Batman 12

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Batman 12, originally released August 8th, 2012.

Patrick: Scott Snyder’s run on Batman has been fantastic. The 11-issue Court of Owls story-line is going to go down in history as one of the best Batman stories ever, and there are precious few titles in the New 52 that can claim the same level of quality. So, I approached this first post-Owls issue tentatively: would I discover that I was enamored with Snyder’s Owls, and not Snyder’s Batman? What we have in issue 12 is about as radical a departure as we could have asked for – the story is self-contained; the scope of the story is small; and Batman himself doesn’t make an appearance until page 14. But in this gear-shift, Snyder asserts that he’s in it for the long haul, and committed to delivering excellence in Batman, no matter what story he wants to tell in Gotham City.

Meet Harper Row.

Harper and her little brother Cullen have been living on their own since they escaped the their abusive father’s house. Harper works for the city, repairing busted power cables under the streets. She supports her little brother, who’s still in high school. Partially because he’s in high school, and partially because they live in the Narrows, Cullen is frequently harassed and assaulted for being gay.

Harper won / otherwise acquired tickets to the same Wayne Corporation event we saw way back in issue 1 — wherein Bruce announces his plans to build new buildings and revitalize the poorer parts of town. But Harper’s heard this line from too many rich dudes that want to seem like they care about Gotham’s poor, and after a gruff little exchange with Alfred, she leaves, disenchanted with the evening’s events. And she’s right — things aren’t getting any better in the narrows. One night, Cullen and Harper are jumped by bunch of kids, and Harper isn’t enough to fight them off. Luckily, Batman swoops in to rescue them.

This triggers some Batmania in Harper. She (like Huntress) spends her nights looking up Batman online. Unlike Huntress, Harper eventually uncovers actual information about Bats. Apparently, Batman uses a series of electrical boxes scattered throughout the city’s power grid to alternately obscure his movements and broadcast his actions to the cops so they can provide back-up. She thinks she identifies a malfunctioning box and sort of half-helps Batman. Not one to say thank you, Batman tells her to back off – which naturally only hardens Harper’s resolve to assist Batman.

Okay, lots going on in this one – very little of it having to do with the struggles of Bruce Wayne or Batman. But just because we’re not dealing directly in the avatar of the series, doesn’t mean that Snyder is a slouch where characterization is concerned. Harper is a stronger, more well-defined character than you’re likely to see in most other comics — ESPECIALLY among the non-superhero characters.

In my summary above, I glossed over what I found to be the most affecting part of this book. When Harper was away at the Wayne function, some guys broke into their apartment, beat up Cullen and shaved the word “fag” into the back of his head. In a show of solidarity with her little brother, she gives herself an identical haircut. The next day at school, no one can give him shit because he’s not alone in looking like this. Harper is not only strong enough to fight for her family, she can re-purpose her strength to make others stronger. It’s love. I’m going to be greedy here and post the whole page:

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for brother/sister stories; maybe it’s because I’m sensitive to queer issues; maybe it’s because Cullen’s t-shirt says “Real Men Use The Force” — I love this scene. The case being put forth in this issue — and in this page specifically — is that Harper is worthy of helping Batman. It’s an interesting inversion of Harper’s belief that Bruce Wayne in incapable of helping her. And while neither Harper nor Batman accept the help that is offered them, we readers know better. We know these characters are smart, sweet, thoughtful, strong — capable of wonderful things.

Hey Drew, did you take a look at the credits on this thing? I noticed the obvious artist change-up for the last 8 pages, but the credits indicate that the writing responsibilities for those pages were also a bit of a change-up. James Tynion (Night of the Owls back-ups, Talon) is listed as co-writer from page 22-28. It’s like the last couple pages here were a sneaky back-door back-up that simply continued the main story of the issue. I guess, all power to Snyder for finding a work around and giving this story the room it needed to breathe, but man, the switch over to Andy Clarke’s pencils was jarring.

