If you're on social media at all, you've most likely at least seen mention of the whole Kony 2012 campaign to make the nefarious African warlord Joseph Kony a household name – enough to make sure the pressure stays on the world at large to pay attention to atrocities in Africa and try to bring the perpetrators to some kind of justice. You may have also seen some reports attempting to clarify some of the details glossed over in the Invisible Children video. With the public light shining this brightly on turmoil on the continent, now might be the perfect time to check into Batwing, as its central hero, David Zavimbe, is one of those children abducted to become child soldiers for a sadistic warlord.
So far, the story of Batwing has been that of his seemingly unstoppable nemesis named Massacre, who has been stalking and slaughtering the former members of The Kingdom, the premiere African superteam who vanished from the public after some sort of fall from grace. In Batwing #7, we finally learn what that disgrace was, and it ties right into the current Kony-related events. The team consists of some very interesting characters, by the names of Earth Strike, Razorwire, Staff, Steelback, Dawnfire, Deity and Thunderfall… and the non-powered sci-tech guy supplying them is a man named Josiah Kone. By the end of this issue, Kone has become the leading candidate to be the true identity of Massacre – fueled by anger over the Kingdom's failure.
It seems that, in the days before the founding of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was a massive conflict happening near the capital city of Mintala between the forces of the dictator President Masika Okura, a half-dozen warlords of the Kony variety with child armies, and The People's Republic, a revolutionary army out to end injustices of the government and the savages and restore dignity to the region. The Kingdom fought on the side of the People, believing that to be the true path to freedom. With superpowered might on their side, The People's Republic came to the very brink of victory, and in a symbolic gesture, The Kingdom stepped aside, believing that the people themselves should fight the last battle themselves and make the triumph a statement of just who this revolution was for. The truth of the matter, though, was that they also stepped aside to regain their strength, as the fight remained brutal enough to leave them drained. Thus, when Okura made his final play by aligning with the warlords to threaten the People's army with their combined forces while they were in no position to lend aid, The Kingdom were forced to accept Okura's deal offer – his army stood down in exchange for The Kingdom helping him flee the country and gain his freedom in exile, never to answer for his crime. Leaving the People's Army to slaughter the assembled warlords' forces of abducted men and child soldiers in a horrible battle that left fifty thousand dead.
Josiah Kone was furious at the idea that a genocidal dicator like Okura could escape justice, believing he needed to be killed like an animal, shouting down the Kingdom as cowards. Throughout the first six issues of this series, Massacre has been murdering Kingdom members (and anyone who gets in his way, be they children or police) and claiming they have this coming to them, and that Batwing's attempts to stop his reign of blood are only standing in the way of what they deserve. Until Batwing #7, the leading candidates as Massacre's true identity were either Zavimbe's former warlord General Ayo Keita, who we know is wrong because Batwing thinks he's right and there has to be a swerve, or Zavimbe's long-thought-dead brother, which felt like it was way too obvious a cliché. Now, however, with Massacre reactivating the old Steelback armor to help him achieve his goals, Kone appears to be the only choice, and he's automatically the best one, too.
This backstory is all related while Batwing travels with Batman back to Gotham City (conveniently in time to tie in with the big Court of Owls crossover coming up) to try and find the last surviving members of The Kingdom and save them from Massacre's wrath. Batman's ground team of Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin manage to find them, but they're too late. And it's tragic, because even though Judd Winick's story is very compelling, The Kingdom is a great idea, and they are really interesting characters that would make a great addition to DC's pantheon right alongside The Great Ten and other international superhero teams. I want to read a book based on The Kingdom. If we're lucky, maybe some new characters will take up the mantle and carry on.
Dustin Nguyen's art is fairly solid, emotive where it needs to be – and it needs to be quite a bit in an issue that's almost entirely exposition. The setting so rarely gets used in mainstream superhero comics that I'm continually grateful that there's one with a strong tie-in to the mega-popular Batman that should hopefully keep this focus where it needs to be for a long time to come. Winick is really exploring the murky morass of morality that is a good deal of modern African politics, and this examination has brought Massacre beyond the perception of being a bit of a Bane knockoff, as was the first impression.
Batwing is good reading. So read it.