Throughout Batman volume two there has been a slowly boiling sentiment. A feeling of a sleepy descent into the land of nightmares, and every bit of us wants to scream, “Wake up!”. What began as a moody examination of a character and his flaws has fallen asleep in the comfy study chair while the horrors all around go unchecked. It’s appropriate then that Bruce Wayne fights his current threat in his dressing gown.
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s near-poetic movement of words and art of the previous seven issues of the series are succeeded by the desperate action and violence of issue #8. The narrative that set the stage for a psychological and physical breaking of the Batman is now streamlined for an act that parallels the dramatic beats of a good horror or thriller movie. This move only lends credence to an idea of genre amplification that Batman comics have often crossed.
Batman is a product influenced by the popculture sensibilities of its publication time. Batman can be fleshed out with science fiction, pulp noir, horror, etc. If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s clear now–Batman currently has elements of horror, but it’s not the gothic horror of previous decades. This is straight slasher horror, the type of horror that envelopes everyone and everything in dreamlike terror, the type that has become popular among current horror filmmakers.
While the opening narration and dialogue reminds us of the themes Snyder has been working with, they are quickly pushed aside for the matter at hand. The Court of Owls has sent their Talons to eliminate Bruce and others. Batman has been an “arrogant fool,” betraying a fatal flaw in his character that could have possibly been there all along… Or could well be the result of the tweaks Snyder has used to effectively move the characterization of Bruce and his alter ego to fit this new period. If we are to understand more than the surface amount of emotional investigation Bruce conducts while recovering, then that will come in one of the next issues. This issue is about the attack, something Bruce should have been preparing for, but his own arrogance perhaps has blocked the instincts he’s worked to develop since youth.
Let’s not forget that this issue of Batman is not just about Batman #8, it is also about setting up a Bat-family wide crossover event. “Night of the Owls,” appearing in almost every Bat-based book for the next few months, has the feeling of previous of events, and in that we have an understanding of what this issue is meant to be: an opening.
Let’s not stray from the title at hand. That narrative is simple enough, and therefore the opportunity is present for Capullo’s pencils and Jonathan Glapion’s inks to take a central role in this horror flick. As in the physically intense sixth issue, Capullo generously fills the action panels with the kinetic energy of a man fighting for his life. He moves from exaggerated lines to constrained pencil marks, with each movement and each shadow locked down by the strong ink work of Glapion. It’s stunning and verging on brutal, but there is a certain amount of restraint. This is, after all, the first part of “Night of the Owls,” and you cannot give it all away. Save something for the other Bat-books and the back-up material.
With the back-up chapter from co-writer James Tynion and artist Rafael Albuquerque, a further twist to the Court’s plan is revealed. The rendering of these pages takes the horror elements a step further, showcasing a sketchy style identical to the work Albuquerque and Snyder have used in there horror comic American Vampire. It is short and compact, but vital to the narrative movement to come. There is a place for this backup in the overall effort of this crossover, but the amount of work is overwrought and bewildering given the scope of the main feature. An extra dollar must be justified somehow.
There have been horror elements scattered throughout the previous issues of Batman volume two, but not to the extent as they are in issue eight. Here we are given the beats of typical horror stories. And while the parallels to that narrative movement is a time-tested formula, the waking nightmare created for Batman has that feeling of someone needing to just wake up. The blind spot Bruce has developed in relation to the Court of Owls may be disappearing; the effect seems to stymie his growth as a character. We know he has a fatal flaw. We know the Court cuts at his ego. Now we must see his development beyond it. Batman has to stop the slasher(s), like a screaming teenager at a deserted sleep away camp, but most of all he needs to just wake up.