Oh hey — how about that first-woman-ever-to-draw-Batman thing? Becky Cloonan’s work in this issue is very soft and round, which goes a long way to warming the audience to these new characters. But that’s not to imply that she’s only nailing the cute moments. When Harper and Cullen are jumped on the street, it’s all fun and games until someone pulls a knife, and the tone shifts on a dime. Notice how the knife appears outside of the panels, as though it’s broken the action, occupying its own time and space. The threat is very real.

My one complaint is that the issue ends on kind of a dud. I like the reversal — it’s clever to make the seven words that change Harper’s life come from herself. But she the fact that she just thought them? Kinda weak. Also why is it “Harper Row, you’re not finished. No way.” and not just “You’re not finished Harper Row?” Were they locked into seven words and couldn’t back out of it? Especially when she spends so much of the issue taking care of her brother, I would have liked to see those seven inspirational words come out of her mouth when talking to Cullen.

Drew: The seven words thing is a bit awkward, but I think they were locked into it, in a way; Snyder pulls not one, but two fake-outs, constraining the word count to a number that sort-of works in all three places. It’s unfortunate that it only sort-of works, but it’s such a small complaint in an issue that is mostly great, it barely registers. Where to begin?

I like your read on Becky Cloonan being the first woman to draw this title — her cartoony style does play well to the lighter side, but she doesn’t shy away from ugliness or violence. I do feel a little cheated about this issue being the first one drawn by a woman, though, since it’s not so much a Batman story as it is a Harper Row story with a brief Batman cameo (Bruce appears in costume for all of two pages in the section Cloonan pencilled). That said, she draws the holy hell out of that cameo.

Confusion? Check. Fear? Check. Dude looking badass in a cape and cowl? Double check. Let me be clear, I like this issue and I like this story — I just think it’s too bad the first issue of Batman ever drawn by a woman just so happened to be one that focused more on family drama than super heroics. The more I think about it, though, the less that complaint makes any sense. Really, what Cloonan is asked to do here — introduce and make us care about two brand new characters (yes, yes, we all recognize Harper as that girl from the van in issue 7, but I wouldn’t exactly say her character was established there) — is much more challenging than giving us another Batman-being-Batman story.

Then again, I’m not sure Snyder could write a generic Batman story. After the intense deconstruction of the Court of the Owls, this focus away from Batman is a welcome palate-cleanser. Moreover, it’s a compelling story about a different kind of heroism, one that examines Batman’s role as a role model, both to Gotham citizens, and to comic book fans. Harper is certainly a Batman fan, and acts as an excellent proxy for us, doing what she can to see him in action, or at least help him out if she can. In this way, it’s quite clever that Batman’s role is so small, she only has a few chance encounters, much like we only have bite-sized morsels each month.

What I really love about Harper is that she represents a very different kind of role-model from Batman, but one that is perhaps more relatable, and thus more realistic. Like us, Harper is a fan of the Batman myth, and strains to learn as much about him as possible. Like us, Harper is inspired and empowered by Batman. And like us, the problems Harper faces are much more down-to-earth than the high-flying adventures of Batman. I certainly think Batman can be used to tell compelling, human stories, but refracting his myth through a character that is also a fan allows Snyder to create a more everyday hero.

Of course, Harper isn’t the only Batman fan. I was particularly pleased to see that Cullen has a crush on one Tim Drake.

That’s a fun nod to all of the fans that were pulling for Tim to be announced as gay, back when we thought that announcement might mean anything. Maybe he just hasn’t found the right boy yet (lord knows he hasn’t found the right girl). It also speaks volumes that Snyder has crafted a very compelling gay character in Cullen, one that is struggling with far more interesting problems than Allen Scott. Where the Alan Scott reveal felt cheap and exploitative, Cullen’s sexuality is presented frankly, but it also impacts his life in significant ways. This is the gay teen story all of those Tim theorists were hoping for (though I can’t see Tim getting beat up by anyone [unless that anyone is an eight-year-old {burn}]).

