At face value, Cloaked may seem like a lesser Batman imitation, an old-fashioned detective story. But perhaps, the title itself eludes to having a story wrapped within a story. I think Richardson has been very deliberate in what parts of the dark knight’s mythos to twist for his story. Essentially, Cloaked reads like a ‘What If?’ of elements from the Golden Age and the ’66 TV series. Like the original Bob Kane and Bill Finger version, The Reaper’s armed with a pair of guns and isn’t afraid to use them. The story features an eccentric billionaire by the name of Byron West, who bares more than a slight resemblance to the 60s actor. Richardson puts a very unique spin on answering the old age question of how Bruce Wayne/Batman can have a young ward, and in this version, it is more disturbing than the innocence of the Golden Age.
Cloaked feels like a purposeful deconstruction of the Batman archetype. Doing this saves a lot of time on world-building. I think it is a clever way to draw readers in by having such clear comparisons, with a familiar anchor point in a place he can then tell his real story around it. The Batman parody is such a small part of the story it becomes clear very early on that all is not as it seems, and the pulp private eye story takes center stage.
It is very well paced, and like all good mysteries, it is complete with red herrings and plot twists. The first chapter poses the question of who? to the reader. By the third act, the reader is then asking why. It is a well-plotted chain of events to get this switch. While the outcome may be a little predictable to some, the journey getting there is very fun, and of course, there is one final twist.
The art didn’t sit as well with me as the story itself. I feel the colour work does it a huge favour. With there being a lot of talking head pages, same-level views and repetitive poses, things do get a little static. Where Armengo does shine is in the flashback sequences. Each of the early chapters has at least one, and it allows Armengo to showcase his talents.
The flashbacks have more experimental page and panel configurations, leading some much-needed dynamism to events. I really enjoyed the aesthetic of The Reaper; it is another strong nod to the old pulps and is perfectly grim to match the turn of events the story takes. Armengo also provides colours, and this is where the art sings. There is the simple trick of different palettes for different settings, whether it is moody blues for a tense conversation or moon night raid or a splash of fiery orange to accentuate the action, he executes it brilliantly. A lot of modern comics have unnecessary dark muddy palettes, and, while obviously, the nature of this story calls for darker tones in the night scenes, the colours don’t feel muddy, and the action is not lost because his scenes are lit so well.
I think Batman fans of any era will take some enjoyment out of it, especially in spotting which parts of the mythos have been used. With the mystery genre having a new lease of life on the big screen with films like Knives Out and the big-budget Poiroit remakes, and with the popularity of true crime-solving podcasts, there will be some cross-over audience there, as the P.I. angle does at times read like a one-man podcast. Cloaked is a solid read that will keep fans of crime and vigilante comics entertained.