Thursday, August 29, 2013

Batman #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Falcones!  Penguin!  Red Hood!  All in the first few pages!

I’m trying not to get too excited here, but Snyder seems to have found some of his old magic in this issue.  It reminds me of the early issues of this series, where he did such a phenomenal job building the mythology of the Court of Owls.  But, I’m worried that the parallels between this story and that one aren’t a good thing, given how the reality of the Court of Owls wasn’t anywhere near as interesting.

That said, maybe Snyder does better refreshing established characters then he does building new ones.  We don’t often see Joker (sorry, Red Hood), Penguin, and Riddler at work in the same issue and Snyder does a brilliant job showing how the patterns that will come to define their eventual relationships with Batman begin to develop.  Red Hood exults as Bruce attacks him on the blimp, expressing joy to have found an adversary as unhinged as he is.  It's obvious in this moment that Snyder is showing you exactly when Joker becomes hopelessly enchanted with Batman, starting them on the road to mutually assured destruction that we all know so well.  Bruce has a similar (if more tame) interaction with Riddler later in the issue, telling Edward that he’ll have to do better next time as he easily solves his riddle.  You can almost feel Edward's glee shine through his menacing threat.

These moments are not just important for giving us insight into the villains that Joker and Riddler will eventually become, but also because Snyder shows the role that Bruce played in making them.  Bruce’s arrogance and youth blinds him to the patterns that he’s establishing with the villains.  He’s so confident that he’s going to defeat Red Hood that he doesn’t see Joker’s attraction to the chaos that Bruce brings to their confrontation, doesn’t even conceive of the possibility that he could be responsible for inspiring Red Hood to commit future crimes simply to have a reason to tangle with him, to delight in that chaos.  Moreover, he similarly doesn’t see how he suddenly presents an intellectual challenge for Riddler that Edward has never previously had.  On some level, the criticism that Bruce created the villains who come to Gotham to face him has always struck me as unfair, since it seems impossible that he would've been able to foresee such a path in the beginning of career (and it would be too late to do anything about it by the time said patterns are established).  After all, who could've anticipated the levels of depravity that Joker will plumb?  (Did anyone else get chills at the line, “Nothing like sirens where they shouldn’t be on a sunny afternoon, is there?”)  It reminds me of a Riddler story, I think, maybe from the "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" anthology, where he talks about how everything had changed, how Joker and Penguin were now killing people.  It was a sly reference to the fact that comics -- and their villains -- have gotten significantly darker since their inception.  However, Snyder, now given a chance to give us a dark start, takes away some of the excuse that villains like Joker and Penguin "got darker," something that Bruce couldn't have predicted in the beginning of his career.  Now, Snyder makes it clear that the roots were there all along and implies that Bruce might’ve been able to see them if he was a little less arrogant (and listened to Alfred).

Capullo, as always, does a spectacular job on the art.  Though I had an immediate aversion to the oroboros design as a result of Morrison’s run on this title, Capullo’s use of it to display Bruce and Riddler’s inaugural dance of wits is spectacular, recalling the upside-down page that blew everyone's mind in “Batman” #5.

So, despite how great this issue was, I’m trying not to be too hopeful.  After “Night of the Owls” and “Death of the Family,” I’m skeptical that Snyder can keep the tight control over the narrative that he displays here.  But, if he does, it’ll be downright Millerian.

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