[12 July 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
There are now two sons of Gotham in the pages of Batman; each a reflection of their circumstances and a dark reflection of each other. The mirrors they stare into show them each a different vision of what is and possibly what is to come. It’s a shared reality, but the perspectives are vastly different. Yet, what they hope for and what they believe to be true, defined by the city they each call their own, pushes them in directions they have no control over.
We’ve come to the end of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s initial Batman story. The place where this story began and the place where it ends are tremendously different places, but their connection cannot be denied. And if we look back over each and every issue, if we look at the little clues and narrative teases, we understand that is the only way it could end.
A strong metaphoric element that has appeared repeatedly is this idea of mirrors and reflections. It was in the title and a central tenet of Snyder’s Detective Comics run, “The Black Mirror.” That idea was that Gotham acted as a dark mirror, twisting your reflection to the grimiest of possibilities. In the pages of Batman, the mirror is more about the perfect opposites of Bruce and Thomas Wayne, Jr. (or Lincoln March or the Court of Owls). Looking back over each issue we see over a dozen visual or dialogue references to mirrors or reflections. Some are subtle, some are overt and some are implied, but they are there and represent a fundamental narrative foundation for the story being told.
The mirror, aided by light, reflects what is currently true. As human beings we have the ability (and possibly the responsibility) to change what is reflected, whether that be personal, spiritual, or mental, etc. This is crucial to Snyder’s take on the Bat-characters and their interactions – reflecting what is true in each other and the consequences of actions, much less the possibilities inherit in seeing what is now and true.
This mirror metaphor is also multi-layered, to the extent it takes in ideas of Batman continuity and canon. What that means is that the idea of the mirror universe and alternate realities is just as present. The most recent version of Thomas Wayne, Jr. was that of the antimatter universe’s Owlman, the evil version of Batman so often used because owls are known to prey on bats. That this new Thomas Wayne, Jr. is of the Court of Owls, and the other side of Bruce’s reflection, is only fitting.
Batman #11 is for us the other side of mirror. It is a chance to understand the perspective of Thomas (Lincoln). Like any variation on the Cain and Abel story, the confrontation between brothers so similar and yet so different comes down to perspective.
“I could see Wayne Industries in the reflection,” Thomas says in the pages of Batman #11 as he shows Bruce the city that he knows (or knew). As the fortunate son (a pun if there ever was one for Batman) Bruce hasn’t seen this view of the city he is now subjected to. For 11 issues, Snyder has been playing with this idea that Bruce must know Gotham better than anyone, and that his disbelief in the City keeping secrets from him has revealed a fatal flaw. A flaw that is a sort of arrogance about what he has dedicated his life to protecting, and in a few resurrecting. But in this moment it is the reflection of Wayne Industries Empire in the windows of another skyscraper that illuminates the perspective. Here we have the idea of the mirror being aided by light to reflect what is true, if only for the person looking at it.
“See the kingdom as I did every day, reversed and unnatural… Welcome to the other side of the mirror, Bruce!” Thomas says to Bruce as they fly through the city. Thomas is that reverse, that unnatural part that shouldn’t have survived but has thanks to chemicals compounds.
What all of this illustrates is the much more literary approach Snyder has taken, juxtaposed with the bombastic, explosive and dynamic pencil work of Capullo. That is not to say Capullo’s panels do not merit literary consideration. He has built on his experience and grown over the last year. He has shown an eye for detail that has aided this particular story and challenged the preconceived notions of flagship superhero comics. It is an interesting combination of writer and artist, and in this New 52 period, the distinct perspective he and Snyder have brought is welcome and celebrated.
The vision for Batman has certainly changed, but the reflection in the mirror is still very easily identifiable. Aided by the light of a new publishing period, a much longer narrative style and a distinct artistic style, this Batman has become a showcase for the possibility of the literary and the explosive to be paired as equals.