REVIEW: Batman #3

Batman #3

Batman #3

Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Greg Capullo
Inks by Jonathan Glapion
Color by FCD
Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt

32 pages / Color / $2.99

DC Comics

If Batman wields any power, it’s in the weakness of his enemies. It’s in his awareness of their fears and his own capacity to assume the role of their walking nightmares. Just as Jesse Quick taps into the Speed Force by visualizing that specific algebraic formula–3×2(9YZ)4A–Bruce Wayne becomes a larger-than life presence through conviction to his defining mantra: “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot.” ┬áHe’s a world-class detective and martial artist, true. But it’s his confidence in the insecurity of his enemies–of the frailty of the human psyche–that allows him his perch. That criminals aren’t the sole segment of the population clinging to superstition means that the Batman is also demonized by those he works to protect. It’s part and parcel with his M.O. But in Batman #3, Scott Snyder takes the ramifications of Batman’s near-symbiotic relationship with superstition to the next level.

What if the same irrational fears Batman relies upon to eke out justice in Gotham also serve to betray him? What if steps taken long before his birth–all inspired by superstition–offer advantages to his adversaries? Such is the situation in this Court of the Owls story line, wherein the secret pseudo-Masonic society of children’s nursery rhymes and urban legends turns out to be a very real force in Gotham’s clockwork. It’s practically the nightmare Bruce Wayne never knew he had, or never acknowledged as a motivator, that even the highest offices in his troubled city were influenced not just by the depths of the underworld, but by an unseen and untouchable presence beyond his own far-reaching comprehension. I won’t reveal exactly how intimate a betrayal the Court and Bruce’s own ancestor’s have wrought because that’s part of the sinister joy of the issue. It’s not even a case of corruption in the Wayne family. Just simple frailty. But the proximity and extent of this dark secret is truly chilling when you pause and consider the ironies. It borders on oldschool Shyamalan, it’s likely become readily apparent that the concept has given me the kind of writing boner that may well necessitate an awkward visit to the ER in a trench coat.

Let’s talk about Capullo for a bit. While this issue doesn’t offer the artist the same bombast as the debut, not every installment can or should deliver us unto Arkham Asylum and its colorful horde of rogues. Capullo really shines when given the opportunity to draw a Killer Croc or a hyperbolically rotund fat guy, and while that kind of expression is absent from this issue, the artist shows he’s perfectly capable of something more nuanced. There’s action here, but it’s more a story of detection and investigation. The level of creepiness in his portraits of the Court are closer to gothic horror, bringing him closer to what Jock and Francavilla were doing earlier this year with James Jr. and those sinister glasses. The story also necessitates a lot of visual interest in terms of transitions and how we see things. More on that in a moment.

The reveals here are also impressive because Snyder’s again done his homework, employing an entire Snapple vending machine’s worth of trivia on bats, owls, and architecture. I certainly understand the criticism that these factoids have become a prevalent hallmark in his scripts, sometimes jarring readers out of the narrative. But as is often the case, the applied research pays off tremendously here. Batman operates like a detective, and his understanding of an owl’s behavior and the way a tall building is built leads to some compelling deduction and synergy between theme and plotting. That’s the real eureka moment of this issue and maybe of the series so far. Your mileage may vary, but for this reader/writer, it’s the kind of poetry that only comes about by the glow of a very blue moon.

Let’s break for a cold shower.

And we’re back. Let’s talk about motifs. Each issue in this serial has its own individual narrative device or frame. In the first issue it was that monologue concerning “Gotham is…” The second was bookended with Bruce Wayne’s fall from the tower in the wake of the Talon’s assassination attempt. Here, there’s a visual motif bridging the past and present and serving as transition between points of view.

From Batman #3 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Eyes.

