Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Greg Capullo
Inks by Jonathan Glapion
Color by FCD
Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
22 pgs / Color / $2.99 US
With last month’s issue, the series inspired pangs of genuine anxiety and dread. Batman had stumbled onto a deep conspiracy made all-to possible by an ancestor’s superstitious measures. Since the 19th century, the enigmatic Court of the Owls furnished secret lairs in the otherwise unoccupied 13th floors of Gotham’s skyscrapers, vacancies necessitated by human cowardice. That Batman could have operated out of the city for so long without knowledge of this vast deception is downright spooky. Especially since Snyder depicts Bruce as so competent.
It’s not the kind of revelation that suggests Batman totally goofed, but it’s enough of an oversight for the character himself to experience a flurry of emotions ranging from guilt to betrayal. Further, it’s the kind of development that doesn’t reek of obtuse retcon or revision. Longtime readers can look at the Owl Court as a covert presence in Gotham older than any of the city’s popular rogues. Their motives aren’t entirely clear at this point in the story, but there’s something exceptionally frightening about this kind of antagonist. That’s saying something when you consider the series opened with images of Batman’s previous foes, an entirely gruesome lot. While the Joker remains the greatest villain out there–just ask Snyder–Batman’s gained some really scary rogues in the past couple years. Take Morrison’s sadistic Professor Pyg or this year’s haunting James Gordon Jr.
What most impresses about Snyder’s two spectacular Batman runs in 2011 is that he’s deftly balanced the ratio of horror to detection, the two pillars of the character’s strength. However sensational the carnage–Jr.’s secret cellar; one whale of a coffin–that mayhem is tempered by thoughtful and articulate scenes of police work. Morrison certainly played with mystery and deduction, but the character hasn’t really done this much actual sleuthing since Dini’s tenure on Detective Comics. Globetrotting Batman and the larger DCU’s omniscient Batman absolutely have their charms, but this is the core. Equal emphasis on the Bat and the Man.
And in this issue, the Bat and the Boy.
Here Capullo gets to flex his considerable muscles on a gorgeous flashback scene from Bruce’s childhood. Or his youth, we should probably say. Childhood ended in that alley before the pearls hit the pavement. Young Bruce investigates his parents murder in the weeks that followed. And of course he did. He starts taking note of all the stone owls watching over the city and locates what he believes to be the headquarters of the fabled Owl Court. The boy ends up in trouble, but not because he’s stumbled on a chamber of cloaked cultists and a sacrificial altar à la Young Sherlock Holmes. He merely ends up trapped in a dusty old storage space. Dangerous, but perfectly innocuous relative to his later exploits. He was a kid. He wasn’t ready. I’m reminded of a Joe Meno novel, or at least a Joe Meno title. The Boy Detective Fails. We’re so used to these irrepressible Holmesian detectives incapable of fumbling. But even Bruce wasn’t Encyclopedia Brown. He didn’t get his man that time. Bruce should have a few failures. Jason’s one. The full circumstances of his parents’ murder is another. Let him scramble a bit in his own title. It’s not just necessary. It’s reasonable. It also keeps the myth alive. Sad as it is, Batman is an exorcising and exercising of demons, for the salvation of a man as well as his city.
Then you’ve got Dick. I’m tempted to wish Snyder might try his hand at writing Damian and Tim a bit more. He has such a good handle on the whole cast from Bruce to Gordon to Alfred. But there’s also something pretty special going on with the scenes of interaction between Bruce and Dick. Two old friends. A different relationship that Bruce and Gordon, but still collaborators and consummate detectives. I’ll always wish Dick’s time as Batman could’ve run a bit longer. Even years longer. But he’s still very much present in this Batman run, and both he and Bruce are written so well. It’s smart that the focus here is on these two. It’s given Bruce the room needed to reclaim his mantle and become the emotional core of this title again. And what a terrific story to usher him back into our consciousness as the Batman while still treating Dick’s time under the cowl with the respect it truly deserves.
Aside from an unclear panel or two, the book is as beautiful as ever. Capullo renders the flashback sequence in a series of shadowy woodcut images. It’s murky with heavy blacks and overwhelming purples, distressed with scratches and scuff marks like a stack of old photos used to prop up a filing cabinet. It’s so subdued and haunting in comparison to his equally impressive action scenes that it bears special consideration. Did you worry that Snyder’s Batman would lose any subtlety or deftness under Capullo? There are still those who might balk at the Rushmore chins and other visual excesses, but if you haven’t already been fully won over by the man’s skill, this issue shows true range. The only question left is just how many years of indentured servitude Snyder’s promised Satan in return for the consistently masterful artists with which he’s been paired on each and every project. Bendis and Morrison have worked with some lackluster draftsmen. Snyder’s never had that problem. Suspicious in a fashion so supernatural it could only be explained as infernal intervention.
Call it hyperbole if you like, but this is another Batman story–the second in 2011–that we’ll be talking about for quite some time. More of this, please. Until the Devil comes to collect. And then I hope there’s some stashed in a drawer somewhere.
Story: 5 / Art: 4.5 / Overall: 5
(Out of 5 Stars)