Friday, October 16, 2015

Batman #44 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


Throughout this issue, I was wondering why Snyder went with a flashback story here.  As the title of the issue suggests, it's just a "simple case" taking place shortly after Zero Year, with Bruce trying to determine who killed a teenage boy named Peter.  He had been shot four times and his body dumped in the marshes on the edge of Gotham. Bruce figures that it's the Penguin, since he's running guns and supplies to street gangs using airships.

But, it wasn't the Penguin.  Peter had approached Oswald because the bank was trying to foreclose on his family's bodega to take advantage of the redevelopment of the neighborhood; an empty store would've given Penguin's enemies in the area, the Four Fives gang, a base of operations.  Peter proposed a deal:  the Penguin helps him save the bodega, and Peter spies on the Four Fives.  Instead, the Penguin turned over the shop to the Four Fives as a peace offering, since the bodega was located on their turf.   Bruce figures that it's them, then.

But, it isn't the Four Fives either.  Their leader tells Batman that they went to burn down the place as a message, but he was actually impressed with the kid's rage when Peter attacked his men.  But, Peter had fled before he could offer him a spot on the gang.  Then, Jim Gordon calls and tells Bruce that the bullets in Peter's body belonged to a cop.  Bruce pays him a visit, and he admits that he shot Peter as he fled the burning shop.  It doesn't take a CNN commentator to know what happens to young black men running from a burning shop.

But, it also isn't the cop.  Peter didn't die from the shots; Bruce knows he died from the fall.  He goes to visit the boy's father, in a coma since Zero Year, the reason that Peter is responsible for the bodega in the first place.  Peter's cousin is there, and he tells Batman that he told Peter to go to the man behind the bank and the redevelopment:  Bruce Wayne.  But, Wayne didn't hear Peter's pleas as he screamed to him from a crowd.  After everything, he decided that he wanted to push back against the bad guys like Batman.

So, he went to Mr. Bloom.  Honestly, I didn't see it coming until that moment.  Peter went to Bloom, grew wings, and tried to fly from Gotham.  But, his wings disappeared, and he died from the fall.  I'm going to guess that the serum also stopped him from dying from the four gunshot wounds, because Snyder doesn't really explain how he survived that incident so easily.  Jock doesn't even really portray him limping or pained after he's shot.

This story is important in a few ways.  First, it's really one of the first ones that I've read that incorporates the message of "Black Lives Matter" in a comic.  Some people might inevitably roll their eyes, but Snyder knows Batman well enough as a character to know that he should be confronting this issue.  Moreover, Snyder doesn't employ it as a preachy fable, but as part of the ongoing story and Batman's development.  It not only shows that Mr. Bloom has been a growing threat for a while, but it also teaches Bruce the lesson of keeping his ear to the ground.  Early in this issue, he scares away a bunch of teenagers that wanted to talk to him.  After solving the case, he finds them so that he can talk to them.  Snyder makes it clear that Bruce realizes that he could've saved Peter had he been there, on that street corner.  He would've heard that Wayne Enterprises was the reason that his life was going to be ruined, and he could've fixed the problem.  It's the whole point of community policing, and Snyder really shows it as the birth of the idea that the innocent have no reason to fear the Batman.

To add to the brilliance of the issue, it reunites Snyder and Jock.  This issue feels like their run on "Detective Comics" so much that it makes you long for those days, before Snyder got sucked into the "Batman Eternal" and "Night of the Owls" vortex of "Batman."  Something about their work together makes each one of them even better than they normally are.

In other words, it's a beautiful and important story without the connection to Mr. Bloom.  With that connection, it's a chilling foreshadowing to what we're going to see unfold over the next few issues.  It's rare when someone pulls off a story that works on this many levels, but Snyder really does it here, and it's one of the best issues that I've read in a long time.

***** (five of five stars)

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