A police officer framed by the circular portal of an open manhole becomes the ominous lights of an oncoming train or perhaps the glowing eyes of a distant owl (animal or mask). That image transitions to an extreme closeup on a human eye, which could be Alan Wayne’s in 1922 or Luka Volk’s in modern day. The figurative camera pulls out and it’s now certainly Volk’s. He’s observing the swift approach of an incoming train. Head on. Fear brought bout Alan Wayne and Luka Volk to this place. The eye motif returns near the end of the issue, this time as a circular panel shape in the layout, unmistakably framed as the watchful eye of Talon, the enforcer of the Owl Court. This sequence is all about voyeurism and violation. Those eyes contribute an additional layer of complexity, hinting at the idea that Batman is being surveilled while in the act of invasion. It’s akin to seeing your own reflection in another’s eye. In fact, when Bruce examines a trinket emblazoned with the Court’s owl symbol, we see it reflected in our hero’s eye. This eye-as-portal motif is made scarier because the Talon and Court remain silent. Enigmas. Those blank, wide eyes personify an omnipresent observer.

Okay, I’m apparently writing a theme on T.J. Eckleburg and the eyes of judgment now. Let’s move on.

It’s all to easy to become jaded or desensitized when reading comics on a weekly basis. Maybe especially superhero comics. Twists don’t always register because we’re trained to expect them. Deception and conspiracy are actual tropes. Think about that. It’s disheartening that some of the most surprising twists or reveals are such not because of their narrative impact but because the publisher has seemingly taken a big strategic gambit. a business decision that could anger shareholders or individual creators. So it’s absolutely refreshing and worthy of celebration when a regular issue of a comic, not even a debut or milestone installment, offers a new layer of complexity to the mythos. Snyder did it before in his Detective Comics run when he pulled James Jr. from deep in the Jenga tower and placed that brick up top. Here, he’s doing something of the reverse, adding a new brick to an opportune space toward the foundation. The sudden existence of the Court of the Owls nursery rhyme and the assertion that it’s so ubiquitous to the schoolyards of Gotham may challenge the suspension of disbelief, but in this issue they’ve become a formidable force because of Batman’s ignorance. Of course Bruce hasn’t paid the rhyme any heed in the past. He’s too busy posing as a superstition himself.

Superman was born out of Krypton and it’s Kryptonite that now serves as his weakness. Batman was born out of superstition. And it’s the superstition harbored by his fathers and those he protects that could ultimately undo him now.

Batman has been patrolling the night for decades, so long that you’d think the entire concept had been mined to exhaustion long ago. Snyder more than manages to find unexplored avenues in darkest Gotham and contribute new levels of complexity to one of the greatest urban legends to slink out of its shadows.

Story: 5 / Art: 4.5 / Overall: 5

(Out of 5 Stars)

Comments

  1. This book has been absolutely fantastic so far. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Capullo’s art at all, but about midway through issue #1, I was completely sold. I get a sense of him channeling a bit of pre-crazy Frank Miller with this cover too.

  2. “I certainly understand the criticism that these factoids have become a prevalent hallmark in his scripts, sometimes jarring readers out of the narrative.”

    Its interesting to even hear there are criticisms for this. Never feels jarring for me. Instead, it heightens the experience. More often than not, most writers seem to make up on-the-spot “facts” to serve the story. But with Snyder actually employing genuine facts, you really do get a sense of, well I don’t want to use the term “realism”, but the world does feel more robust. That even though this is a world populated by men in tights fighting other men in tights, there’s still a structure and history to it. These things don’t just come into being.

    • It’s a difficult criticism to explain, but it’s one I’ve heard and even felt at times. Difficult because, as you said, it’s also one of the cool things about his scripts. I really like the amount of research he puts on the page and agree that it adds depth to the story. Especially for characters that are detectives (Batman) or scientists (Alec Holland). But it’s not always expressed subtly. Because it’s a recurring feature of his writing, these factoids tend to stand out. We expect them and we know them when we see them. So in a way, it’s a reminder of the authorial voice. And that takes us out of the moment, even if it’s relevant and impressive.

