Donate to TFF Book Review
Subscribe by email!
Shadowhawk reviews the first 10 issues of the New 52: Batman series, written by Scott Snyder and published by, well, DC Comics of course!
“Startlingly brilliant, New 52: Batman takes you on a dark, philosophical and action-packed journey through the psyche of the Great Detective and the city he loves so much. This is Batman and Gotham like never before.” ~The Founding Fields
Note: The first six issues are collected as a trade edition under the title: The Court of Owls and this series is currently ongoing.
I’ve been a fan of Batman for a very long time. As near as I can make out at the moment, at least since 2nd grade when I used to own a couple Batman pencil-boxes (yeah…). In the years since, I’ve satisfied that Batman-addiction through the various animated shows, a few random comics here and there (Frank Miller played a role here), the animated movies and some of the other stuff now and then. With the exception of the Batman: The Animated Series in which Kevin Conroy voices Batman, and which I hold as the definitive on-screen portrayal of the Great Detective, DC’s latest reboot of the character, New 52: Batman, is the one that is definitely going to leave a lasting impression on me. In simple terms, Scott Snyder has done an amazing job with the character and the setting alike, delivering handsomely on my expectations.
I confess that the news of DC revamping all its existing storylines and rebooting pretty much everything largely passed me by. I only saw the initial announcement last year with the accompanying Justice League (?) artwork which I rather liked. I’d never been that interested in comics truth to tell but I’d definitely gone through a phase back in college, which is when I read some of Frank Miller’s Batman stuff. Coming back to Batman after all these years, the movies notwithstanding, was seriously a rough trip. In a good way.
I have really fond memories of Batman: The Animated Series and it was inevitable that I’d try to reconcile those memories with Scott Snyder’s take. Since I’m not that much into comics, I didn’t really have any preconceptions or expectations other than reading something that wowed me from the first few pages. That’s the only thing as I’ve been reading some pretty spectacular stuff lately and that’s what I was going to compare New 52: Batman against.
You know what though? This series is in a class all of its own.
To start with, this really is Batman and Gotham like I’ve never seen before. I don’t remember much of Frank Miller’s Batman, but Scott Snyder’s Batman can go toe to toe with him and hold his own for sure. The series is grittier and far more serious than any comic I’ve read. The madness, the self-torture, the angst, the arrogance, its all there aplenty. To take a more recent example, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight movie is like a picnic compared to New 52: Batman. And that is not an idle comparison. The seriousness and the mature treatment of the subject matter by Scott Snyder is something that I really, really liked. It takes comic books to a whole new level. The only experience that I can say comes close to how I felt after burning through the ten issues no more than two days ago was akin to reading the Crisis of the Infinite Earths crossover event back in 1985, DC’s first major attempt to resolve all its (often) conflicting storylines, a result of the whole multiple Earths issue. When all the superheroes, and the supervillains, are fighting tooth-and-nail for their very existence is the imagery I came up with when reading these ten issues.
It all left me rather breathless and exhilarated in equal measure.
The portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne is at the heart of why I felt like that. This is a dark, brooding Batman; a deeply conflicted Bruce Wayne. They are both trying to win back the city in their own way and the intersection of those interests, and the resulting blowup was just fascinating. Snyder’s Batman/Bruce Wayne also talk a lot, allowing him to really get into their psyches, drawing the reader in as well in the process. You won’t ever love this Batman, because he doesn’t exactly engender any such feelings, but you’ll get to appreciate and understand him and his methods. With Bruce Wayne, you can only watch in tense anticipation as he learns of the dark secrets of his family and Gotham’s own history, both of which have been criss-crossing for generations.
The supporting cast also holds on its own for the most part. Alfred Pennyworth is as Alfred Pennyworth does, he is a true-to-form character who has changed little over the years and is still the butler with the dry wit that I loved in Batman: The Animated Series. Then there is Dick Grayson, who is, I believe, the first Robin. In this series he has left that persona behind and is Nightwing and he occasionally assists Batman with various cases over the course of the issues so far. Great special appearances but would have liked to see more of him. Fingers crossed though because as the story moves along from issues 7-10, he turns out to have a much deeper connection with Batman’s case than anyone had even thought of in their wildest dreams. Guess I have to get the New 52: Nightwing issues too then!
Commisioner Jim Gordon also steps in from time to time, still that loyal, over-worked chief of Gotham PD who is always glad of the assistance from Batman and has come to rely on him as more than just the guy cleaning up Gotham’s streets. Speaking of guest apperances, Tim Draka aka Red Robin of the Teen Titans also steps in, as does Batman’s greatest nemesis Joker. Be prepared to be shocked with Joker though because he is most definitely not as you expect him to be! Then there is also the intriguing character of Damian Wayne aka Robin (current). I really want to know who this kid is and why he is using the Wayne family name.
The bad guys, the Court of Owls and their agent, the assassin known only as Talon, were quite badass too. They are largely responsible for infusing the series with the dark, dark humour and for all the madness that happens. Won’t say much about them but just keep in mind, that the scenes with them, especially in their own backyard, are some of the best scenes in the entire series so far.
In terms of pacing, the series so far has held on quite well. There is literally non-stop action here and there is very much the feeling that somewhere out there is a ticking clock, counting down to an event that is sure to rock the entire city. It keeps things really fast-paced and lively, with never a boring moment. Again, serious credit to Snyder for this. He builds up the tension and the mood in just the right manner, especially where Batman/Bruce Wayne’s monologues are concerned.
The art for this series really blew me away. Whether it is Greg Capullo’s pencils and covers, or FCO Plascencia’s colours, it is all just perfect for the tone and mood that Snyder has gone before. As my fellow reviewer Stefan pointed out, there is a really nice juxtaposition between the scenes with Batman and Bruce Wayne, a very real difference that works well with whatever the narrative is at the time. “Broody and atmospheric for Batman; bright and colourful for Bruce Wayne”. To that I’ll add that the Batman palette is rather “hard” while the Bruce Wayne palette is rather “soft”. This really helps to seal the whole deal. To that end, all the art herein is some of the best comic-art that I’ve ever seen, and it definitely holds its own against the like of that found in Kill Shakespeare or Dark Reign: Dark Avengers for example.
One of the other things that the entire team has gotten just right in this series so far is Gotham itself. If Batman is dark and brooding then Gotham is even more so. There is a strong undercurrent of a dark vitality in the series whenever the characters talk about Gotham or when we see the city. The harsh life of this great metropolis is readily apparent all the time. It sucks you in hook, line and sinker. The portrayal of Gotham’s darkness, as seen in Christopher Nolan’s movies, is ramped up to eleven here.
As a complete package, New 52: Batman is a fun ride that runs along at a near breakneck speed and entertains the whole way through. There are no cheap thrills here. From the start the series promises nothing but unrestrained mayhem, especially when the Joker makes an entry, and that promise holds all the way through issue 10, the latest in the series. So yeah, I’d really recommend the series to everyone. If you miss out on this, then you are missing out on an absolutely thrilling experience.
Lastly, at the back of issues 9 and 10 (and 11 next month) is a three-part mini-story about Jarvis Pennyworth, Alfred’s father who served as butler to the Wayne family for a number of years before his own death. So far, the two installments have been absolutely chilling. They also reveal a lot of how this incarnation of Batman came to be and what is the connection of Gotham to The Court of Owls and to the Wayne family. Expect to be shocked and stunned at every turn.