Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 8, originally released April 18th, 2012. This issue is part of the Night of the Owls crossover event. Click here for complete NotO coverage.
Drew: Batman 8 begins with a tight shot on a Gotham City manhole cover. As the camera pulls up and out, revealing the city around it, Bruce’s voiceover questions whether his attention to detail has prevented him from seeing the bigger picture. This attention to detail explains why Bruce could have been unaware of the presence of the Court of Owls in what he thought was his city, but it also acts as a cutting interrogation of our own experiences with Batman (and superheroes in general). I’ve long lamented the favoring of point-by-point plot details over “bigger picture” concepts like character and theme, but writer Scott Snyder seems to suggest that the devotion to the minutia may actually prevent us from truly understanding what is going on. It’s a bold suggestion, and one that would risk alienating fanboys if it weren’t so deftly handled.
That sequence ends with Bruce standing over his model of Gotham in the dark, contemplating his relationship to the city, when Alfred flips on the hologram models of Bruce’s planned developments. The sudden light hurts Bruce’s eyes, causing him to object to his plans — aligning him however temporarily with the Court he has been desperately trying to understand. Alfred offers his customary assurances, but is interrupted when they hear someone trying to enter the Manor. Alfred rushes to the cave while Bruce races upstairs to intercept the intruder. These actions are communicated wordlessly in a brilliant sequence that runs the stories in parallel.
Not to overstate the power of that sequence, but that very well may be my favorite page in any comic, ever. The parallels between the panels are obvious, but it’s the way penciller Greg Capullo uses space to clarify cause and effect that is truly jaw-dropping in it’s efficiency. It feels real. Of course, the atmospheric inking and coloring by Jonathan Glapion and FCO, respectively, enhance the quiet urgency of the sequence (but more on them in a moment). I honestly feel guilty that I only paid $3.99 to own this page (let alone the book around it).
As you can see above, one of the Talons followed Alfred down into the cave. That’s right — one of the Talons. The court has sent an entire army for Bruce, and this is apparently without them knowing that he’s Batman. Bruce does what he can, but he’s quickly surrounded, and leads the Talons onto the roof, where he makes a quick escape to the Batcave. He takes down the Talon that had gotten into the cave (with an assist from Alfred and the Big Penny), but more are on their way. Bruce and Alfred barricade themselves in the armory, and Bruce hatches a plan to slow the Talons down by lowering the temperature in the cave. The issue ends as Bruce emerges in a full exosuit, but the back-up, written by Snyder and James Tynion IV and art by Rafael Albuquerque, picks up right where it leaves off. Bruce begins his battle with the Talons in earnest while Alfred discovers their hit-list; nearly forty of Gotham’s most influential people. Alfred puts the call out to the entire bat-family: the Night of the Owls has begun.
While the transition into the backup is seamless story-wise, the art is quite different. Albuquerque’s freer line stands in sharp contrast to Capullo’s tighter, almost draftsman-like style, but the biggest contrast is the colors. Nathan Fairbairn picks up on FCO’s more muted palette, but adds a painterly, almost impressionistic quality. It complements Albuquerque’s images beautifully, and the transition acts to delineate the Night of the Owls from everything that has come before.
That’s not to cast aspersions on anything that came before. The lead story features an artistic team that has been working together long enough to have truly found their stride (not that the first issue was in any way lacking), and manage to enhance the writing in striking ways. Take for example, this sequence, which appears as Bruce descends into the Batcave via a chute from his chimney:
As Bruce chastises himself for getting lost in his own head, he descends into his most private of spaces (stop that snickering, I mean the Batcave, guys). The artistic team puts a finer point on this by mirroring the curve in Bruce’s lapel in the slide he’s riding — Bruce is literally descending into himself. It’s no coincidence that Bruce finally squares to face the Talons only after he’s donned the robo-suit — a kind of suped-up version of his Batman identity. That identity was created by Bruce to combat his greatest adversities, so it makes sense that it would grow in the face of new challenges. We’ve actually seen this come up before, as Bruce faced the Talon in the Labyrinth. Of course, his increased size at that time was a drug-induced hallucination, but it belied a desire that finally manifests in this issue.
This issue sees other images from this arc return. As Bruce stood over his model of Gotham, I couldn’t help but think of the Court’s own model, which he so pointedly told the Talon was just “an arts and crafts project.” Bruce is seeing the similarities between himself and the Court, and he is not flattered by the resemblance. We also see the return of the Talon’s proclamation that “[name of person cowering in fear]. The Court of Owls has sentenced you to die,” which we first heard directed at Batman at the start of issue 5. As this issue concludes, we understand it to be an Ezekiel 25:17-level this-is-the-last-thing-you’ll-ever-hear statement, which emphasizes just how close Bruce came to death in the Labyrinth (or at least how close the Court thought he was to death).
