Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Batman #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly excited about this storyline.  After the “Night of the Owls” saga and then the “Death of the Family” business, I just feel like Snyder has been more focused on leaving his mark on Bruce’s new past (the irony of that phrase speaks for itself) than he is about telling the types of stories that he did during his run on “Detective Comics.”  As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m enjoying Layman’s “Detective Comics” because he’s successfully integrated the world-building with the story-telling.  Snyder is instead emulating Grant Morrison's obsession with clues, hints, and misdirections to the exclusion of almost everything else (most notably, a clearly defined plot).  (The Riddler sequence at the end of this issue seemed particularly Morrisonesque, encouraging us to pour over the scene so that we can be amazed, 50 issues from now, when one of the phrases scribbled on one of the cards is used.)  After 20 issues or so of Snyder "cleverly" embedding himself into Bruce's past, it’s gotten old, just as it did when Morrison did it.  Anyway, I say all that by way of stressing that this year-long “Year Zero” arc feels like old wine in new bottles to me.  After how badly DC fumbled the Bat-family's origin stories int he zero issues, color me concerned about an entire year of such shenanigans.  But, we'll see how it goes.

To begin, Snyder starts us in the past, six years ago, to be exact.  Gotham City is unrecognizable, an abandoned city overgrown with flora and bursting with fauna, and we’re led to believe that it’s the work of the Red Hood.  Snyder then moves us backwards in time again, five months earlier, where the story that he’s going to tell begins.  I’ll say that I had a little trouble seeing the (amazing) scenes of a devastated Gotham that Capullo delivers here and believing that Gotham City could ever recover from that destruction by the time we get to "Justice League" #1, five years later.  But, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and see where we go.

The rest of the story is fairly uneventful, to be honest.  We see Bruce six weeks after he’s returned from the dead, trying to convince Alfred that he wants Bruce Wayne to stay dead.  However, his uncle has other plans for him, namely to become the figurehead behind Wayne Enterprises, but Bruce is adamant that he’s not interested.  Along the way, Snyder and Capullo introduce some themes and imagery that will clearly be explored for the rest of this arc:

-- First, obviously, we have the almost total destruction of Gotham City and how the Red Hood (assuming that it’s him) manages to do it.

-- We have the ballcap that Bruce (and later a younger Bruce and his father) wears sporting an R that closely that resembles the Robin insignia.

-- I think (though, don’t quote me, because I’m not really all that well steeped in Batman lore) that the idea that Bruce had no intention of resurrecting Bruce Wayne after he returned to Gotham is new.

-- We’re teased by Alfred’s mysterious question about why Bruce is doing what he was doing, a question that’s only mysterious because Alfred insists that he was referring to something other than Bruce being motivated by his parents’ death.  However, we never get to hear his explanation of the question that he was really asking, because “Uncle Phil” appears at the front door.

-- Speaking of good ol’ Uncle Phil, I also think that his presence in Bruce’s life is new.  Martha may have had a brother, but I certainly don’t remember ever hearing about him.  That said, Snyder has clearly introduced him as an enigma (no pun intended, given that the Riddler is working for him), using him to represent an unknown threat lurking in the shadows.  Uncle Phil making the “heh” noise seemed particularly nefarious at first, implying that he’s the Red Hood, given the number of times that we’ve seen him utter that word.  But, then, Bruce’s father does it, making it less clear if he is a threat of if everyone in Gotham is just big on half-laughs.  That said, Phil’s comments to a pre-Riddler Edward Nigma at the end, about the Red Hood gang being hellbent on stealing from Wayne Enterprises, implies that he’s not the Red Hood.  (That said, Snyder definitely doesn’t close that door, given that Batman lore is full of people acting in one persona without that other knowing it.)

-- Finally, we’re given the origin (of a sorts) of the giant penny, though I’m still not sure what it has to do with the rebirth of Wayne Enterprises.

All in all, it’s an OK start.  It’s slow and I think that you’d probably be best served re-reading “Batman” #0 before this issue, because you’d at least get a burst of action (which concludes in the first pages of the flashback).  Otherwise, this issue is a lot of set-building, with long narrative sequences that take a while to read.  But, again, I’m willing to give Snyder a chance and see where he goes with it.  (If nothing else, we at least get to see a young Bruce who isn’t exactly hard on the eyes.)  I just really hope that he draws within the lines.

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