[23 September 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Batman #1 is one of the most anticipated titles of DC’s New 52. If not for the character itself, then for the creative team attached. It’s one of DC’s flagship titles, featuring the writing acumen of one of the hottest writers in comics currently. It cannot fail. Batman cannot fail. Jumping ahead, it doesn’t. But it does miss the mark.
Modern takes on classic heroes and the introduction of new heroes. Reinvigoration of an industry. Some stories will stay, while others will simply disappear. DC’s reboot of Batman falls into the former on both accounts. What happened before still happened (mostly), and going forward will be a contemporary vision of a 70-plus-year-old character.
This isn’t writer Scott Snyder’s first dance with the dark knight. His previous run with Detective Comics was an outstanding series of comics. But that was a different man under the cowl.
Now given a crack at working with the original Batman, Snyder creates a 21st century take on the character. He revels in the previously celebrated plot details, pauses for reflection on his own new beats, but within the short pages of this issue, Snyder infuses the character with a more modern tone, yet also steadies him in the foundation that has made Batman iconic.
Did Batman need to change? Not really. But why spoil a universe-wide reboot.
Longtime readers should not be weary of the large and shiny “1” on the cover. This debut issue of Batman basically picks up where Batman #713 and Detective Comics 881 left off. The recent history and storylines stay fairly intact aside for some minor tweaking (how old are the current and former Robins?). It also continues a theme Snyder has been working with since his Detective Comics run and in the miniseries Batman: Gates of Gotham. Namely: Gotham City as a character herself.
How well does Bruce Wayne know Gotham? The average reader would assume he knows everything about her. He owns the city (night). What Snyder is hinting at in this first chapter is that Bruce really doesn’t know Gotham at all, and what he doesn’t know will be dangerous and deadly.
That is all fine and good, interesting from a narrative perspective, but any reader should pause and ask, haven’t we been here before? And is it worth going further down this rabbit hole?
The characterization of Gotham as a living breathing thing, merely hinted at in this issue, is a piece that Snyder routinely plays with. Snyder likes to build from the ground up. It gives his characters a space to play in that is distinct, ethereal and yet familiar. It also creates the creepy and terrifying mood that is a hallmark of Snyder’s work. But since this is previously covered ground, what’s next? If Gates of Gotham was about the infancy of the city, then is this opening to Batman volume two about its midlife crisis?
Many words will be written about the opening panels to this comic, the fight scene between Batman and some of Arkham Asylum’s most popular residents. Many other words will be written about the positive tone Bruce Wayne gives announcing the latest Wayne Enterprises project. This is clearly not the Bruce Wayne of Batman and Robin #1 (quite possibly one of the most thorough misunderstandings of the character to date), yet it’s loosely connected. Many more words will also be written about how the book does hook readers for the next issue. But it’s doubtful many words will be written about what type of Batman is presented.
While Gotham as a character is hinted at, Batman is the character focused on here. Is he a tragic hero still? Is he an anti-hero like so many Batman writers try to write? These are important questions, as they dictate the type of stories we will read for months or years to come.
Depending on the creator, Batman has been both. In this opening chapter, Snyder doesn’t let on which way he’s going. Bruce does brood, but he’s very chatty (in and out of the cape). He could have his fatal flaws, or he could be further evolving his psychological tendencies. It seems to be a work in progress.
What also seems to be a work in progress are the pencils of artist Greg Cappullo. At times brilliantly and beautifully gritty, other times dated and stale, each page appears to be disconnected from the whole. There is no consistency. The details within panels are certainly there, but the effect of lines, inks and colors play too heavily to the sensibilities of 90s comic art. There are fans of that style, but the style’s failings most definitely outweigh its successes. And here in Batman #1 where the artwork should be stunning, it’s inconsistent and complacent.
Make no mistake: Batman #1 is not a debut issue regardless of what number is on the cover. It’s a continuation in all aspects. Will new readers jump on? Sure. Is it accessible to new readers? Somewhat, but it’s like any beginning to a new story arc. If that was the point then this effort is average at best. But that’s not the point. The point is to tell good stories with a modern tone, and as far as that goes Batman #1 is a good comic…but it should have been excellent.