be this dull. But hey, it could have been worse: at least it’s not as bad as teaming up with a weapons manufacturer and having to back out at the last minute.