Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion
This is a damn impressive issue in what has been an impressive opening arc for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman. Last Bat-time we saw our hero captured by the Court of Owls, trapped in their deathmaze without any hope of escape (technically, they called it a labyrinth, but "deathmaze" has a certain ring to it).
While that remains a pressing problem, the issue actually opens with a short dialogue between James Gordon and Harvey Bullock that properly sets the stage for what's to come. James has been turning on the Batsignal every night, despite Batman's absence, and the conversation between the two touches on Batman's importance to those around him and the wider world. On its own, it's a nice little treatise about the character, but it also functions as a good shorthand to advance the story the required week to bring us to Batman's current state after seven days in said deathmaze, and it's pretty dire.
Introduction aside, this issue is pretty much solely concerned with following Batman's slow descent into madness as he tries to out-think and out-maneuver the Court of Owls, who remain rather mysterious and enigmatic. In that sense, this issue (and again, this arc) is rather unlike most Batman stories, because he seems to be rather unprepared for what he is facing, which isn't exactly a common thing for him. While I would certainly agree that having a hero win without difficulty does not make for interesting reading (see my review for Amazing Spider-Man above), I'm definitely not used to seeing Batman struggle so desperately. That being said, I'm willing to go along with things because of how well-crafted they are.
A few more pages are spent establishing Bruce's struggle to maintain his sanity and find a way out of the deathmaze, and then things get interested. While Bruce's grip on reality starts to twist, so does the page of the comic. Snyder, Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion literally rotate the comic book ninety degrees, forcing you to read the book what would normally be considered sideways. It's a brilliant way to have form reinforce content, taking the reader out of their comfort zone to reflect Batman's difficulties. There are a few more things of a similar nature that the creators use to show Batman's increasing madness, but I'll leave them to you to discover.
My main gripe with this issue is that it feels a little bit rushed. While I appreciated the opening scene, the fact that this is a twenty page issue means that everything else has to get jammed into the remaining seventeen pages, and the story suffers a little for it. The entire thing is robbed of some of its gravitas as it feels like everything happens just a little bit too quickly. This issue would have really benefited from having a few more pages.
Also, the fanboy in me continues to not be entirely won over by the idea that something like the Council of the Owls has existed in Gotham since pretty much forever and that Batman had no idea. Add in how thoroughly they're trouncing Batman right now, and it kind of feels like Snyder is throwing Batman under the bus to show the reader how nefarious / badass / cool this new addition to his rogues gallery is, and it's not working for me. But maybe that's just me.
Verdict - Buy It. Fanboy griping aside, this is a solid comic book. The rushed pacing hurts the story a bit, keeping this from being a "Must Read", but everything else is so good that it's forgivable. Snyder continues to write a mean Batman, and Capullo and Glapion are doing a bang-up job of bringing his words to life.
Quick Shot Reviews
CHEW #23 - I love Chew. It's humour really tickles my funny bone, and I'm always happy to see new issues of this book. After really raising the stakes in the previous storyarcs by introducing the alien writing in the sky, John Layman and Rob Guillory have dialed things back to tell a more personal tale featuring Amelia's ex-boyfriend. He's kidnapped Tony to use his cibopathic powers to learn about the sex lives of dead baseball players for a book he's writing, and it's just as ridiculous as it sounds, but in the context of the world Layman and Guillory have created, it also makes perfect sense. While that craziness is going on, Colby, Tony's former partner, is having difficulties adapting to life with the USDA, and things are just as wacky there. This book had some issues with its release schedule last year, but things are starting well for 2012. Verdict - Buy It.
VENOM #12 - Rick Remender has been doing some good things with this series, featuring Flash Thompson as the latest inheritor of the Venom symbiote, but I'm starting to wonder where this book is going. At this point, it's starting to feel like Flash has been under Crime Master's thumb forever, which means it's getting rather old. Blackmail is great and all, but it is a bit limited in what it can offer narratively, and that's definitely starting to show. Perhaps the best example of that is that this issue's major offering is a big throwdown between Venom and Jack O'Lantern, which is all well and good, but if you've been paying attention at home, that's actually how issue #1 opened. Unfortunately, that begs the question of what's really changed in the time in between? That's being a little harsh, as there have been some excellent moments in this series, but it definitely feels like it's been stalled of late. Flash's frustration boils over with him breaking up with Betty and looking for the solution to his woes at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniel's. I know it's supposed to be dramatic, but it feels regressive to me. Verdict - Skip It.
Some mildly negative reviews this week, it would seem. Did you catch any of these issues? Are my frustrations warranted? Additionally, how do you feel about my Court of Owls issue over in Batman? Do you feel similarly, or am I way off base here? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so hit up the comments to let me know.