Thee Comic Column #9: Batman #13

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I have not been reading Scott Snyder’s Batman relaunch from DC’s New52 for the past year and since about six months in, after falling in love with his Swamp Thing re-boot and the mini-series Severed Snyder put out through Image I have regretted not jumping on his Batman. All the things I’ve read and heard have led me to the conclusion that I have truly been missing out on this series so when I heard issue 13 would not only begin a new storyline, but that that storyline would involve the return of  THE JOKER, I was really excited.

Then I read it.

Okay, maybe this is a rush to judgment, but man – this was not good. The events that Mr. Snyder strings together to define this first issue suffer from a compression that feels… too tight. I’m not advocating having ‘catch-up’ exposition for jumpers-on, but there are things that feel clumsy here between the story and the art. For example when Joker appears on live tv to make his proclamation that the mayor will die at Midnight, Bats, Damien and Alfred all watch and loosely explain – in clipped dialogue snippets – “I’m seeing it. Run facial and voice recognition,” apparently implying that the person dressed as Joker sitting in front of the camera isn’t in fact joker. This becomes clear over the course of the page’s nine frames, as it’s obviously someone dressed in a purple suit with a bad cosmetics job to complete the motif. However the next bit of dialogue between Alfred and Bats sets up, “The arms Master Bruce.” “Joker’s. It’s the old children’s gag.”

Okay, so the guy is tied to the chair, forced to recite Joker’s message and what? Joker has his arms through the back of the suit to manipulate – and eventually raise a pistol to the head of – this hapless victim. But that’s not how the art makes it look. Maybe I’m just not getting this, but it seemed like about half of the panels kind of follow this verbal set-up and the other half do not. It might not sound like a big deal, but this is the best example of the strange lopsidedness that flows through the spine of this issue. Maybe it’s just new story growing pains, or maybe it just didn’t jive with me at the time (although I re-read it and found it not as confusing as the first time, but still fairly rough-around-the-edges) but I’m really wondering if it’s not something else. I’ve talked here before about the rumors of editorial drive that are allegedly the true engines of the New 52 and I’m really wondering if that’s not what we’re seeing here. A good amount of time is spent reeling in peripheral Bat-family characters and setting up how they may eventually be involved. We’ve already heard in the marketing and pre-release interviews how this storyline, titled “Death of the Family”  is assuredly the kind of crossover where “you don’t have to read every book to follow it” but taken a different way what does that mean, exactly? After this first issue I’m taking it to mean that no, you don’t have to read every crossover title to follow it, but then you may very well not get the full swing of the story. I mean, I know it makes sense to have the Joker infiltrate the lives of all of the Batman related characters, but couldn’t that be accomplished in the pages of just this core book? Maybe not – maybe then it’d be overstuffed, much like a shcumacher Batman movie. What is the answer? I don’t know. But what I do know is that after this first issue I’m thinking even though Snyder is hot hot hot as a creator right now DC’s Bat-Editorial staff may not be giving him the kind of free reign he’s had over in Swamp Thing. And I guess maybe thats okay, it just means it’s been a while since I’ve read a big company, main character book and perhaps my prejudices against them stand strong. I was expecting the kind of massive, creator-fueled madness that someone like Grant Morrison did with New X-men ten years ago, or Garth Ennis did with The Punisher. Instead Batman #13 was really dark and pretty art by Greg Capullo (his Leatherface-ish, faceless Joker is really freakin’ awesome!) muted, atmospheric tones by Jonathan Glapion and the faintest inklings of a massive epic strained through rigid big 2 formatting by Scott Snyder. I’m not sure if I’m giving up on this book, but with all of the WONDERFUL other stuff out there – some it written by Mr. Snyder – I’m definitely proceeding with caution.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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