It’s the dynamic between Harper and Cullen that really sells this story, though. I’ve been a fan of everything I’ve ever read of Snyder’s, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him write a relationship as tender and subtle as he does here. Harper and Cullen feel incredibly real, as does their familial banter. It helps that Cloonan draws their interactions with a nuanced naturalness that makes them feel like real siblings.

I like this panel, but their love for eachother jumps off the page pretty much any time they’re in the same room together, from Cullen’s weary sigh as Harper reluctantly leaves for the gala to the look they give each other when Harper finds him bloodied and bruised on their living room floor. Cloonan delivers palpable emotions in every scene, indicating that she could ably handle any title under the sun, patriarchal history be damned.

Point is, this was a great issue. Snyder writing about Batman? Yes, please. Snyder writing about a Batman fan? Meta. Here’s hoping Cullen starts a blog about Harper’s adventures. We will review the shit out of that.

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?


20 comments on “Batman 12

  1. Hey, DC, pay attention: Scott Snyder crafted a gay character in a one-off story whose homosexuality is realistic and actually colors him as a character. AND NO ONE SAID TWO WORDS ABOUT IT AHEAD OF TIME.

  2. It is strange that the only woman to draw Batman would be assigned to the book that barely features the character. But Cloonan more that shows her mettle here – I expect that we’ll see more of her in the future. Maybe not in the main Batman stuff (Capullo’s a pretty big part of the current comics-Batman brand), but these kind of one-off issues and back-ups, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her characters’ soft round faces again soon.

    • I can’t distill this down into 7 words, so I’ll just tell the story:

      I went to UW Parkside for a year before transferring to Lawrence. I had gotten in at LU on the strength of my first semester transcripts from Parkside and my pretty-okay bass audition. As a result, my attentions to my classes at Parkside started to wain in my second semester there. So much so, that I stopped going to my bass lessons, stopped going to choir AND started to miss about 70% of my Literature Survey and European History classes.

      I was eking out decent grades in the academic classes by just doing the homework, so I thought I could do the same for my bass lessons, and I signed up for a jury at the end of the term. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken to my bass teacher in months. When he saw my name on the jury sign up sheet, he called me into his office, where he royally chewed me out. He said he knew that I didn’t take that place seriously, but made the salient point: “Patrick, they don’t accept this behavior anywhere.” Doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing – you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got. There’s no excuse for not trying.

      Literally the only thing I learned at Parkside, but it was a doozy.

  3. Between the fantastic handling of Cullen here, and Kate over on Batwoman, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something about Batman’s mythology that makes for compelling queer stories. A character based on an isolated, lonely, angry-at-the-world kid should be pretty relatable to a lot of the gay community. Am I stretching here, or is Bruce a little queer himself?

    • Who is more manly than Batman? HOWEVER, he does live alone with his live in butler, and son/revolving door of orphaned-boys-turned-wards. But he did adopt Cass too.

      • No one’s arguing that Batman isn’t butch, Peter. Drew’s talking mostly about the isolation and sense of otherness that is characteristic of the gay experience – especially in high school.

        It is weird how universal that is for the Bat-family. Tim has one of the great comic book bromances (forgive my use of the term) with Superboy and the argument for Jason being gay has been made in our comments section before. I hesitate to say that Batman is a little queer himself, just because of how fucking nebulous that word is. He certainly typifies some of the themes commonly associated with homosexuality – that’s for sure.

        • Yeah, I guess I meant that he’s more relatable to the gay experience than I had realized.

          I think what’s really funny about the mention of Tim is that he’s probably one of the most famous Batman fans. The comics focus a lot on how criminals fear him, but we don’t always see regular citizens rooting for him. Point is, Tim and Cullen have a lot in common, and maybe they should just get together for lunch or something.

        • I would probably read that comic. I think more of DC’s books could benefit from more Bendis style “talking heads.” I think Snyder does a great job of that here and whenever Tomasi has all four (male) Robins together in “Batman & Robin,” I can’t help but smile.

  4. Pingback: Swamp Thing Annual 1 | Retcon Punch

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