Batman # 38 Review – Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

batman38Since I started writing for The Comics Herald I’ve learned a lot about comics, both in the way the proverbial sausage is made and how I tackle reviewing them. I’d like to think that I have grown into my own voice, and have moved away from simply stating the story beats, and actually delving into what they actually mean.

Writing anything is always a work in progress, and writing for comics – admittedly an area which I have only truly begun to embrace in my formative years of being an adult – has taught me a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do. This week I discovered I have a tendency to make definitive statements that veer too much into the dramatic – see my final line of my Batman #13 review. Or the way I structured my review of the “Death of a Family” arc, and how I claimed that it was the greatest event ever to grace our shelves in modern comics (and that no one could tell me other wise goddammit!). I’ve learned to pare back such statements. I can’t tell you if this or that comic is a classic – it’s too soon after the fact to make bold remarks.

But there is a problem when something so good rolls around. The monthly release schedule means that often I completely forget what happened in previous issues, and sometimes the weekly releases feel like a chore more than anything. But not Batman. I have never forgotten what has happened between issues, nor have I looked at the release once and gone “Maybe I can skip it this time.” Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have constructed such a fantastic story, time and time again, that it is very hard not making big claims. And “Endgame”? You bet I’m going to burst a blood vessel trying not to.

“Endgame” is dealing with something that hasn’t really been dealt with in recent memory – what would happen if the Joker stopped playing around? No longer seen as some kind of twisted friendship, Batman has finally become something that the Joker can no longer stand – someone he finally hates. This arc becomes somewhat of a second act to “Death of the Family”, where the Joker was acting out of some form of love by removing the things he viewed as making Batman weak. He is now plainly trying to remove Batman out of the equation forever. This Joker has become truly terrifying.

Snyder and Capulo have capitalised on the fear people have for the Joker before, but not like this. This issue highlights how this arc has become a city wide horror story, where a legion of Joker zombies are hunting down Batman thanks to an airborne version of the Joker gas. The scenes echo classic zombie movie tropes and it is always fun to see Batman move through a story that feels more at home in the horror genre.

Enough about mood and themes, lets talk about the two big developments this issue. Firstly, Batman’s investigation into the Joker suggests that he may belong to the same kind of villainy that Vandal Savage and Ra’s Al Ghul inhabit, and there may be historical evidence to back it up. This is a fascinating development, as it ties in brilliantly with the Joker over the years who should have died, but keeps bouncing back. The best part of this revelation is that in true Joker fashion, there really isn’t any definitive answer to that allegation – at least not yet. It echoes the multi-choice origin from the Killing Joke, and I think it would certainly add layers to the character if it was never substantiated.

Secondly, and this is the big one, Batman turns to the Court of Owls for help in an incredible cliffhanger. This is brilliant as it ties together their run on Batman nicely. Too many comics seem to have an amnesia for whatever small events that preceded it, so it is refreshing for Snyder and Capullo to really make this story seem like it was built from the beginning. “Court of the Owls” was a fantastic visual showcase for Capullo, and I look forward to seeing what else he brings to the table in the remaining issues of “Endgame”.

Like I said, I’m having a hard time trying not to gush over these turn of events. Really, all I can say is that I cannot wait for what happens next. February 25th cannot come soon enough.

Review: Batman #20 – Snyder / Capullo / Miki

batman-20This issue is the end of the two-part Nowhere Man story arc as well as the final story to be told in the present day in Batman, as Year Zero begins in issue 21. This is another amazingly rendered issue by Greg Capullo. His Clayface is menacing. His fantastically detailed visage is freakishly frightening as he twists his amorphous body into an oozing blob of murderous intent, actually swallowing a battered Bruce Wayne in the opening pages of this issue. He is then very unceremoniously spat into a crusher used by Wayne Enterprises R&D Department to eradicate unusable prototypes – he joins a previously deposited Lucius Fox. Fox informs him that Clayface has over-ridden the fail safe protocols and that there is no other way out. All the weapons are gutted before being disposed of, but there hidden beneath a mound of bits and pieces of discarded Wayne-Tech is a concept suit which he Bruce dons to rescue them both. In a nod to Batman Beyond, Lucius explains to Bruce that it will be twenty years before this suit will become cost effective. Bruce leaves in pursuit of Clayface.

In the guise of Bruce Wayne, Clayface is leading the Gotham Police on a high speed motorcycle chase. Batman, now wearing a sort of electrified armor, catches up to him and informs him that his blackmail scheme is over. He then attempts to use hydrogen fluoride to thwart the shape-shifting monster – to no avail. Clayface taunts Batman by morphing his fingers into grotesque puppet-like versions of The Joker, Penguin and Riddler. Batman tries solvent, coolant – anything that would have worked on the old Clayface. Nothing works so then he resorts to electricity – he charges the suit and releases every ounce of power he can generate into Clayface.

