Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by GREG CAPULLO and JONATHAN GLAPION
Cover by GREG CAPULLO
Variant cover by ANDY KUBERT
B&W variant cover by GREG CAPULLO
Size: 32 pages
Batman has many wonderful toys. To aid in his obsessive and never-ending war on crime he has gadgets of all shapes and sizes. But his greatest weapon cannot be found hanging in the Batcave or in a compartment of his utility belt. No, Batman’s greatest weapon is his mind.
The only way to truly defeat Batman is to break his mind.
I love stories where the villain goes after Batman’s mind. He’s crazy enough as it is, so pushing him over the edge into madness usually isn’t that difficult. I remember fondly the story that ran in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight in which Batman got addicted to the Venom drug. Sure, the addiction was partly physical, but when I close my eyes I can still picture the pages where Alfred had to lock Bruce up in the Batcave until he defeated his mental addiction. And the of course, there was the Black Glove storyline that Grant Morrison wrote a few years ago in which a shadowy group of baddies banded together to attack Batman mentally.
And that leads us to The Court of Owls and the current predicament that Batman finds himself in. You might recall in the last issue that in the course of his investigating this mysterious Court of Owls, Batman was captured and awoke to find himself in a giant maze or, as the creepily owl masked people on the giant video screen called it, The Labyrinth. As Batman #5 opens up it’s been 8 days since that moment and no one in Gotham City has seen hide nor hair of its Caped Crusader. Where has he been? What has he been up to?
Going crazy in The Labyrinth, that’s what.
For 8 days Batman has been trapped in a David Lynch fever dream. He’s in a maze. No food. The only water is drugged. There are periods of disorienting light and deep darkness. Every time he turns a corner he finds himself in a room with strange objects and creepy photographs. Mysterious people in creepy masks taunt him. And then just when he things he has everything sussed out and that he has gained an upper hand on The Court of Owls, he ends up right back where he started. (It is a maze, after all.)
Oh, and The Court of Owls’ badass enforcer, The Talon, is in there with him and he’s feeling quite stabby.
But The Talon’s not the only one in there with Batman. Oh no. We’re in there with him too.
I really appreciate when comic books take advantage of the medium and do things you can’t do anywhere else. In Batman #5, as Batman spirals deeper into madness, so too does the artwork begin to spiral, and thus the act of reading the book becomes one of actual creating a physical spiral in the real world. As Batman makes his way through the maze the artwork starts in the standard portrait view. And then it switches to landscape view and you have to rotate the book 90s degrees. And then after a few pages you have to rotate the book 90 degrees again when the art switches to an upside down portrait view before it slams back around 180 degrees as the story leaves The Labyrinth. The very act of reading the book is to physically create Batman’s spiral into madness. It’s almost as if you are watching him circle the drain. It was a bold and exciting move to try something that unusual in comic books, which is a medium that thrives upon the familiar. I applaud Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo for pitching the idea and DC editorial for giving it a chance. It paid off wonderfully.
And speaking of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, this creative team continues to fire on all cylinders. They are digging deep into what makes Batman who he is and turning that against him in a compelling way that is producing one of the most fun superhero books out there right now.
We’ve talked to Scott Snyder a lot over the last year and he has been extremely excited about getting to tell this story. The idea that there is a secret part of Gotham City that has kept itself hidden from Batman for all these years (although not as long as you might think since it’s the New 52), and that one of Batman’s greatest strengths–his confidence in his mastery of Gotham City–might actually end up his greatest liability, is very interesting. It takes Batman out of his comfort zone and whenever you take a protagonist out of their comfort zone, especially an overly confident protagonist, then you usually end up with great stories.
Greg Capullo continues to shine and in this issue, as great as the story is, it’s all about the art. Along with inker Jonathan Glapion, colorist… um… FCO, and letterer Richard Starkings, Capullo has crafted a descent into madness without sacrificing his trademark dynamic flare. Pages are filled with small overlapping panels. Imagery is repeated. Colors are washed out. Images are blurry. Everything here on the page is in service to the story and the story is harrowing. It’s disconcerting to see Batman–his cowl ripped, his face stubbled, his costume grimy–flat on his stomach and desperately pawing at a crack in the floor because he thinks it might hold a clue.
Look, it’s Batman we’re talking about so we know that, in the end, he’s going to find is way out of this and defeat The Court of Owls. (Probably.) Elements of the story might be familiar but it’s the journey from hubris to rock bottom to redemption and victory that this is all about. In comics, as in any other storytelling medium, in the end it all comes down to the story being told. How successful is the execution? How compelling is the plot and the characters? Right now the story that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are telling in Batman is resulting in one of the best comic books on the stands right now, bar none.
See you next month. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.