Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils/Cover artist: Greg Capullo
Inks: Jonathan Glapion
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Writer Scott Snyder’s run on the previous incarnation of Detective Comics has been hailed by critics as one of the best Batman stories to come along in some time, so I looked forward to delving into his take on Gotham and its caped crusader with this newly relaunched Batman series. Well, he definitely delivers an entertaining read that celebrates the vast array of weird characters that populate Gotham, from classic villains to modern additions to the mythos. But what was more surprising to me was how much I enjoyed Greg Capullo’s artwork here. His exaggerated style — still clearly influenced by the 1980s and ’90s excesses of artist Todd (Spawn) McFarlane’s work — suits the intense and psychotic nature of these characters. Furthermore, he’s not content to just depict these characters as they’ve traditionally been shown. Capullo adds his own twists on the visual concepts, bringing a fresh look to decades-old characters while also remembering where they come from and what made them popular in the first place. This first issue was a tremendous fun read, incorporating much of the Batman family and the lion’s share of the title character’s rogues’ gallery.
After ferreting out corruption in the heart of the Arkham Asylum staff, Batman retires to his headquarters, the Batcave, to test out some new technology before he has to move onto his next commitment, this time as Bruce Wayne. Joined by the three young men who have been his responsibility and allies over the years, Wayne hosts a party and news conference at Wayne Manor, during which he unveils his plans for Gotham City. Whereas most of the city’s residents see it as a dark, dangerous place, Bruce has opted to envision a brighter future, and he approached by a potential new ally in that effort. Meanwhile, a John Doe murder victim has been discovered in a seedy Gotham apartment, and the torturous methods used on the poor soul are almost as disturbing as the name of a prime suspect identified from a clue found on the body itself.
Capullo is best known for his work on McFarlane’s Spawn, and in many ways, he seemed to ape his boss’s style. Nothing wrong with that, really, as Spawn readers and McFarlane fans are looking for a specific look when reading those comics. The more exaggerated, angular, McFarlane-esque leanings in his style are still apparent with this project, but while on Spawn I could’ve taken or left it, I like it here. Capullo’s pencils reminded me at times of the styles of such artists as Humberto (Amazing Spider-Man) Ramos and Andy (Flashpoint) Kubert. I like his redesign of the Riddler, and his tweaks to the designs of such villains as the Joker and Two-Face are memorable, conveying their grotesque, disfigured qualities quite well and thereby showing the audience how twisted they are on the inside. I also appreciated the grimy texture Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion and the colors bring to the backgrounds in the latter sequence at a crime scene.
My one qualm with the art is Capullo’s failure to convey scale among the characters. Dick Grayson looks to be almost a foot shorter than Bruce, and Bruce is depicted as being several inches shorter than Lincoln March. It’s also unfortunate March, aside from the height difference, is a dead ringer for Bruce Wayne, which could make for some confusing moments later in the story arc.
Snyder’s script doesn’t really acknowledge this is part of a reboot whatsoever. It firmly establishes Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Damien Wayne have all been (and in one case, is) Robin, and while the Batman Inc. concept isn’t overtly mentioned, its influence is apparent. For certain franchises — especially the Batman and Green Lantern families of titles — ignoring the supposed five-year timeline is probably for the best. It certainly doesn’t work for the Batman’s history, given his sidekicks’ careers. Questioning continuity in the larger context of the New 52 will only interfere with one’s enjoyment of this particular story.
The writer opts to include a lot of characters in this first issue, and it really gives one a sense of the breadth of the Batman mythos. At the same time, though, the script is accessible. Snyder crafts a high-tech plot device to identify supporting cast characters clearly. I also appreciated the more hopeful tone in Bruce’s speech, which is in keeping with a philosophical shift we saw in the character in last week’s Batman and Robin #1. I was surprised to see Nightwing playing such a pivotal role in this first issue, but his assistance in the opening scene brought a Silver Age feel to the story. Furthermore, I’m genuinely interested in how the mystery that arises at the end of the issue will play out.
A recurring motif in this first issue is the notion sometimes people are what or who they seem to be. We see it with the Batman’s unlikely ally in Arkham Asylum. We get that riff in the final panel, as DNA evidence points to the most unlikely of murder suspects, and we get a sense of something sinister from the towering mayoral candidate. In the end, though, I think what won me over was the playfulness of this Batman story. Batman and Det. Harvey Bullock joke around. Commission Gordon cracks a joke. The banter among the members of the Batman family is pretty light. Despite the gruesome nature of the crime that serves as the catalyst for the main plot, there’s a real sense of fun here. The grim-n-gritty vibe has been toned down, and I’m reminded of the Batman family stories of the 1970s and ’80s as a result. And while it was a fun read, it didn’t feel like a light read. The art and script are on the dense side, so I really felt I got my three bucks’ worth here. 7/10
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