This does nothing more than tingle the hulking villain. He grabs Batman by the head, crushes the face mask of his helmet and makes contact with his skin just as Commissioner shows up with a squad of police officers. They hold their guns on Clayface and he transforms again into Bruce Wayne. Clayface now believes he has uncovered Batman’s secret identity for all to see. Since making contact with Batman’s skin should have allowed him to become whoever he is under the mask. However in the confusion, Clayface is trapped in a panic chamber that has been programed to respond to the only person Batman can be sure that Clayface cannot duplicate the DNA of – Basil Karlo. It seems that in becoming everyone he touched, Basil Karlo had lost his own genetic code thus, making himself a cipher, a perfect clay man. Batman explains that he was wearing a fiber mask of Bruce Wayne’s DNA, which is the reason he became Wayne after touching him, once again preserving his secret identity. This angers Clayface so much so that he takes on the likeness of Damien Wayne and rages against the rich like Bruce Wayne and their disregard for everything including his own son. Batman is still raw from his loss and flies into a blind rage, kicking the panic chamber containing Karlo who is still maintaining the image of Damien.

Batman is recounting the capture of Clayface to Alfred back at the Batcave. Alfred has just finished wrapping Batman’s most recent bruises, when he joins him for an evening of reminiscing about his lost son. In an extremely poignant and tender moment we see a single tear stream down Bruce’s cheek as he watches the view screen inside his visor.

This was an extremely well written arc. Scott Snyder kept the possibility of Batman’s identity being exposed just out of reach for the entire story. The suspense just added to the excitement of an already pulse-pounding plot. Snyder re-invents Clayface as a more powerful, far more formidable foe. This was a nice send off before Year Zero starts next issue, which will tie things up for the next eleven months. I could read Scott Snyder’s dialogue forever – it is so good that I find myself quoting it as one might do from a favorite film.

Let’s move from some of the best writing in comics to talk about some of the best artwork in comics today.

Greg Capullo is unbelievable at drawing horrific monsters – just look at his work on Spawn and Haunt. The amount of detail he puts into his creatures is what makes the difference. His Clayface is not just a blob but a layered mass of crust and teeth and muddy goo, something truly disgusting and awful to behold let alone to be swallowed by. I can only call to mind the words of Han Solo when he commented about a freshly opened taun-taun, “And I thought they smelled bad on the outside”. Just imagine what Bruce Wayne endured while inside Clayface. I’m sure it was an assault on all senses, and Greg Capullo brings that so sharply into focus that you can almost smell the dank musty mud. His artwork is second to none and his work on Batman is some of his best.

The back-up story written by James Tynion IV, with art by the great Alex Maleev, is also brought to completion here. It’s not an Earth shattering epic but just a nice Batman/ Superman team-up story. The two heroes battle a supernatural entity called Will O’ The Wisp. The end of the story shows us a moment of deep friendship and the effects of Batman’s loss on that friendship. Ultimately that’s really what this story is, a glimpse of a deep friendship.

Batman #20 is an all-around top-notch comic book with fabulous writing and fantastic art. If you are not currently a regular reader of Batman you might want to take the upcoming Year Zero event to jump on. You will be happy you did, trust me.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Batman “Death of the Family” – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman Death of Family Review(Note: the Death of the Family arc compiles issues 13-17 of Batman)

When I reviewed Batman #13, the first issue of “Death of the Family”, back in December, I posed the question of this arc’s place within the Dark Knight’s story hall of fame. Would it be able to stand up to the likes of The Killing Joke or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, some of the greatest works in comic history, or would it pass by leaving the Batman mythos largely unchanged? Following the conclusion of the arc in Batman #17 less than a week ago, it’s safe to say that not only is this a fantastic look at the Batman- Joker relationship, but leaves the entire Bat-family in an interesting predicament.

The Joker takes centre stage for the arc, and the creative team make sure you know it. Capullo pulls no punches in creating a truly terrifying rendition of the character – his face rots before the reader’s eyes in horrifying beauty. This is some of Greg Capullo’s best work on Batman – the Joker’s face pulls and twists as events play out, and Capullo manages to portray emotions of a man who lacks many of the features that people actually need to do so. It’s twisted, disgusting and beautiful all at once.

Art elsewhere is also a treat. Aside from the Joker, there are many other gruesome scenes that colourist FCO Plascencia and Capullo craft excellently. Alongside the story beats, Bruce Wayne’s emotions run wild in this arc – Capulo shows anger, desperation, and sadness, seemingly with ease. I’m a huge fan of his take on an enraged Batman, and this is delivered in large doses.

