A confession... I am not a Batman fan. I generally don't like the stories because I think they're often too dark without enough substance, and I find Batman to be an unrelatable hero, nothing more than a guy in a cape brooding in the dark. However, with Scott Snyder's run on Batman since the launch of the New 52, I've been happy to change my tune. Scott Snyder is one of the best comic writers out there, writing excellent character-driven pieces. I caught up on The New 52 Batman a few months ago and now, each month, I eagerly await the release of the newest issue. Here is a quick recap of some of the latest Batman issues from this fall and winter.
Batman #12. This is a great interlude between two major Batman story arcs/crossovers, The Night of the Owls and The Death of the Family. This issue tells a stand-alone story, told from the point of view of Harper Row, a street-smart, hard-working, independent high school student. She has a great loving relationship with her gay brother and stands up with him against school bullies. Batman intercedes on their behalf when they are attacked as part of a hate crime, earning her respect and devotion. The art is by Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke, giving Greg Capullo a well-deserved break. Cloonan's quasi-anime style artwork is a great fit for the first part of the story, which focuses on the brother and sister's relationship and their time at school. However, Clarke's detailed style is dramatically different than Cloonan's, making for a jarring transition in the last fourth of the tale. Overall score: 8.0 Very Good!
Batman #13. Knock Knock! The opening chapter of the Death of the Family crossover event features a creeptastic die-cut cover by Greg Capullo. This story features the return of the Joker after his face was cut off by Toyman in Detective Comics #1. Don't worry, that's all you really need to know before jumping into this horror fest. Greg Capullo returns to provide terrific artwork, pencilling Joker's high bodycount. The Joker has definitely taken a much darker turn than what I am used to seeing. He's just plain scary. You don't even get to see him until the final page of the main story. Like a true horror villain, you only get to catch fleeting glimpses of him throughout the story, making the final reveal extremely effective. The backup story "Tease" tells the story of Joker reuniniting with Harley Quinn after his year-long absence. The artwork is by Jock and is a great fit for this disturbing tale. Overall score: 9.8 OMG!
Batman #14 slows down the Death of the Family event a little bit after the nonstop thrill-ride of Batman #13. The "Funny Bones" story features some great intimate moments of Batman on his own and with Nightwing. It also reveals Joker's rationale for his return - he thinks the Bat-family is holding Batman back from greatness and claims that he knows who they are and that within 3 days, they'll all be dead by Batman's hand. Snyder and Capullo continue to make a killer team here. I actually worry a little about Scott Snyder because his Joker stories are so disturbing. Capullo kills the art here with some great one-pagers, such as Batman's confrontation with Joker on the reservoir. The backup story is "Men of Worship" with art by Jock where the Joker recruits the Penguin into his mysterious master plan. Overall score: 8.0 Very Good!
Batman #15. But here's the kicker! Shudder. Awesome. Wow. Scott Snyder continues to knock it out of the park. The first page spread features the new creepy visage of the Joker and Batman's internal dialogue about his greatest foe and does a great job of setting up this tale. The majority of this tale is exposition, telling an untold Joker story from Batman's past to the rest of the Bat-family. (An aside... Why is Jason Todd allowed in the bat cave?) The amazing opening page connects back to the final spread as Batman enters Arkham Asylum to confront the Joker. The backup story "Red Light, Green Light" recruits The Riddler into Joker's plan. I really liked the backup story as it showed just how smart The Riddler really is - but yet, how even he couldn't anticipate The Joker's final plan. Overall score: 8.5 Great!
Batman #16 This is where Joker's "Castle of Cards" is finally revealed. Unfortunately, as much as I was looking forward to this issue, I honestly cannot say I enjoyed it. I enjoy Scott Snyder's work the most when he allows the internal dialogue and character development to shine through. We are allowed a glimpse inside Bruce's mind as he urges himself on to stop the Joker's madness, but nearly the bulk of this issue is almost all breakneck action as Batman runs the Arkham Gauntlet that Joker has built at such an frantic pace that the longest of each action scene is no more than 2 pages at most, with him taking out some of the recruited rogues in no more than a panel or two. This frantic pace cheapens each individual action scene, even sometimes making it difficult to follow the action with the few panels allotted to each fight scene. A bizarre metaphor of Batman as the king is carried out throughout the entire issue. It's so bizarre and even forced at times that it actually reminds me of Grant Morrison (some may find that a compliment; I obviously don't.). I actually enjoyed the backup story more than the main story this month (despite the blatant continuity error in rogue costuming). "Judgment" immediately follows the cliffhanger of the main story, showing the dialogue of the Joker and the rogues following Batman's capture. The issue closes with a heck of a cliffhanger that integrates this story with all of the other Bat-books from the month as Joker has captured all of the Bat-family, presenting them all with the same ominous covered serving tray. Overall score: 7.0 Good.