There is a difference between historical revision and the much hated “retconning” in comics. Both attempt to expand a story for a character, fill in new ideas in existing places or correct previous ideas to aid the present. With Batman #7, history is being rewritten and expanded, and the impact vastly affects the present and the legacy of Batman. In context, it is a line of demarcation between the pre and post “New 52” period, and yet the narrative reset button is only partially pushed.
When examining Batman #7, there are three items that burn brightly on the pages: writer Scott Snyder’s love of history and his uncanny ability to build myth are startling and brilliant; one slight change in an iconic scene can have unimaginable consequences; and characterization can make or break a scene.
Snyder’s love for history is no secret (see PopMatters Exclusive Interview with Scott Snyder). His ability to use the historical and build upon it with the utmost reverence, while simultaneously weaving a compelling and original narrative, is one of his strongest traits as a writer. He has to this point seamlessly placed the Court of Owls in the Batman mythos. They fill the cracks and spacing that have appeared over the many decades the character has been published. It’s as if they have always existed, and to create that feeling takes tremendous skill. The building of the Court’s myth has been very organic, which speaks to the way they have been integrated and how they operate.
The elemental nature of how the Court of Owls enforces their position as the directors of Gotham is a perfect example of this very organic process to which Snyder has committed himself. The mixture of metals, minerals, chemicals and time speak to the very building blocks our lives are revolving around. They are life affirming, life protecting and life controlling. Without any of the elements Snyder uses to explain the resurrection of the Court’s Talons, we would possibly not be here. They build people, both directly and indirectly, and build the places we inhabit, both directly and indirectly. In that, Snyder has deeply connected the Court themselves and the means by which they exist to the very core of our experience.
But, part of that myth building takes one of the most iconic Batman scenes and creates a vast complexity of questions and understanding.
The opening page to Batman #7 recreates Frank Miller’s “Yes Father, I shall become a bat” scene from Batman: Year One. It is a beautiful rendering by penciler Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO, aside from the wardrobe change. In Miller’s Year One, Bruce is wearing military-style jacket having just stumbled back to Wayne Manor bloody from his first unsuccessful attempt to be a vigilante. In Batman #7, Bruce is wearing a suit and tie. This is enough to drive even the most restrained fanboy insane. This change, however, is pointed out for a different reason than the ire of continuity sticklers. It is a change that opens up an array of questions surrounding our understanding of the present circumstances of the Dark Knight’s career.
We are supposed to only see this scene as setting the stage for when the famed bat leaves the Wayne Manor study and is devoured by the owl. Yet, the change in the make-up of the scene must lead us to ask, where was Bruce prior? Was he beating up thugs and cops in a jacket and tie? The suit would suggest either a business meeting or some other everyday occurrence in the life of a billionaire playboy. As Snyder has stated, the separation and duality between the cowl and playboy are being reconstituted, whereas Bruce Wayne is no longer a mask for Batman. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this change is provoking that new direction in ways Snyder and Capullo probably have not considered.
Another item that makes for an interesting component to this issue of Batman is the scene between Bruce and Dick Grayson. Dick has just learned from Bruce that his great-grandfather was one of the Court’s Talons and that Dick himself was destined to be one as well. The emotional response from Dick is understandable yet odd. So too is the build up to the climax of the scene, odd in that there is no build up. The characterization of Dick as a quick tempered scion is certainly new. Perhaps the buildup to this emotional point was in the pages of Nightwing? However, by all accounts, considering Snyder experience with the character (see PopMatters review “Righting the Ship: The Dick Grayson-Batman Persona in Detective Comics” ), this characterization of Dick Grayson is a step backward.
Bruce and Dick are not friends. They have a father and son dynamic that often relates to the emotional consequences of such a relationship. The quickness of this scene, tellingly, is the consequence of exposition. When we have to be told so much, the showing is often a casualty. As too is proper characterization given the narrative heaviness of this scene in the whole of “The Court of Owls” storyline. Zero to yelling is probably not the best way to present a supporting character that may have even more of role to play. Though, this may just be a disposable characterization.
Does any of the last two points damage the quality of Batman #7? No, it is still a good comic issue. Dick Grayson’s characterization is a rare miscue that is more than likely the results of a strict page count. The point about the “Yes Father, I will become a bat” scene is indicative of where we are in the history of the character and symbolically underscores that which we have come to realize. The weight of this story will have far reaching consequences going forward. The seeming care that Snyder and Capullo have used to build the Court of Owls within the mythology of Batman is welcome. But, we must understand that no matter the similarities to previous understandings of the character, this is a new Bat and a new period of his publication history. The first page of this issue tells us that.