Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Batman #1

Batman is one of the few comic book heroes with an overabundance of excellent stories. Even before Frank Miller revitalized the character in the late 80's, writers like Denny O'Neil and Gerry Conway were consistently turning out strong tales that deepened the mythology of the character. What makes Batman especially rare is that Bruce isn't the only Gothamite with a rich history. The Batman supporting cast, from the various Robins to Jim Gordon and Leslie Thompkins, have all had tremendous development, and the members of Batman's rogues gallery each have a few great adventures to their name. In the very best Batman stories, Gotham feels as much like a living, breathing character as it does a city, and that feeling is front and center in Scott Snyder's Batman #1.

Batman #1 opens on simple descriptions of what Gotham is to its residents. To some, Gotham is a terrifying, hopeless place best reflected in its villains, while others still have hope for their city, and see it mirrored in both those who wear the Bat, and the more ordinary but still remarkable heroes of the GCPD. This contrast is displayed throughout the issue, from Bruce Wayne's renewed optimism for Gotham to the ways the same city can leave someone feeling helpless and betrayed. The strength of writer Scott Snyder's prose really shines through here, and adds some depth to an already substantial story.

But as a lifelong Batman fan, what really makes this story special is how much it embraces what came before. There are elements from Snyder's Detective Comics run, such as James Gordon Jr. and the E.M.P. mask, but we also see glimpses of Professor Pyg, Flamingo, and Bruce's whole family of Batboys, each of them decked out in a tuxedo. Rather than present this in a way that makes new readers feel lost or older readers feel bored, Snyder provides readers with the necessary information in a natural way that plays off the book's mild sci-fi elements while drawing the reader directly into the story. I was really touched to see it right out there in print that Bruce trusts Alfred more than anyone in the world, and I loved the very in character crack that Damian was able to make at Tim's expense.

And it's not just the characters themselves, but their growth that seems to be carried through here. We haven't reverted to the closed off Bruce of old, we're seeing a Bruce that acknowledges his demons but is still determined to look forward. The character feels reinvigorated, and a little less burdened. Batman's not always known for his sense of humor (he should be, he can be hilarious), but we get to see a little bit of his lighter, more playful side here. His fake cough to activate his lipreading technology was a great moment, and it's fun in a way that Bruce is rarely allowed to be. Jim Gordon does appear to be smoking again, but there are signs that characters are moving forward as well. We even see Tim adjusting the collar of Damian's tux, a pretty impressive feat for two characters who've come to blows so frequently.

I've been screaming from the rooftops for years for more real, actual, honest to god mysteries in my comic books, and it looks like we may get one here. There was some nice foreshadowing in the comic's earlier scenes that makes me think this may be the rare breed of mystery that the reader has a fair chance of solving. I'm looking forward to putting on my detective hat and taking a crack at the case. I'm intrigued that aspects of this issue seem to tie directly into the events of Nightwing #1. Kyle Higgins and Scott Snyder did a great job working together on Gates of Gotham, so I have faith that any crossovers between the two comics will play out well. I think the world of the Batbooks is at its best when their universe really feels like a shared one.

Greg Capullo is best known for his work on Spawn, but I have a feeling that'll change soon. His work on this comic is absolutely stunning, on so many levels. There's a cartoonish element to his style, but his facial expressions are so detailed and vibrant that they add life to every seen. The intricate backgrounds are impressive on their own, but when you take into consideration that this is a monthly book, you really can appreciate just how talented Capullo is. I come from an architectural background, so I really enjoy how beautifully designed Gotham's buildings are. Some panels make me think Capullo took inspiration from the art deco and neogothic buildings of Detroit- a city which parallels Gotham in several ways.

As much as I like to talk about architecture, this is a Batman comic, and stunningly rendered buildings won't mean much if the action scenes aren't up to par. Thankfully, Capullo delivers there as well, with lively, kinetic scenes that feel animated and fun. There's been some controversy over his redesigns of the Gotham crew, and there are some looks that fans will find offputting, but keep in mind these changes aren't permanent. These are sort of "prison looks" for the characters, a way of expressing their identities when their costumes have been taken from them. I'm not the biggest fan of the mohawked Riddler, but I absolutely love Professor Pyg's makeshift mask and nametag. And more importantly than anything else, Capullo draws one hell of a Batman .

As good as Capullo's work here is, it's only elevated by colorist Fco Plasencia. He does a great job of injecting atmosphere into every seen, using a different color palette for each of the various sides we see of Gotham. The muted look of many of the book's earlier scenes really separate them from the bright, colorful world of Bruce Wayne the socialite. Plasencia's been doing some very strong work for Image for a few years now, and DC was smart to spot that and snatch him up.

New readers, if you want to get into Batman, this is your book. It's well-written, wonderfully drawn, accessible, and full of the sort of tidbits that'll leave a curious reader searching for more. And old readers? Don't miss this. Scott Snyder is clearly as big a fan of Batman as you or I, and he intends to put his love of the character to good use. I actually think he's pulled off the rare feat of appealing to both the readers who loved Grant Morrison's work on Batman and those who loathed it. I don't really give ratings, but this is a 5 star, A+, 10/10 of a comic, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone. Gotham is lucky to have Scott Snyder.

By Marceline with No comments


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