Suzanne: As a reader, I’m constantly shifting my understanding of “realism” in comics. I try to be mindful of my relationship with suspension of disbelief, although the line between credible and ridiculous is a subjective thing. Some people look for flaws and inconsistencies in storytelling while others are just looking to be entertained. Superboy Prime’s punch through reality not withstanding, I usually am able to fully transport myself into the world of fantasy. This isn’t necessarily easy in a universe where a man can harness a ring of willpower and befriend a talking alien chipmunk in the same panel.
Can something be too over-the-top for comics? In Batman 35, Scott Snyder pushes Bruce Wayne’s abilities to the edge of credulity. His first exchange with Wonder Woman alone should completely debilitate (if not potentially paralyze) him. At the same time, it’s very satisfying to see him fight most of the Justice League and tackle the age-old nerd question: can Batman really beat every superhero?
In what appears to be a chemical attack, gas descends over Gotham City’s downtown in the shape of an arena. Batman emerges in a badass-looking armored suit and throws down the gauntlet against an unknown foe. Did this remind anyone else of a sleeker version of Paul Giamatti’s Rhino suit from Amazing Spider-Man 2? Then things flash back to Bruce recovering from Scarecrow’s fear toxin and having visions of a post-apocalyptic battle alongside Bluebird and Lark. When he wakes up, Bruce cracks a few jokes with Alfred and Julia Pennyworth in their new Bat Base (formerly a Court of Owls’ hideout). The scene shifts jarringly as Wonder Woman breaks through the window and (literally) pummels Bruce into the ground. She then threatens to kill him and almost leaves him for dead, despite Bruce donning his armored suit somewhere mid-battle.
Compare that to a whole six pages devoted to Wonder Woman. If I were an Aquaman fan, I might complain about how easily he’s dispatched. Eventually Batman is completely outmatched by Superman, who Greg Capullo renders as unnervingly alien and powerful with bright red eyes. The big reveal at the end comes from left field, when all of them begin to laugh that creepy Joker laugh. I didn’t see that one coming at all. Brainiac? Darkseid? Maybe they could be behind this. But the attack seems a little too coordinated and high level for The Joker. I picture him as more of a chaotic force than a tactician. Is this just a bigger part of Bruce’s dream? Or has The Joker managed to brainwash most of the Justice League? Snyder certainly has my interest piqued for the next issue. Horror is a genre that is firmly within his wheelhouse.
I’m not alone in saying that the artwork on this book is consistently excellent. But I would definitely count this issue as one of my favorites because of how well Capullo handles such a large cast. He makes Wonder Woman look fierce and capable, matching her sheer aggression and remorselessness. Aquaman looks regal and mature. The Flash is sleek and his motion feels kinetic; Capullo draws the Flash from the perspective of Batman, as he comes at him in a blur. I’m a little disappointed about Cyborg and Green Lantern’s absence, but I’m hoping they make an appearance in a future issue or that there’s a story reason for their exclusion.
Taylor, I didn’t even touch on the backup issue. Did it creep you out as much as it did me? Were you surprised by the big reveal as well? Do you feel it’s too soon for The Joker’s return to Snyder and Capullo’s run?
Taylor: That’s a great question, Suzanne, made more so by the fact that we don’t even know if we are dealing with reality or not. My gut tells me that we can’t be dealing with the Joker just quite yet. After all that’s transpired with the Joker in the past year or so, it just seems like it would be jumping the shark (or bat-spraying the shark, if you will) to have him returning so soon. Coming off of an emotional high, readers need a let down of sorts. After all that’s happened with Batman recently, I think the readers of the series could benefit from some good ol’ fashion fun. I think Scott Snyder is savvy enough to realize this and has sorted things out properly.
I think there’s plenty of evidence to support this besides Snyder’s ability as a writer. As you mentioned Suzanne, there are a couple times in this issue where time and logic seem to skip a beat. This issue is particularly apparent when Wonder Woman deals what should be a killing stroke to Batman only to have him be fully back in Bat-Action a few frames later. Additionally, Bruce enters his high-priced gear in what is essentially a blink of an eye. While these skips may seem odd to us, we’re actually more used to them then we think. In our dreams these things happen all of the time — I’m at home and then suddenly I’m school with no pants. There’s no logic to it, but in the dream it makes perfect sense. Having had it established earlier in the issue that Bruce is still feeling the effects of Scarecrow’s hallucinogen, it doesn’t require a huge leap in logic to make the assumption that we’re dealing with a dream here.
Of course dreams easily turn to nightmare with just a simple twist of the right screw. In this case the twist all revolves around Bruce’s obsession/fear with/of the Joker. What makes his presence in the dream palpable isn’t his appearance, as we never see hide nor hair of him. Rather, and perhaps more indicative of Bruce’s fear, is how we see him creep in through the edges of reality. This foreboding is rendered beautifully by Capullo’s artwork when we get the final reveal of Superman’s face.
It’s a wonderfully hideous combination of goodness and evil. We have Clark’s sweet baby blues on display but they are shadowed over by sinister, Joker-like brows. Superman’s wavy locks, usually the swoon-inducers of Lois Lane, fall across his brow with a disheveled madness. His square jaw, a signifier of heroes the world over, serves only to extenuate his ghastly grin — the calling card of the green haired menace. Taken all together it’s a wonderfully insidious take on America’s first superhero.
Later, in the backup, the Joker once again is the subject of nightmares. Of course these are more twisted since they come from the dreams of the mentally disturbed. The art of Kelly Jones in this issue is perfect for the content as her designs lend the Joker a demonic aspect befitting what the characters in the issue believe him to be.
Taken with the issue major, it certainly seems like the Joker is poised for a comeback of the most devilish sort. Still, I just can’t believe that to be quite true, but that’s maybe what makes the possibility so nightmarish for both Batman and the reader alike.
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