Bat-ing 52: A Retrospective on Batman by Snyder and Capullo

batman #51

Wednesday April 27th, 2016 saw the release of Batman #51, the final installment in the critically acclaimed run on the series by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Since September 2011 this team, aided by the likes of Johnathan Glapion, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, and Steve Wands, crafted one of the most consistent titles in DC’s New 52 slate. Now that the series is over, I felt it prudent to discuss my thoughts on the run as a whole.

Note: this article contains mild spoilers for Batman (2011) #1-51.

Men Behind the Bat-Man

The greatest bromance in comics.

The greatest bromance in comics.

My first exposure to Scott Snyder’s writing came neither from his acclaimed work on American Vampire nor from his short story work, nor from his work on Detective Comics nor even from the Batman title itself. No, I first saw his name on a comic when I read the three-part miniseries Flashpoint: Project Superman, which I rather enjoyed. Thus, I had little knowledge of his work when I first dove into the first trade of the series, titled “Court of Owls,” which received widespread praise in the months before it was collected.

Similarly, I had little context for artist Greg Capullo. I’d seen his work in Haunt and liked it, but there was nothing there that would prepare me for the breadth of his abilities as he tackled everything from assassins to labyrinths to sewers to the Batcave and even, yes, to giant Gundam-esque robo-bat suits.

It’s probably for the best that I didn’t have any expectations for this creative team before diving into the series, because that just meant they could blow me out of the water.

Here Come the Owls (Oh, Brother!)

The_Court_of_Owls

Frickin’ rich people

“Court of Owls” kicked off in Batman #1. The arc, which remains the high point of the run in my mind, brought out a mystery and flayed Batman for his overconfidence.

In this storyline, Batman faces the titular Court of Owls, a group of Gotham’s elite that secretly control much of the city. They eliminate any and all rivals via a group of undead assassins known as Talons. The story reveals that Gotham holds more secrets than Batman can ever hope to uncover, and forces him to confront the city’s history. In fact, this arc establishes the running theme of Gotham as an almost living entity in the series, one that endures and constantly pushes new challenges upon the Dark Knight.

Overall, the Court of Owls stands out as my favorite arc in Snyder and Capullo’s run. It has some amazing art, particularly the design of the Talons and the issue where Batman is trapped in the Court’s maze. Though the end of the story didn’t land as well as I’d have liked with an open door rather than a resolution, and also included a major reveal that, while interesting, left more exploration and development desired. Nevertheless, “The Court of Owls” created new opportunities for storytelling within Gotham that spiraled out into other series in the Batman family of comics. I’d be surprised if the Court of Owls doesn’t stay a fixture in the Batman mythos for at least the next decade, if not longer.

Face-Off with the Joker

batman17

Joker appeared as the primary antagonist twice in Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. The first time occurred in a story known as “Death of the Family,” a reference to the famed storyline where the Joker killed the best Robin, Jason Todd. The story explored the warped relationship between Batman and the Joker, likening it to a pair of twisted siblings. Joker argues that Batman’s allies such as Batgirl, Robin, and Nightwing make him weak, and that only by competing one-on-one does each bring out the best in his archrival.

Though this arc has a compelling plot and gorgeous visuals, it definitely fell flat at the end. The buildup was amazing, with Joker threatening and taking out each member of the Bat-family, while implying that he knows all of Batman’s secrets. As the arc continues, Batman’s allies become increasingly distrustful and, though they triumph over the Clown Prince of Crime, their relationship with one another is irrevocably shattered…or at least that’s what the ending would have you believe.

In reality, though the arc implies Batman loses the trust of his friends and family, there really isn’t much payout. We see him continue to pal around with these characters in other Bat-family titles and little to no animosity is expressed. It’s possible that this ending was part of a larger game plan by Snyder that was derailed when Robin dies at the end of Batman, Inc. and, as a result, the distrust storyline was sidelined to make room for Robin’s requiem.

Still, “Death of the Family” works well as a standalone entry and, perhaps if one disregards what follows the ending is stronger. Furthermore, this arc sets things up for a later tale…but we’ll get there in a moment.

Play It Again, Edward

Riddler Zero Year

“What’s black and white and red all over?” -The Riddler’s A-Material

“Zero Year” came next and is my least favorite part of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. The arc retells Batman’s origin story, taking us six years into the past when a younger Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham and fights the likes of The Riddler and Doctor Death.

I’ll start with the good. This arc is a feast for the eyes. Colorist FCO Plascencia deserves much of the credit here as he experiments with a bright palette that one wouldn’t expect in a comic starring Batman. The scenes pop off the page with vivid violets, greens, and yellows. Furthermore, this arc allowed the artists to flex their creative muscles portraying strange robots, destroyed cityscapes, and lions. It also brought out some antagonists that are criminally underused by Batman scribes.

Alas, the downfall of this arc for me was its length. “Zero Year,” though an interesting and gripping tale, spanned an entire year of Batman. I expect the length was planned from the start, yet the story took a while to get going and didn’t get truly exciting until around the midpoint. The decompression definitely hampered my experience. Perhaps reading the story in a single sitting rather than waiting a month between issues provides a greater benefit, and it may behoove me to reread “Zero Year.” In contrast to the aforementioned arcs, I found the ending strong which may be partially attributable to the fact that, as an origin story, there is an ending, albeit one that’s somewhat artificial since the audience still sees what’s next for Batman.

