Batman 23

Alternating Currents: Batman 23, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 23, originally released August 14th, 2013.

Drew: Origin stories are a fact of life for comic book fans. Love them or hate them, they’ve become an obligate part of superhero storytelling. Every movie franchise, every hard reset, every soft relaunch, needs to retell the origin story with a new spin (you know, to justify the retelling), folding new elements into those of previous iterations. The result is a strange, multi-generational chimera, cannibalized from every version of the story that’s come before. The results can range from beautiful to grotesque but the best manage to pay homage to the past while pointing a way forwards. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo tackle a seminal moment of Batman’s history in Batman 23, perfectly balancing the admiration and innovation, building to a climax perfectly designed to excite Batman fans.

The issue opens as Bruce is attacked by the Red Hood Gang in his Park Row brownstone. In a hallucinatory sequence, we see Bruce’s rescue from his first tumble into the cave spliced into the attack, creating a strange sense of timelessness — a sense that is carried through Bruce’s slow escape to Wayne Manor. Snyder seems to be willfully playing with out expectations here, as each successive step brings us closer to Thomas’ study and the fateful moment when Bruce decides to become a bat.

OVER!?

The scene finally coheres around the “present” of Bruce collapsing in the manor (brilliantly conveyed by FCO Plascencia’s subtle color work), taking us to the edge of our seats waiting for the other shoe to drop…and Snyder cuts away. When we return to Bruce, he’s already in recovery on Alfred’s operating table — something that comes after the pivotal “yes, father” scene in Year One. Actually, we never see that happen in Year One — we just kind of take it for granted that Alfred is there to patch Bruce up. This scene brilliantly corrects that oversight, giving Alfred a more personal investment in Bruce beyond blind loyalty. It’s an element that is almost always present in Batman stories, but I don’t think has ever been shown to quite such an effect in an origin.

As Bruce drifts away from that conversation, the confusion of space and time returns. He makes his way to the study, but this time with the 3D Prometheus mapping device from issue 21. Not content to simply allow a bat in the window, Bruce turns Thomas’ study into the Batcave, creating a moment so rich in foreshadowing and father issues that I couldn’t process them all before Bruce finally turned to see the bat perched on his father’s bust. Sensing the importance of that moment, Bruce lowers himself into the armchair, and delivers those fateful words from Detective Comics 33. It’s enough to get any Batman fan’s blood pumping (and I’ll admit to having actual shivers at this moment), but Snyder and Capullo take care to smash the mapping device, leaving only Bruce, the statue, and the bat.

BATMAN

It’s an incredibly powerful moment, made all the more exciting by Snyder’s circuitous route in getting there. Far from obligatory, Snyder manages to add more weight to the scene, defying our expectations in the most satisfying way possible.

It’s a personal moment for Bruce, but the story does shift away from him to catch up with Philip Kane and Edward Nygma. The scene is pretty boilerplate — Kane turns on Nygma for sending the Red Hood Gang for Bruce, but Nygma is characteristically a few steps ahead — but that doesn’t stop the artistic team from pulling out all of the stops. The warm oranges of the fire and the desolate blues of Wayne Manor are contrasted perfectly in Nygma’s signature color scheme of green and purple, lending the scene a garish, cartoony quality.

funfetti!

Bright colors and self-satisfied smirks might seem out of place in such a meditative issue, but it speaks to Snyder’s commitment to the post-modern take on the character. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to accuse Snyder of being Grant Morrison, but he wears his influences on his sleeve, and they clearly range from everything from Frank Miller to Bruce Timm.

Patrick, I loved the holy living hell out of this issue, but this might be one of those instances where I traded my objectivity in for some full-hearted Batman fandom. I know we both trust the Snyder-Capullo Batman baseline as pretty hight, but is this as seminal as I suspect it might be? Are you willing to accept this origin as your Batman origin going forward (or at least until the next one comes around)?

Patrick: Perfectly willing — yes. As you mention, it doesn’t so much contradict the letter or the spirit of what we’ve seen before, but it does take a broader view of the term ‘origin’ — and it does so without losing the psychological potency of the original. Drew already did a pretty good job of connecting this incident to Alfred’s decision to aid Bruce in all this crime fighting nonsense, but I was struck by how much Red Hood claims to have in common with Batman (without even knowing “Batman” yet). I’m getting ahead of myself.

