Today, Shelby and Scott are discussing Batman 22, originally released July 10th, 2013.
Shelby: There’s a special kind of arrogance that comes with being in your early twenties. We all knew that one guy, fresh out of school, who was convinced he knew it all, that his way was THE way and if you didn’t agree than you were wrong. It comes in part from being freshly educated. You’ve got all this new knowledge, this new way of viewing the world around you; you think you have finally figured everything out when actually you’re just beginning to figure out how to think. It also comes from the new-found independence of college life. Whether you enjoyed the pseudo-independence of the dormitory lifestyle, or had more pressing concerns like rent and the electric bill in an apartment, it’s probably the first time you’ve been solely in charge of yourself. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, I didn’t know that guy…” then there’s a chance you were that guy. Fear not! Bruce Wayne’s behavior this issue of Batman shows us you’re in good company.
Red Hood has hijacked a blimp. Not just any blimp: a blimp piloted by Carmine Falcone’s cousin, carrying Oswald Cobblepott and a whole mess of stolen Wayne Tech. When Cobblepott turns out to be Bruce in disguise, Red Hood has a hearty guffaw, and tries to recruit Bruce for the gang while he beats a hasty retreat. Back at HQ, Bruce tries to figure out what went wrong, but Alfred puts all the cards on the table, calling Bruce a coward for sneaking around in the night while his family’s legacy rots away. Bruce meets up with Uncle Phil, who tries to convince him one last time to come back to the fold. When Bruce refuses, Kane does the unthinkable: reveals a surprise welcome back party. Bruce beats another hasty retreat, and has a very intriguing conversation with Edward Nygma, who tells him Kane is giving small arms to the Red Hood gang in the hopes of keeping them happy and away from the bigger stuff. Bruce rushes home, only to find Red Hood has set up a little party of his own for young master Wayne.
Bruce really is acting the petulant child this issue, isn’t he? His vigilante-ism just isn’t working out for him, and he asks Alfred for his honest opinion. Alfred tells him what he really thinks, and Bruce throws a tantrum. We obviously know what he’s doing wrong; no criminal is going to be afraid of a guy in a fat suit, impressive though his costuming skills may be. Bruce’s problem ties directly into the backup, where he learns to think on his feet. His teacher accuses him of over-planning, becoming so dependent on his preparation that he is inflexible and unable to think outside the box when a situation arises. That is precisely what he’s doing wrong here in Gotham. He needs to protect his identity, so he puts on a disguise and sneaks around trying to solve crime. It isn’t working, but instead of coming up with a crazier solution, he’s just going to keep trying. Batman is ultimately a perfect compromise between his and Alfred’s ideas of how he should fix the city; he still gets to sneak around in the shadows (as flamboyantly as one can sneak in the shadows, anyway) as the Bat, all while publicly maintaining the Wayne family name.
Last month saw us asking the question, “do we really need another Batman origin story?” While I was intrigued enough by the dystopian Gotham to want more of Scott Snyder’s take on this tale, this month I find I’m not so sure. I like seeing Bruce learning his Batman lessons, and not always getting them right. I like the machinations between Kane and Nygma, and the jolly horror of Red Hood, but Bruce’s fight with Alfred is definitely something I’ve seen before. It’s a lot like the conversation between Bruce and Alfred in Batman Begins, when Bruce comes home from school. Hell, Bruce even refers to Wayne Manor as a mausoleum in both. I’m torn on the issue; I like the new aspects of the story Snyder is introducing, but I find myself skimming through the parts I know already because I’ve seen it before.
One thing I can’t get enough of is Greg Capullo’s art. He plays with negative space a lot, incorporating the space between the panels into the story. My absolute favorite, though, is his depiction of the encounter between Bruce and Edward Nygma.
Not only has he fit the dialogue into the board that Nygma is describing, it’s also a great representation of what it’s like talking to the Riddler. A conversation with someone who speaks only in riddles is an exercise in talking in circles, and that is exactly what we have. And as the chat spirals into the center, Nygma breaks the fourth wall a bit, acknowledging the way we are seeing the conversation with, “I’m afraid we’ve no more room…” It’s not the wacky fourth wall destruction one would find in, say, Deadpool, but that’s what makes it so strong. It makes the reader wonder for just a second, “Wait, does he know I’m here? Is the Riddler so smart he’s worked out my existence?” It’s visually arresting and damned clever. Also, did you notice the silhouette of a statue with a crook staff in the background behind Nygma? Scott, is it just me, or does that look an awful lot like the Riddler’s question mark staff?
Scott: Wow, I didn’t notice that at first glance, but you’re totally right. Nice bit of foreshadowing on Capullo’s part. Although, is it technically foreshadowing if the story takes place in the past and we already know Nygma becomes Riddler? Is there another term for that? Past-foreshadowing? Just…shadowing? What if the foreshadowing occurs in the form of a shadow, as it does here? Could we call it shadow-shadowing? Let’s hold that thought-
There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the art in this issue. I really like the way they’re handling Red Hood. He’s a faceless villain who wears a reflective helmet, so when you look at him you see yourself- and Capullo makes the most of that illusion. Throw in the fact that Bruce is into disguises these days and you get some really wacky effects. There’s a moment where we’re looking at Red Hood, seeing Bruce, and perceiving it as Cobblepot. Far out!
There’s no denying that Bruce is the vehicle for this issue- he’s in every scene, although he’s not really the star of any one of them. Batman is known for its wealth of terrific characters and villains, and Red Hood, Alfred and Nygma each get a moment to shine over the course of issue. Unlike Shelby, I actually enjoyed the scene between Alfred and Bruce most (the board game thing was cool, but I didn’t love Nygma’s riddles, they were either too on-the-nose or simply didn’t make much sense.) I was shocked to see Alfred call Bruce a coward. I’ve gotten used to an Alfred who only wants Bruce to be safe and happy, so to see him standing up for the Wayne family image in opposition to Bruce, even telling Bruce his parents would be ashamed of his actions, added a surprising new dimension to his character. I knew Alfred was wise and keenly observant, but I didn’t realize he had so much passion. I like it.
Shelby, I totally get what you’re saying about the retreading of certain origin story details leaving you with mixed feelings. What I like, though, is that Zero Year reads less like a typical, clunky origin story, and more like an extended story of Bruce as a young man- an area of Batman history that hasn’t been explored to death. It’s interesting to see Bruce with all his training behind him but hardly any real experience under his belt. He’s cocky, he’s making mistakes, he’s getting slapped. It’s a fun time!
And you’ve got to love that cliffhanger ending…that takes place six years ago. Could Bruce be dead?? Who knows!? That would be a unique spin on the Batman origin story, if Bruce just dies. I’d love to see Snyder work his way out of that one.
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?