In the end, art wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t up to the same standard. Thankfully Scott Snyder delivers in producing one of the most interesting takes on the Joker/Batman dynamic. Snyder places Batman on a pedestal for the Joker, showing an almost fanatical love for his nemesis, much in the same way a patriot would love their king. The Joker feels that the Bat-family drags Batman down, that his family isn’t what makes Batman – it’s the Joker that does. The Joker honestly believes he understands Batman better than anyone, and that his plan will restore his “king” to his former glory. It’s a sick and twisted love story – and just in time for Valentines Day.

Snyder also creates tension with Bruce’s understanding of his nemesis as well. He holds his family at arms length, feeling that his understanding of the Joker is what can save them, and that this is something only he can handle. The way Bruce deals with his family is patriarchal, and leads to some great moments of tension.

These events all come to a head in an explosive final showdown, providing one of the most memorable exchanges between these two characters. Not only does it highlight their relationship in a succinct manner, but it also provides character development that I honestly did not expect to see. Without spoiling anything, this is best exchange between the two since The Killing Joke. Hands down.

When The Death of the Family finally reaches its phenomenal finale, it wont be what you expect. Snyder successfully manages to defy the expectations of what a status quo changing event can be, setting up a new world for Bruce Wayne to deal with. Snyder and Capullo’s take on the Joker  is not only one of this creative team’s best stories, but one of the best Batman stories ever. This is what events in superhero comics should aspire to be.

Score: 10/10

Review: Batman #13 – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

batman13Ask any fan of Batman comics who they think the Dark Knight’s greatest nemesis is, and you’ll be sure to hear The Joker’s name more than once. The quintessential Batman villain, The Joker has always been the other side of the same coin, a product of similar tragedy that turned him into a murderous madman. So when it was announced that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were bringing a new story featuring The Joker, especially on the heels of his fantastic character study of Bruce Wayne in his previous arc “The Court of Owls”, it wasn’t hard to be intrigued.

The stage for Batman #13, which marks the beginning of his new story arc “Death of the Family”, takes place a year after the events of Detective Comics #1. The Joker had allowed his face to be removed by another villain known as The Dollmaker, and he returns a year later beginning a series of ‘greatest hits’ – previous crimes that were perpetrated in famous Batman stories of the past. As we soon learn though, his motives are much more sinister. These events don’t end up as Bruce expects, and it hurtles towards a fantastic cliff-hanger at the issue’s end.

Snyder creates a wonderfully dark entrance for the Clown Prince. The inner monologue of the Batman, combined with his uncanny ability to channel The Joker’s demented dialogue to a tee, helps create a truly dark and twisted story. Snyder manages to instil a true sense of dread and horror within the pages of Batman #13, especially in a chilling assault of the Gotham P.D. at the onset of the issue. The horror isn’t merely blood and gore either, as the Joker’s dialogue throughout the sequence is truly evil and terrifying. Without spoiling anything, you’re going to want to look under your bed. While many of the stunts resemble fairly “standard” (whatever that term may mean in this case) Joker crimes, it sets the mood for how the arc will play out, and still leaves the reader guessing where the action will end up next.

Synder also works in a subtle character moment for the Dark Knight in this issue. As he communicates with the rest of the Bat-family about The Joker’s return, you learn that he intends to keep details, and even the investigation itself, between him and his nemesis. It is a moment where you realise that Bruce either wants to protect the ones he loves, or is willing to bank on his own skills and hubris to bring The Joker down, which is an important theme tackled in the “The Court of Owls” arc. It’s interesting that Snyder chose to revisit this theme, considering that Bruce Wayne should have learned his lesson in “The Court of Owls”, and it will be interesting to see how it will play out.

Greg Capullo’s pencils combined with Jonathan Glapion’s colours gives the art in the issue a strong resemblance to the Batman: The Animated Series of the late 1990s. It’s suitably graphic without relying too much on gore, and when The Joker’s face is finally revealed, it will give you chills down your spine. Its dark and twisted, and it really works.

It should also be worth mentioning that picking up Batman #13 without any previous interaction with Snyder’s run will be of no real detriment to the story he is writing here. While it may drop in a couple of references to his previous encounters with The Joker, it only requires a base understanding of how the villain works.

When Scott Snyder’s run on Batman moved towards the event “Death of the Family”, and the inevitable return of the Clown Prince of Gotham,  the questions were asked regarding whether this new take on this villain would live up to the standard set by The Killing Joke, and other Joker tales of times gone by. After Batman #13 perhaps we should begin to ask a new question:

What if the “Death of the Family” is better?