[20 February 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
There is a moment in the pages of Batman #6 that calls to mind the narrative sequence of a genre and medium with little to nothing in common with graphic literature, save for a few colorful characters. It is something that is firmly rooted in our popular culture, that spawns from this notion of overcoming even the greatest of odds. The Batman is nearly mentally and physically broken, suffering from a threat that he dared to disbelieve in, a threat that cuts to the core of who he is and what he has done with his life. To say that writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are “going for broke” with this issue could capture the sentiment, but a wagging finger and collective yell of “You!” can also summarize the situation as well.
Issue five of Batman was one of the best examples of script, art and design working together to create an experience for readers. Snyder and Capullo broke down barriers to enable the audience to appreciate the type of torture Batman was going through. With issue six, the duo, along with inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO, prolong the inevitable so that readers could live in the moment of Batman at his breaking point.
Along the way, Snyder takes the opportunity to reveal more about the mythology of The Court of Owls. We are not treated to a summary of their long dark history, but rather are presented an understanding of their present operation. The long narrative that Snyder is playing with pauses here, if only for a moment, to show us the Owls in close and the undying will of Bruce Wayne.
Batman does escape the trap of the Court of Owls. The ingenuity of his escape illustrates what has made Batman such an enduring character for over 70 years. It also represents the strong research skills of Snyder and the subtlety to which he planted the means for Batman’s escape. However, the most interesting part is Batman’s physical battle with the Court’s enforcer Talon.
The sequence where Batman overcomes Talon’s assault plays out like a pro-wrestling match, specifically like the many times popculture icon Hulk Hogan overcame some of the monsters of the squared circle.
Pro-Wrestling has a strong narrative structure, similar to various types found in comics, movies and TV. This type of structure has been used in virtually every type of sports-related fiction. Wrestlers are essentially storytellers, using their bodies and actions to tell their stories.
The majority of Hogan’s matches during his 1980s heyday involved a format where he would be seemingly defeated, but would eventually experience a sudden second wind. Hogan would fight back, feeding off the energy of the audience, becoming impervious to attack. This was also known as “hulking up”. The most famous occurrence of this routine was during WrestleMania III in 1987 when Hogan overcame the unstoppable Andre the Giant.
While Batman doesn’t body slam Talon, he certainly does reach far inside himself to find that second wind to overcome this nemesis. Hogan would feed off the audience. Batman feeds off the history of his family and all the others that the Court has eliminated from Gotham. In the middle of the book, Batman yells, “enough!” There we can see the virtually the same sequence that played out with Hogan. That yell echoes when Hogan would point his finger at his adversary and the audience would scream in unison, “You!” Talon tries to re-subdue the Dark Knight, but Batman will have none of it. Exhausted, beaten and stabbed, Batman pulls the ultimate comeback, slaying the monster. The gladiatorial framing of this issue plays right into this idea that we’re witnessing the same narrative that pro-wrestlers repeatedly tell on cable TV and Pay-per-view.
Further enhancing this connection is the artwork by Capullo. His Batman in this issue is even more powerfully strong, aggressive and fearsome then previously shown – like a street fighter as opposed to a finesse fighter. After “hulking up,” Batman throws Talon around the Owl’s labyrinth, the brutality of which is kinetically rendered by Capullo’s pencils and Glapion’s inks. A monster is unleashed and it just so happens to be Batman’s will.
The vast majority of Batman #6 is a physical battle. While Snyder certainly reveals more about the make-up of the Court of Owls, the story is essential a wrestling match between Batman, his will, Talon and the Court’s sinister plot. Does this detract from the epic Snyder and Capullo are telling? Does it call into question the substance of this particular issue? Absolutely not. It actually shows the deeper connection this story has with the whole of popculture. It connects as pro-wrestling does with this hope we all have in our moments of seeming defeat: we can overcome. Just as one wrestling match can be the whole story or a small part of a larger story, Batman #6 reflects a short narrative being complete within the context of a longer storyline. All of the Bat-Maniacs better stay tuned because this Dark Knight is saying his prayers and eating his vitamins. But thankfully he’s not ripping off his bat-suit.