What intrigues me the most about this issue is that the Court was apparently not aware that Bruce is Batman. We’ve seen the Court be one step ahead of Bruce so often I’d gotten the impression that they know all there is to know, and Bruce is hopelessly in the dark. To see that the Court knows as little about Batman as he does about them is intriguing, and suggests that this isn’t so much about anyone beating the other at their own game, but rather two well-equipped adversaries battling for the soul of Gotham. In that way, the crossover isn’t so much about the owls as it is about the people fighting them. If that’s not enough to get your blood pumping, perhaps you just need to see Bruce in the exosuit:
Patrick: That opening sequence reminded me of the beginning of Batman #3 – the scene where Alan Wayne is on the run from Court of Owls. Partially because both scenes use Gotham’s imposing art-deco architecture to frame the image, but also the focal point on a manhole. In issue #3′s flashback to 1922, Alan Wayne disappears down a manhole and it’s the last anyone ever sees of him. You rightfully point out that Bruce disappears into his own head in much the same way at the beginning of this issue.
But there’s an angle we’ve been over-looking for a while now: the problem with Bruce’s obsession with the Court of Owls is that he ignores everything else. We didn’t talk about it at all last month, but it’s clear that he wasn’t interested in talking to Dick about what was troubling him. Nightwing came into the cave being all “you would not believe the week I’ve had” and Batman was all like “LET’S TALK ABOUT MY THING NOW.” Granted, the Owls are a huge threat, and the Bat-diligence will totally pay off, but the most dangerous part about the Court is their ability to throw Bruce off his game.
When I flipped back to issue 3 to make sure I wasn’t imagining that flashback, I was reminded that Bruce was raising money for Mayoral Candidate Lincoln March. Does that seem like years and years ago? That was back when Bruce’s activities extended beyond this all-consuming investigation. While Batman has got to pull through in the end, it does seem like the Court has already succeeded in redirecting the efforts of a philanthropic billionaire they disagree with.
I can’t help but draw the parallels to the comic-reading-public right now. Like Bruce, we are all focused on the Owls – possibly to the detriment of other really important or interesting things. I was so excited to read this and Nightwing that I sort of dreaded having to read Wonder Woman this week. Which is insane: Wonder Woman is fucking awesome this month (as it usually is). But it’s hard not to pay attention to Events, right?
Luckily, I think this title manages to keep more perspective than I did. Between a back-up story that casts a much wider net and the bevy of grounded details laid in by Snyder and Capullo, this issue does a good job of reminding me that I’m excited to read another issue of Batman and not just part of the Night of the Owls cross-over. Even in that first scene as Bruce doubts his ability to understand his own city, the family portrait on the wall reminds us of a fundamental truth about Batman: he’s a kid forever trying to do right by his dead parents. Also, the lighting in this scene is totally kickin’.
Right? I’d be happy to hear dissenting opinions, but I feel like I needed the reminder of what the character is about without the Owls in his life. The relationship with Alfred as it plays out in this issue is another great example. There are a bunch of honest moments between them: Bruce bursting into the batcave in a panic when he thinks Alfred is in danger, Alfred offering promptly-ignored medical advice. But the one that takes the cake is the little joke Alfred tosses off after that incident with the Big Penny:
Look – Alfred made Batman laugh! In the middle of an all-out raid on Wayne Manor, I’m so glad the story can remain true to its characters. And it’s not as though the raid portion of this issue is underserved at all. Every single Talon-take-down is awesome, depicted in perfect fluidity with hits you can feel. If I could do it justice, I’d post that page of a Talon crashing through the window to engage Bruce in combat. Seriously, just turn to pages 7 and 8 and look at that thing for a while. Then finish reading the issue for the 4th time, then come back here and finish the write-up.
This issue (with a back-up good enough to justify the phenomenon of “back-ups”) serves as the starter’s pistol for the Night of the Owls. It hits every single beat it can to somehow pique my interest even further. Snyder just keep trading up on his own ideas and Capullo and the rest of the team match him at every step. Even Albequerque’s art seems elevated to meet the loftiness of the writing. The spread that shows Alfred’s message going out to the Bat-Family is awe-inspiring.
The scope of this thing is huge. And all the pieces are in place. Game-on.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?