DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Patrick Ehlers and I are two such nerds, and we’ve decided to jump in with a handful of monthly titles. We really wanted to pull out all the nerd stops, so we’re also going to be writing about them here and on Patrick’s Blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Batman, while Patrick is hosting the discussion of Justice Leauge.
Drew: One of the things I’m enjoying most about DC’s relaunch is seeing how the different titles deal with reintroducing their characters. For most, this means at least a little awkward exposition, but once the writers get past the basics of who the characters are and why they do what they do, they are able to reintroduce and develop the themes that make the characters interesting. It’s how these themes are emphasized and spun that really start to define these characters in the post-Flashpoint universe. Scott Snyder has set about doing this beautifully with Batman, highlighting subtly and efficiently all of the things that make him who he is.
The first issue opens with Batman taking on all of the prisoners at Arkham, a veritable who’s who of his rogues gallery. Bruce’s voiceover provides some more overt thematic material — that Batman fights to rid Gotham of crime (and that he may have come to define Gotham), and that he believes criminals to be a superstitious and cowardly lot — but the visuals tell us everything we need to know: Batman is a badass. He’s taking on a dozen or so super-criminals single-handedly, and seems to be enjoying himself.
Batman then takes some assistance from Dick Grayson (in disguise as the Joker), establishing a theme I was pleasantly surprised to see here: Batman is a team player. I don’t think it’s a mistake that they make a point of mentioning the the security clearances of Dick, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne when Bruce arrives at his fundraiser (in perhaps the most awkward bit of exposition, a facial recognition program explains to us who everyone is and their relationship to Batman); I suspect that Bruce’s trust will be tested as this story plays out. Bruce is also allowing his public persona to get in on the teamwork, partnering with donors to aggressively rebuild the poorest parts of Gotham.
Bruce excuses himself from his fundraiser to investigate a mysterious and gruesome murder, and uncovers a clue that suggests Bruce Wayne is the next target, establishing another important theme: Batman is a master detective. The evidence first points at Dick, but in the end only shows that the victim was trying to warn the Waynes that someone was coming for them. The mystery seems to be tied in to an old Gotham nursery rhyme about the “Court of Owls,” a mysterious Gotham organization that Batman is convinced doesn’t exist. Sure enough, an assassin comes for Bruce, an assassin so skilled that he nearly succeeds. As Batman digs deeper, he discovers that the Court of Owls not only exists, but is somehow linked to Bruce’s great great grandfather, Alan Wayne.
The mystery is intriguing, the fact that the Talon (the assassin named in the nursery rhyme) seems always one step ahead of Batman is going to force some extra resourcefulness, and the fact that the Court of Owls has essentially out-Batmanned Batman (they have operated undetected for years, exacting influence mostly through fear and urban legend) makes it even more interesting. This is shaping up to be a classic Batman story with a solid mystery and a strong villain. The classic status is only elevated by the art, with Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion finding an iconic-but-not-too-cartoony style that’s a perfect fit, and FCO getting a surprising amount of mileage out of a warmer color palate.
My favorite part, though, has to be the layouts. I’m not sure who to credit with these, but they’re endlessly inventive, affecting, and clear. I wanted to point out some favorites, but there are simply too many to list. In my opinion, none of the other titles we’re following are getting this much mileage out of the medium. Every panel juxtaposition and overlap is considered and meaningful. I wasn’t sure they could keep up with the standard they set in the first issue, but, if anything, they’ve actually gotten more impressive.
In short, I’m loving this title. Aside from that awkward bit of exposition I recognize as necessary, I can’t think of a single thing to criticize. I’m kind of a sucker for Batman, though. Patrick, I’m I singing these praises unjustly?
Patrick: It’s funny, I didn’t even notice the stupid exposition from the facial recognition software in the first issue. I think I take for granted that there’s a certain amount of repeated exposition in comics. When I caught up on 7 years of Green Lantern in 2 months, my eyes learned to instinctively skip over the little bits of text where Hal introduces himself as Green Lantern of Sector 2814. That’s the beauty of printed exposition, you can just skip it. Like you know before reading every Harry Potter book that you’ll be able to skip the three paragraph explanation of Quidditch in every book after the first. And just like that, I’ve referenced Harry Potter twice in our comic book write-ups. Oh, what-that-says-about-my-priorities.
I think you’re pretty much spot-on in your praises of just about everything this series has to offer. In particular, I find the sense of history surrounding this story fascinating. The very first issue introduces this “Gotham is…” device, and so much of the story here centers around the history of Gotham City. We even get a flashback to Alan Wayne on-the-run from the Court of Owls. Gotham has shaped the Waynes and the Waynes have shaped Gotham and it’s interesting to get a perspective on that which reaches back to before Bruce took up the mantle of Dark Knight.
You know what it reminds me of? Arkham Asylum. The game, not the comic, but I suppose not-not the comic… Playing though that game, you get such a sense of what the Arkham family was to Gotham, and how the two ended up warping and twisting eachother until both were worse off for their relationship. Obviously, the Waynes have done more to help the city than hurt it, but the overwhelming sense of history is similarly pervasive.
But there’s one thing the Waynes – and Bruce in particular – haven’t been able to effect: The Court of Owls. It is interesting to consider that there’s an organization that’s somehow managed to stay under Batman’s radar. But that final scene in the third issue where Batman discovers Owl’s nest after Owl’s nest is invigorating, as it shows that no matter how many cars and bikes are stashed away in that cave, no matter how many Robins there have been, no matter how many buildings the Waynes have built, there’s always going to be something beyond Bruce’s control.
If I have a gripe, it’s that I feel like Bruce looks a little too young. I know they’re purposefully making the main stable of characters younger, but some of the drawings make him look like he’s in his 20s. Other than that, I think the designs are awesome – particularly the menacing and not-at-all-too-goofy Talon – and the art style treats Gotham City right. You mention the lay-outs which are also phenomenal. I feel like I don’t have that much too add. We both like the Bat, and Snyder doesn’t disappoint. I feel like this is a title not to miss – especially if you’re already taking our advice and reading Batgirl. We haven’t discussed it yet (we will run a counterpoint on it someday), but the Nightwing series is also doing a good job of fleshing out the Bat family while being a vital book in its own right. It seems like Gotham is the place to be in the New 52.
Here’s a list of what we’re reading. The list is Batman heavy, and we’re not going to write about everything. That being said, feedback and suggestions on what to read and discuss are welcome. Overlapping books in bold:
Justice League of America, Batman, Batman & Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Wonder Woman, Action Comics