Comics

An Elegant Hack: "Batman #35"

Batman #35 shows how current writer Scott Snyder manages to subtly subvert the New 52's narrative vector.


Batman #35

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2014-12
Amazon

By the time we reach the midpoint of the primary story in Batman #35, the point where Batman neutralizes Diana (the same point that feels like, underscore feels like, it's only the wrap of the opening act), we begin to realize we're on familiar ground with the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman storytelling structure. It feels like Eminem in the Aughts, like the pinnacle of something deeply postmodern.

Thus far in the opening chapter of "Endgame" we've already sampled and remixed various Batman tropes; the dark title pages from the Frank Miller/Lynn Varley/Klaus Janson era that produced The Dark Knight Returns, the chaos erupting on the streets à la Chris Nolan's cinematic Batman trilogy, the visions of an apocalyptic future where Batman is in an infinite battle from the Grant Morrison era, and of course the overarching theme of "Endgame" itself, Batman versus the Justice League, which scans like a remix of writer Mark Waid and artist Howard Porter's JLA: Tower of Babel.

The sampling/remixing of older Batman tropes into the current (and under ideal conditions intended to be history-less) New 52 Batman is something entirely new. Something Snyder and Capullo first began experimenting with during "Zero Year", the year long storyarc that just recently ended. Between "Zero Year's" blast into the past, and the Batman brand extension with the weekly Batman Eternal, it's good to return to the present in the marquee Batman title. (To be fair, Batman did return to the present with last month's issue #34, "The Meek", but issue #35 does mark the start of the next major storyarc with the regular creative team of Snyder and Capullo.) But like every Hero's Journey with a return from far away, this return is marked by the storytellers having new powers. Particularly, the exercise of remixing past Batman tropes, and with that, creating arguably the finest postmodern Batman since writer Greg Rucka and artist Shawn Martinbrough's run on Detective (April 2000 until January 2002, check it out).

What Snyder and Capullo offer then, is an elegant hack to the current DC New 52 directive of essentially revising every comicbook to origin story status. The stakes for the comicbook industry are high. And a move like that of the New 52, one that follows the now unassailable commercial logic established by Smallville, that origin storytelling of the Day Before the hero lived out the "destiny" of their most iconic moments, made sense for DC in 2011, and makes sense even now in 2014. At its heart, the New 52 is about iconic heroes becoming those icons again.

For this experiment to run at optimal levels, it requires a commitment by writers and editors alike—that the history of the DC Universe, all of what we've been reading up until the Summer of 2011, is more or less abandoned. The New 52 is about building a new kind of legacy, and no longer relying on a dated and ever-increasingly arcane fictive history.

That's what made Justice League: Origin the first New 52 Justice League collection so powerful. And what made Green Lantern: Sinestro, the equivalent Green Lantern collection, so frustrating. Origin was about something bold and new happening for the first time—the Justice League banding together to repel an invasion from Apokolips. Sinestro on the other hand, picked up almost exactly where War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath left off—with Hal Jordan drummed out of the Lantern Corps and former arch-nemesis Sinestro replacing him. Now under the New 52, the "Sinestro" storyline explored the tensions between Hal Jordan and his former mentor. But what of the role played by Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman who played a crucial role in exacerbating those tensions? Hank Henshaw who under the New 52 hadn't yet become the Cyborg Superman.

Those kinds of difficulties get even murkier with a character like Batman. For a near on seven-year run on Batman, just preceding Snyder's, writer Grant Morrison effectively demonstrated how, fast approaching the milestone of 75 years of unbroken publication (a publication milestone passed in June of this year), Batman was almost nothing but publication history. Morrison conducted us down a path where Batman's publication history became his fictional biography. And even the most outlandish, campiest ideations of the character, became reintegrated into continuity in a meaningful and credible way. How do you walk that back?

Early on in 2011, with those early Batman: Court of Owls issues ("Knife Trick", "Trust Fall"), Snyder offered a powerful alternative to the "complete" Batman vision crafted by Morrison. In those early issues he offered a Batman that was immersed in the cultural history of Gotham as a city, a Batman who fought with the city, using its history, as much as he fought for the city. And these stories felt great, they felt like Morrison's net of inclusiveness could be cast even wider, to include Gotham, as much as Batman.

But Batman itself, seemed to resist. 75 years on, and the idea of a "history-less" Batman also seemed to equate with a less potent creative vision of the character. Slowly, over the course of Batman: Death of a Family and Batman: Zero Year, and even in a strange sense over the course of Batman: Eternal, you can begin to see Snyder's storytelling reset itself, just a little, and a personal Batman backstory beginning to emerge.

Which brings us all to here—a strange balance at the opening of "Endgame", where the character's publication history is strangely sampled, yet that characteristic Snyder-Capullo cityscape storytelling is also preserved.

So the question you should ask yourself is, "Can there be an better single issue to read, than Batman #35, on the morning you wake up to find the GOP having retaken the Legislature, and now needing to work with a sitting Democrat President?"

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