This is a challenging collection to review, as it encapsulates so many characters, artists, and writers. If you don't know, No Man's Land was a huge event dealing with Gotham city being declared a No Man's Land after enduring a massive earthquake. The event spanned several titles, in the end covering over a year's worth issues for said titles. This is the first volume of four, so you may be asking yourself 'is it worth getting into the No Man's Land story?' I say yes, and here is my proof.
The writing is compelling and rarely stagnate. This is genuinely interesting material, with dozens of characters woven into its structure, some minor, others well-known. This volume contains a healthy variety of multi-issue arcs and one-shot stories. While it is called BATMAN: No Man's Land, I would say at least a third of the stories never feature him directly. In fact, his absence is a key element to this story. Certain titles are a little weaker, and they do slow down the story, but this is infrequent. This isn't the most action-filled collection, so don't expect to see brawls every other page. There is development that doesn't immediately pay-off, but don't let that deter you. Good things are worth the wait.
One unexpected highlight for me were the Azrael issues. I'm not the most experienced Batman reader, but I have a pretty solid understanding of his world. I knew Azrael was the violent nut who filled in for Bruce while he was taking time off after Bane freed up a lot of his busy schedule. That being said, I knew just enough about him that I didn't expect much from his story. I think this set me up to be pleasantly surprised by Azrael, a character I now hold in a higher regard.
The art is a bit of a mixed bag; don't be misled by the Jim Lee cover, it's the only thing he contributes to this volume. Main titles tend to have better quality art, while issues featuring Azrael have more basic, less stunning work. Remember, DC comic books at this time were not as fortunate as they are today in terms of art, but that doesn't mean expect 400 pages of mediocrity. It wouldn't be fair to say there are diamonds in the rough, because the majority of art is not rough. The writing carries the story here, which I think is better than the other way around (All-Star Batman and Robin, anyone?).
To end, this is not a story for someone looking for a casual read on Batman with a self-contained arc. If all you know about Batman are his most basic elements, I cannot in good conscience recommend it. It would be confusing, and unfair to both you and the book. Now, for a casual fan, yes I highly recommend No Man's Land. Some say this is the most important Batman arc of the last twenty years, and I can see why. Be warned, however, reading No Man's Land is a commitment, and not exactly cheap. This is not a stand-alone collection; Gotham is hardly back normal at the end of volume 1. With that in mind, there aren't any jarring cliff-hangers polluting the end of this collection, either.
DC isn't goading your purchase of future volumes with half-complete stories, broken up only for the sake of higher sales. I was convinced to purchase volume 2 without any sense of feeling cheated in volume 1. If you feel you're up to it, you won't be disappointed.
After suffering a cataclysmic earthquake, the U.S. government has deemed Gotham City as uninhabitable and ordered all citizens to leave. It is now months later and those that have refused to vacate 'No Man's Land' live amidst a citywide turf war inwhich the strongest prey on the weak. As gangs terrorize the ravaged populace, the Scarecrow uses a church relief project as a real life lab to test his experiments in fear. But with the return of the vigilante, Batman, and the appearance of anenigmatic new Batgirl, justice returns to Gotham. BATMAN: NO MAN'S LAND VOL. 1 is the first chapter in the monumental crossover event that changed Gotham City and the Dark Knight forever. Collects BATMAN: NO MAN'S LAND #1, BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #83-86, BATMAN #563-566, DETECTIVE COMICS #730-733, AZRAEL: AGENT OF THE BAT #51-55, BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #117-118 and BATMAN CHRONICLES #16.