[24 October 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
A tower in the horizon opens the second issue of Batman volume two. It is both breathtaking in its majesty and inspiring in its history. This is the time where DC’s relaunch will cement its place in the comics market. Month one of this New 52 period was successful, but it’s the follow ups, not the debuts, that will push the bounds of DC’s efforts to rejuvenate its line. Can the company maintain the momentum? When DC has the creative mind of Batman writer Scott Snyder working for them, how can they not? A gleaming tower amongst the sun drenched skyline – both an opening and metaphor for creative talent involved.
Batman #1 was a good comic. What held it back from being excellent had little to do with its execution, but related more to the expectations associated with such a huge marketing campaign that supported it. Call it overhype or a simple misfire in the management of expectations. Regardless, that time and its context are over. Now is the time to deliver on the promise.
The fact that the focus falls directly on Snyder is a testament to the type of talent we are dealing with. A superstar writer, who seemingly appeared from nowhere, Snyder has built a reputation in a very short time of creating strong plots, featuring narratives threads that are weaved both short and long with stunning intelligence and forethought. His run on Detective Comics was a revelation, and stands as some of the best stories in the latter half of that titles lengthy run. With this comic, he’s given the chance to take on the even larger task of shepherding a flagship title in its infancy. A tough task to be sure, but one he has the skill and insight to make successful.
This new volume of Batman invites the opportunity to assess and sharpen the personality of Bruce Wayne. In interviews, Snyder has talked frequently about his characterization of Bruce containing a robust confidence in his abilities as the Dark Knight, this confidence in a way betraying a weakness. Could this be a fatal flaw? Could this be a hint as to the type of archetypal hero Snyder is writing? He doesn’t play his hand completely in this second issue of his run, but he definitely takes the time to introduce the characteristic and cement it as part of the long narrative he’s creating. It’s a juicy element, one that long time readers have been waiting for, as it is relatable and grounded in the vast publication history of the character.
Snyder does this while designing the frame and support beams for the bigger picture, introducing us to the concept of the Court of Owls. The concept is steeped in mystery and legend, owing a great part of its modern consciousness to a nursery rhyme the children of Gotham can easily recall. It’s an urban legend layered with the truth of its nasty intent. Call it narrative incognito, but while this is not necessarily a one-off story, though it functions as one, this issue is essentially the framework from which Snyder will operate over the next nine to ten months.
That framework also speaks in part to Snyder’s desire to have Gotham City herself as a character. It’s an element that he’s used frequently during his short tenure with the Batman titles. In his Detective Comics run, with Dick under the cowl, he certainly brought a sense that the City was more than just brick, mortar and steel. That she rose from the depths of the earth, mirroring the horrors of her protectors. Not as a consciousness, but as an organic thought that seemingly challenged even the most headstrong of her knights.
In the miniseries Gates of Gotham, Snyder with Kyle Higgins, brought this concept even further forward, relating some of the earlier history to give readers the sense that this city’s dark streets are not a modern phenomenon, but rather the combined efforts of immoral, amoral and apathetic men whose lack of foresight (or blurred foresight) has contributed to her present as much as any other element.
Now here in Batman proper, Snyder can take that concept further, playing with the psychology of Gotham’s favorite son so that the confidence mentioned earlier becomes that weakness in the shadow of a faceless supporting character. The fitting visual supporting that comes towards the end of the book where Bruce, stuck with knives and bleeding, stands on one of the many gargoyles of Wayne tower watching the city and the aftermath of his recent actions. The tower both holds the intentions of this story arc, as well as the promise of this arc and its chief creative talent.
For his part, Greg Capullo shows more consistency in his art this time around. His panels are at their best when they show the scope of which the story will encompass. In Batman #1, it was the quiet moments of intense investigation that showed what Capullo was capable of with the character and the surroundings. Here, the establishing moments and the pull backs from the action are what shine, as the little touches of expression, showing that confidence bordering on cockiness, do more of the heavy lifting. They are placing the frames and support beams in their proper holes. The architect may have designed the structures, but the materials and their placement are equally essential to creating a sound structure.
Batman #2 in many ways is an amalgamation of many types of comics. It is a superhero comic, a crime comic, and an action comic. This mixture has always been a part of the foundation of Batman, but here Snyder uses it to the fullest effect possible. The relatively new structural additions are what enhance the base, creating that pedestal on which his story arc will be supported. The architect has taken the plans from the drawing table and delivered them to the engineers. The tower that will be produced will stand as a beacon for the present and the future. Ladies and gentlemen, when shall we cut the ribbon?