Spencer: Although I haven’t been talking about it much (if only because I’d work myself into a frenzy it’d take hours to recover from), I’m absolutely livid about the injustices going on in Ferguson right now. A police force essentially militarizing and terrorizing an entire city to cover up the murder of a child is some straight-up supervillain level madness, but what’s worse is that no one in any positions of authority are doing anything about it. I’m legitimately having a hard time focusing on comics at the moment, but if there’s one book that can bring me some peace of mind right now, it’s Scott Snyder, Gerry Duggan, and Matteo Scalera’s Batman 34. Although the situation faced by the Meek’s victims isn’t exactly the same as the people of Ferguson’s, it’s hard not to see parallels in how both groups are looked down upon or considered unworthy of merit or compassion. This issue is a timely reminder to always treat everyone with dignity, but it’s also a showcase of the best sides of Batman’s personality; here he provides an example we should all aspire to.
It appears that some of Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ patients are going missing, but since many are homeless or run the risk of being arrested, it’s hard to know for sure; either way, she asks Batman to look into it, and he finds a murderer in a red truck who is systematically hunting down those who are forgotten by society. We never discover his name — he is referred to once as “the Meek”, but doesn’t mean for it to become his moniker — and he wants it that way; he preys on those society overlooks, hoping to thus remain unseen himself. Batman captures him and makes sure he can no longer remain anonymous by locking him in Joker’s cell at Arkham, a surefire way to make sure that everyone in town is talking about him, and a fitting fate for such a scumbag.
It’s chilling the way the Meek dehumanizes his victims. Whatever façade he may put on, his choice of victims isn’t just a pragmatic move; he often refers to them as “nobody”, and even worse, he doesn’t just despise them, he’s actively repulsed by the idea of treating the poor as people at all.
The situation in Ferguson right now is just as much about race as it is class, but the parallels are still uncanny. The authorities in Ferguson obviously find their citizens beneath them (there’s absolutely no attempt to hide their contempt), but the flagrantly public nature of their actions is a contrast to the Meek; he didn’t want to be known, but the authorities in Ferguson almost don’t seem to care if people know what they’re doing, as if they think nobody important is going to side against them. In both cases there’s the assumption that society at large has just as much disregard for their victims as they do.
Despite the valiant attempts of citizens and journalists, this is sadly seeming to be the case in real life, but since comics (thankfully) are wish fulfillment, we get the Batman, who in this issue displays not only more heroism but also more humanity than I’ve seen from the character in ages. Duggan gives us a Batman who “deputizes” a dog and cracks jokes, but also hangs around the unmarked graveyard because he needs to see the bodies of the otherwise forgotten victims. I’m moved by Batman’s compassion in this issue, but I think the most important aspect of his characterization is the way he calls himself out when he realizes that he too is guilty of overlooking these victims.
This is such an important scene. Batman isn’t perfect; the Meek’s victims were just as invisible to him as they were to society at large, but what’s important is that, when Batman realized that, he didn’t try to ignore it. Instead, he acknowledged his shortcoming and did everything he could to rectify his mistake. That’s an example we should all follow. Own up to your mistakes, admit when your privilege gives you advantages, and do everything you can to make things better.
This issue is so timely that it’s insane to think that it was finished weeks or even months ago, but that’s a sad sign of how screwed up the world is right now. We need more issues like this. I admit, though, that Snyder and Duggan’s story hit me in an intensely personal way here that it might not have for everybody else, but with that much baggage behind it I’m having a hard time thinking critically about all the details. Still I must, because artist Matteo Scalera and colorist Lee Loughridge deserve as much praise as possible. I mean, look at how cool that shot of the Batmobile I posted above is!