Throughout Zero Year, we’re seeing Bruce as a sort of proto-Batman, and Red Hood as a sort of proto-Joker. Red Hood does the unthinkable and claims the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne as a transformative moment for him. I know there have been a couple sloppy attempts to weave the Joker in to that incident — most famously in Tim Burton’s Batman, which casts Joker as the gunman himself. That’s just a shitty coincidence: there’s no emotional honesty there. But I love the way Red Hood frames their death here:

Changed my life forever. Martha and Thomas Wayne. Scions of the city, do-gooders, titans. Gunned down by a nobody. Over nothing. For no reason. […] Stare into it and try to find meaning. You’ll go mad. All you can do is fear and survive. It’s the truth. […] We wear the red hood to court that wolf, rather than hide. Eat us, we say. Eat us all.

It’s a surprisingly understandable reaction to the crime in Gotham — a slightly more sophisticated “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Then we see Bruce literally reflected in the hood (as Scott pointed out last month). But Bruce’s saving grace? He’s spitting in the fucking face of that fear.

Bruce Wayne spits in the face of Red Hood

The idea that they would both be products of, not only the same city, but the same event is so compelling it kinda hurts. And it all happens without dumb coincidences — that whole “…by nobody. For nothing. For no reason” thing holds true. Red Hood justifies shooting both faces in the Wayne portrait with the toast “Here’s to symmetry.” What a beautiful way for Snyder to toast the observation that Batman and Joker have a common point of origin.

Drew mentioned how layering the Batcave over Thomas Wayne’s study makes for a loaded series of images, but it’s also remarkable just how beautiful it is. Because we already understand some of the story beats here, and because disorientation is part of the presentation, Snyder steps back, and lets Capullo do much of this storytelling visually. Capullo’s no slouch, and while Snyder may have prepackaged some emotionally fertile images, much of the awe these pages inspire comes from the execution.

Bruce Wayne at the Window

It’s no wonder Drew got chills. I could read pages upon pages of windows that look like they’re made of cave walls — just so long as the mapping device neglects to project anything over the curtains. That shit is poetic.

Plus, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen Bruce Wayne’s buttcrack. Greg Capullo’s a genius, that’s what I’m saying.

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?

25 comments on “Batman 23

  1. It’s getting hard to find new ways to praise Synder/Capullo. Here are some facts though: Since taking over Batman the book has been a Top 3 book every month but two when it slipped all the way the #4. The lowest selling issues (#12 Aug-12)sold 125,000+ copies.

    • I’m most impressed that they keep finding new ways to challenge themselves. Carrying on the same quality while tackling one of the most sacred cows in Batmandom is an incredible feat. I know I dropped the “instant classic” superlative with the Court of Owls, but this might actually become this generations Year One (I know that sounds like an exaggeration — I totally hear it that way, too — but this issue is really fucking good).

  2. Anyone else notice in the Kane and Nygma scene the question mark in Nygma’s hand? Or am I looking way too much into that?

    • Well I notice it NOW. Thanks for pointing that out, that’s an awesome little touch. I don’t think you’re reading too much into it, Capullo throws in stuff like that all the time, although I’m at a bit of a loss for examples at the moment. I’m sure they’ll come to me as soon as I stop trying to think of them.

      (I do also love how Wayne Tower has bat ears, but I don’t know if Capullo established that or if someone else did.)

  3. I really dug this issue on all fronts. I remember hearing from someone at a con who said that Snyder said his Joker was partially inspired by the Tim Burton one and that makes sense in this issue.

    What I really like about all of this is the stuff involving The Riddler. It’s one of the villains Snyder has the perfect voice for imo, and since it is my favorite bat-rogue it’s nice to see some development towards his character.

    • At the panel at the Boston Comic Con, Snyder recounted a conversation he’d had with Paul Dini, where Snyder praised Dini’s Riddler stuff, and wondered why the Riddler is often neglected. Paul Dini’s response (bearing in mind that I’m paraphrasing a paraphrase here) was basically, “have you ever tried writing a riddle?” It’s understandably hard, but Snyder is more than up to the task — he’s one of the best when it comes to writing smart characters (which is why he’s so good at Batman in the first place).