Endgame is not the End

Batman-35

Green Lantern does not appear in this issue #CoversAlwaysLie

“Endgame” started with a simple premise: Batman vs. the Justice League in one of the most exciting showdowns in recent comic history. The story continued to reveal the Joker’s machinations behind this betrayal, and culminated in an epic confrontation between the Darknight Detective and the Clown Prince of Crime.

I take it back: “Court of Owls” is great, but “Endgame” is better. This arc felt like how Snyder and Capullo initially planned their story to end, with a conclusion that feels final and, in my eyes, does justice to the characters involved.

The fight scenes in “Endgame” are epic, as are the questions that confront Batman. If he won’t accept the Joker’s love offered in “Death of the Family,” then he will have to endure the madman’s hate which can crush absolutely everything he’s spent his life building. The arc is further unnerving as it shows that, no matter how much Batman prepares, the Joker can always gain the upper hand, can always find some wound to pick at and infect.

Like “Zero Year,” this arc took advantage of some wacky color schemes that helped draw contrast between Batman and Joker. One fights for justice and sticks to a solid path and goal, while the other thrives on madness and unpredictability. No battle between these two characters better encapsulates the message of order versus chaos than “Endgame.”

And what followed blew my mind.

Mobile Suit Gordon

Batman #41

“Yes father, I shall become a robotic bunny.”

Bruce Wayne hung up cape and cowl after “Endgame,” losing his memories and abilities as Batman. While Wayne adjusted to a normal life, Jim Gordon became Batman thanks to his own advanced mech suit. As Bruce attempted to build a relationship with Julie Madison and become a mentor to disadvantaged children, Gordon took on the scum of Gotham, including the horrific Mr. Bloom.

The arc, called “Superheavy,” deeply impressed me  and broke my heart. I became invested in Bruce’s attempt at a normal life, while simultaneously struggling with the fact that I wanted him to become Batman again, something that the character, and even the creative team, wrestle with. Bruce Wayne continues to do good, albeit in a different setting, while reuniting with his childhood sweetheart, only to give it all up when Gotham needs another hero.

Yet I can’t count out Jim Gordon. Though I prefer him as the chain smoking, cynical police commissioner with a heart of gold, I must admit it was great fun watching him challenge gangsters and monsters in a robo-bat suit.

Oh, and did I mention this arc culminates in a fight between a Gundam-sized Batman robot against an equally large, spindly monster?

“Superheavy” is over-the-top in the best possible way thanks to the wild action, yet also includes the most human of moments by showing us the man Bruce Wayne could’ve become. I know some fans weren’t fond of the changes in this arc, but man if I didn’t love the ride from the first page to the last.

Requiem

You've got to give it to JRJR: the man can draw awesome rain.

You’ve got to give it to JRJR: the man can draw awesome rain.

Issue #51 finished Snyder and Capullo’s work on Batman. It’s a quiet story, one without much action that takes Batman around the city and shows a plethora of his allies and enemies. The issue makes one reflect on not only Batman as a character, but also the run as a whole. It includes callbacks to the rest of the series, particularly issue #1.

I admit issue #51 left something to be desired, but it’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what I’d have preferred. With such a popular and well-executed run, I don’t think any ending could satisfy me fully and I’d wager it’s as true of the creators as it is of the fans.

Snyder will return with All-Star Batman later this year. Furthermore, he and Capullo will team up once more for an as-of-yet unannounced DC project in the near future. I’m excited to see what they both have in store next.

Shutting Down the Bat Signal

Not pictured: criminals running in fear.

Not pictured: criminals running in fear.

Batman #51 marked the end of Snyder and Capullo’s tenure in Gotham. The duo will be replaced in June by Tom King, Mikel Janin, and David Finch, all of whom are respectable creators in whom I’ve a lot of faith. Nevertheless, I’m among numerous fans who are sad to see Snyder and Capullo leave the title. However, as my father always said, “best to leave on a high note.” And what a high note.

During their time working on Batman, Snyder and Capullo pushed the bounds of what a Batman book could be. Stories ranged from mystery to horror to over-the-top action adventure and never stopped feeling like a Batman book. Tones varied widely from arc to arc, and yet the core theme of Batman as a man who can overcome any challenge no matter the size or shape endured. There were flaws within the run, particular in the pacing and endings of several arcs. Ultimately, this run stands out as one of, if not the, best title to come out of DC’s New 52. This is thanks in no small part to the consistent creative team that was given the opportunity to explore and let their creativity run wild.

It’s amazing to look back and see what Snyder, Capullo and their compatriots achieved in just under five years. And we, the fans, are the lucky ones since we got to enjoy such an amazing ride. Darn it, now I feel like going back and rereading it all.

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Silverwolf

Moar Powah's very own Clark Kent.

3 Comments:

  1. Will you do the top 10 comics of 2015, please?

    • Thanks for the suggestions! I used to do that annually (but since I left the site for a number of months, missed when I normally would have). We’re already halfway into 2016, so not sure how much interest there’d be. Maybe if I get some time I’ll do a “Top 10 Ongoing Comics Out Right Now” post.

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