Indeed, Scalera’s dynamic, gritty artwork keeps the mood tense, and Loughridge’s colors are especially vital in this regard. Loughridge’s somber, limited palate is especially notable in the scene where the Meek confronts his boss at the graveyard; it’s the most depressing, desolate landscape I can remember seeing in ages, a fitting hideaway for the dregs of humanity. Scalera and Loughridge are at the top of their game especially in the following spread:
There’s really only four colors on the entire page, and Loughridge uses them to separate its three elements — Batman, the background, and the memories. The way Scalera has the memories situated, like they’re shooting through the skyline right alongside Batman, struggling to keep up, is unique and visually exciting. I cannot praise their work enough.
Drew, this is such an important, personal issue for me, and that makes me all the more curious about your experience with it. Did you find this one-off as timely as I did, or were you expecting something a little different after Zero Year?
Drew: I think this is exactly what we needed after Zero Year. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve enjoyed the past year of Batman immensely — I just think the space for in-depth social commentary is limited when the situation is so wholly fictional. It’s easy for Batman to fight for all of society when all of its structures have been toppled, but that kind of populism doesn’t have a parallel in the world as we know it. Heck, Zero Year didn’t even have any of the class warfare overtones that at least made The Dark Knight Rises feel at least a little topical. Again, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Zero Year — I think that Batman fighting for rich and poor alike allowed Snyder and Capullo to focus on elements more pertinent to that story — but it’s striking how easily Snyder and Duggan can bring socio-economics to the fore simply by reintroducing them to Gotham.
What’s truly striking about this issue is that Batman isn’t really any better equipped to deal with this than we are. That is, he can’t simply punch poverty in the face. Bruce Wayne may have more resources to help people in need than you or I do, but as far as simply being aware of their humanity — of doing what we can to help — that’s something we can all do equally (and maybe something we could all stand to do better. Indeed, even the technology he uses to crack the case is decidedly within reach — traffic cameras, a dog, mud analysis, and some good old-fashioned guesswork (digital masks notwithstanding).
Batman takes his blind spot extremely personally, which I think works to drive its importance home for the audience. Is it compassion or pride that makes Bruce care so much about a segment of society he may have forgotten? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter so long as his course of action is clear: he’ll never again allow a killer like this to pass under his radar. Dude hates crime — he doesn’t care who the victims are. That’s the take-home lesson for me: justice is only justice if it applies to everyone equally. It’s a message that’s hard to escape in modern society, but it’s one that seems to never quite sink in, so seeing it hit home with Batman is certainly refreshing.
Spencer, I think you’re right to note how different this Batman feels compared to what we saw in Zero Year. I think it was a smart choice to make this issue as different from Zero Year as possible, and bringing in a writer like Duggan was a very effective way to do that. Batman’s “joke” is a pretty weak pun — nothing like the one-liner onslaught we see Duggan crank out on Deadpool — but it’s so decidedly not what we’ve come to expect of this character, we’re as surprised as Border is.
Changing the tone artistically here is also huge. Spencer mentioned the Loughridge’s muted palette, but what’s truly remarkable about it is how much it contrasts the bright primary colors of FCO Plascencia’s work on Zero Year. That brings us down to Earth, but I think much of the grit comes from Scalera’s looser line work and assertive inking. I’m not sure there’s a panel in this issue that isn’t spattered with at least a few ink drops, which is decidedly different from Danny Miki’s tight, neat inking on Zero Year. It adds literal grit in making all of the settings look dirtier, but it also has the intriguing effect of making us aware of the method, perhaps even calling attention to the two-dimensionality of the page. I can save my wilder post-modern theories for the comments, but I think highlighting the fiction here only drives home the message of this issue more clearly: nobody is going to stand up for the poor if you don’t. It challenges us to be Batman, which I think is what a lot of fans aspire to be, anyway.
Suffice it to say, I also enjoyed the hell out of this issue. This is the first issue of Batman in the New 52 that felt like it had a message, and I’m impressed at how Snyder and Duggan were able to pull it off. It delivers the message naturally, without feeling pedantic or heavy-handed, and more importantly, it’s still an entertaining read. They’ve done Denny O’Neil proud.
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?