      I’ve been talking to a writer friend of mine, occasionally emailing back and forth about the new 52 and this book in particular. He pointed out to me that while he really enjoys Batman and Swamp Thing, there’s also a structural pattern or formula he’s noticed; each script opening with a character’s introspection. Maybe a memory from their past. And the issue’s theme arises out of this reflection. It’s a device that totally works, but it’s become noticeable. In this issue, there’s certainly research showing it’s hand as well as an introspective monologue relating to the theme, but the structure has changed and the research is more relevant to the plot progression than ever before. What Batman knows about architecture and owls actually informs his detective work.

      Anyway, it’s kind of a minor nitpick really, but since I’m extolling the work, I figured it a fair concession to say it’s a great mode of storytelling, but that there are some seams showing and the pattern *sometimes* distracts from the illusion.

    • I’ve noticed the pattern as well, but with the reboot/relaunch/rewhateveryouwanttocallit going on, I just took it at face value as Snyder using the opportunity to properly introduce the world(s) he’ll be building in the coming months.

    • I personally enjoy the “facts” even though I agree that it increases my awareness of the author’s voice. It reminds me of the days where I’d learn all sorts of new vocabulary from comics. Or for a more specific example, the way Warren Ellis will often include bits of real-world bleeding edge technology into his stories.

      What’s interesting about Snyder’s facts in Batman and Swamp Thing is that this isn’t something I notice in American Vampire.

  3. FYI: DC is expanding its Combo Packs to include Digital Downloads of both Action Comics and Batman. Also as of the Jan-April books DC will be offering variant covers for Aquaman, Batman:The Dark Knight, Batwoman, Detective Comics, Green Lantern:The New Guardians, Stormwatch, Suerman, Swamp Thing, Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. These books will be offered with 1 for 25 covers featuring the standard edition cover in a wraparound format. I am a big DC fan but I am beginning to believe that this relaunch is a throwback to the ’80s when every book had a variant. I will probably just pick up the Digital Download copies.

  4. This stands as the best DC book out there right now. This, Animal Man and Swamp Thing are the books i look most forward to reading every month. Snyder has taken a well known character in Batman and created a new mythos around the Wayne name. It leaves the reader with an honest fascination into a history we already know so well and breathes new life into the overall mystery of Batman. Snyder is a master of all things good.

  5. This was absolutely awesome. 5’s across the board.

  6. Great review, Paul.
    One more motif for ya: Circles.

    See the manhole at the beginning matches with the Owl crest, and later the ‘manhole’ Batman creates to enter the Owl cave? The circles are the entrance into the Owl world, I think. Also strongly reminiscent of eyes of course. Will have to do a re-read with that in mind, I think. What a great issue.

  7. Wasn’t completely buying into the Snyder hype for the first two issues. I was entertained and actually enjoyed his Gates of Gotham stuff…but wasn’t blown out of the water like everyone else. Then Issue three happened. I was completely sucked in by the 13th floor and the whole nesting custom of The Court of Owls. The pictures of the Owl families were haunting and caused chills I seldom experience while reading a comic book. This is hot. Give it up for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.

  8. Just wanted to tell you that this was a great write up Paul. Thanks!

    I’m still not all that big of a fan of Capullo but I absolutely love what Snyder is doing. I guess I just wish Capullo could make people look different from each other. Just because two guys are the same age doesn’t mean they have to have the exact same bone structure. It wasn’t that big of a problem in this issue though since we only had a couple shots of Bruce next to Lincoln.

    I can’t decide if this story has less or more impact because of the reboot. On one hand I think the fact that Bruce hasn’t been Batman for all that long kind of makes the Court of Owls less shocking. They haven’t been eluding Batman for so many years after all. On the other hand the story makes more since in the reboot. If it was the old DCU and this Court of Owls had been laying in wait for 20 some years to take out batman that would seem kind of silly. With the n new DCU he hasn’t been around as long and maybe only now is he a big enough problem for the Court to do something about him.

    Either way this story has me wanting the next issue big time. Can’t wait.

    Snyder is blowing this out of the water and I can’t wait to read the next installment.