      • He sort of described his pitch as Riddler sees riddles as ancient battles of wits and going back to folklore and mythology, you were challenged to find a simple answer to a complicated question. Riddler sees himself as making Gotham smarter through his riddles, and if they fail to answer them, Gotham will go crashing down in flames.

        I think it’s a pretty neat pitch

  4. This “Zero Year” story is, so far, one of my faves from Snyder/Capullo. The riddle game last issue was mind-blowing. And yes, the cave hologram over the study’s walls was an amazing visual metaphor. While “Death of the Family” was a bit disappointing, this story seems to be going places that are very satisfying. And the related backup stories by James Tynion and Rafael Albuquerque are doing a great job of reflecting parts of Bruce’s past that align with the main story.

    In all, I thought this issue was one of the best in the last 2 yrs.

    • Without a doubt, it’s up there with the best of this run. #1 and #6 stick in my mind as natural standouts, but I’m curious to hear what other folks’ favorites from this team are.

      • #3 – the scene at the end with all the Owl Nests on the thirteenth floors being discovered game me chills. #13 – the Joker’s return was fitfully terrifying, and I could hear Mark Hamill’s voice sneering at me the entire time. And #17 – perhaps an unpopular choice, but Snyder’s punchline struck me as brilliant, and as the only real way that story could be ended. He understands the Joker as much as he does Bruce.

        • Yeah, I’ll totally stand with 17. Joker’s punchline is so effective that it creates distance between the reader and Batman. AND WE LOVE BATMAN. Coupled with the loss of Robin like 2 weeks later, it was basically a perfect emotional storm.

        • Oh, man, I also loved the ending of #17. If nothing else, the slow zoom in on “Ha” (over the course of three panels) was a chilling way to conclude one of the darker Joker stories. Actually, Snyder’s run on Detective actually features an even scarier Joker (albeit in more of a supporting role) — I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already checked it out.

  5. The Red Hood and Bruce both being products of the same event – the murder of Bruce’s parents – is brilliant, as you pointed out, but I especially love how important it makes Bruce. We’re seeing two reactions to the event: the reaction of the boy whose parents were murdered and the reaction of the citizens of the city who idolized the boy’s parents. Many citizens react in fear: the best citizens of Gotham, pretty much unanimously agreed, can be shot down in an alley without so much as a second thought. It would be all too easy for Bruce to react in that same way.

    But that he doesn’t react that way speaks to something within Bruce that can’t be placed within someone. The spirit of Batman was always there, deep within Bruce. The fact that he didn’t run and hide or turn to anger and fear induced crime as a result of that event speaks to that. And oh man I love that.

    In a medium so packed with great events that create great men, it’s nice to see hints that, for just this once, it was a great man who made the most out of a great, if tragic, event.

  6. I’ve noticed some people online are already freaking out at the prospect of Joker having any sort of origin, and I’m wondering if Snyder will do something like have Red Hood One fall into the chemical bath along with another Red Hood who could be anyone, or introduce the possibility the Red Hood who falls into the chemicals was being remotely commanded like Harley sort of was in Death of the Family, to make it more ambiguous. I personally would have no problem with Red Hood One being Joker, but with all the hubbub about ambiguity I do wonder if Snyder will give himself an out.

    • That’s interesting. I kinda feel like Red Hood One is kind of already Joker – right? He already talks just like him. The only real difference is that he’s got this gang behind him and they all sort of identify as the same thing: Red Hoods. It’ll be interesting to see how much Batman’s dismantling of the Red Hood gang will lead to the invention of the Joker persona. Or alternately, how much Snyder ignores it and just lets us draw our own conclusions.

      • Snyder’s been rather coy about Red Hood One though, and things that he has said on Twitter and in interviews lead me to believe that it’s not Joker, and is in fact some other character whose identity will blow our collective mind.

      • He definitely is pretty much the Joker already, and I actually enjoy that interpretation, but it seems like a lot of people want to have no idea of even the Joker’s personality before his bath. I think all that matters is we don’t find out his real name and face and full backstory, but others disagree. The “two hoods fall in with one body found” solution would allow for the possibility while still throwing those who want the Joker to be a total mystery a bone.

  7. Pingback: Batman 27 | Retcon Punch

  8. Pingback: Batman 37 | Retcon Punch

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s