Sometimes, success is well deserved. Such was the case for Batman #1, the relaunch of the iconic DC series by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. When the sales figures for September came in, Batman stood proudly as the highest selling of all DC’s New 52 #1s, and as I said, it was well deserved. In terms of quality, Batman #1 was one of the very best titles I read, meeting the high expectations I had for the comic. And the comic did its job as a jumping-on point for new readers perhaps better than any other title in the relaunch: with its accessible story and succinct recap of the Batman mythology, this was a comic that could appeal to someone perhaps only familiar with the character through the Christopher Nolan movies, deciding to pick up a comic for the first time. With such a successful first issue, the question on many’s lips may be, “Does Batman #2 maintain the quality of the first issue?” Having read the comic, I have to report that no, it doesn’t. Batman #2 surpasses the first issue!
I think it’s clear that, and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible, Scott Snyder is someone who is very good at talking. From his eloquent interviews and Twitter sprees where he is able to masterfully get right to the thematic core of his upcoming projects in a way that builds the maximum level of excitement from readers, to the poetic, world-building, character-defining voiceovers and monologues he has become well known for unfolding over the course of his issues, Snyder has proven himself to be a master wordsmith. But with Batman #2, Snyder displays another highly important skill for a comic writer: knowing when not to talk, when to shut up and let your artist do the talking for you.
Batman #2 is very much a comic based around action, with Snyder setting up not one, but two breathtaking action set-pieces: one a high-speed pursuit involving a helicopter, a train, and the Batcycle, and the other a nerve-wracking fight sequence that takes place during a midair death plummet. What gives each the frenzied sense of motion that makes it “breathtaking” is the stage direction of one Greg Capullo, who delivered some quality work last issue, but really hits his stride with pinache here. Capullo is a master of shaping and laying out panels in a way that makes it feel like you’re not reading a series of still images, but are instead immersed in something that’s vibrant, in motion.
But it’s not just in his crafting of action that Capullo excels. There are all kinds of small moments where I found myself impressed by Capullo’s technique. One great panel, looking up at Commissioner Gordon through the gaping hole in a murder victim’s chest, is one of the most gruesomely inventive shot angles I’ve seen in a comic in some time. Really, the whole creative team gets to shine here. Once again, Jonathan Glapion gets to have fun with some heavy blacks, from Gotham’s skyline cast into ominous silhouette, to a pair of sinister owl’s eyes glowing from the shadow behind an ambulance window. Colorist FCO Plascenia also gets to flex his muscles, creating an unusual vibe for a Batman comic where the majority of the comic takes place in bright, harsh sunlight. This is just a stylish comic.
But don’t worry, Snyder still gets some of those nice words in there too. Right from the opening pages, Snyder continues his sterling work in shaping Gotham City as a pivotal character in its own right, using the city’s history to shape its identity, while also setting up a suspenseful scenario that keeps the tension up throughout the issue. This really is a relentlessly paced comic, and like I mentioned above, action packed. But it’s still very much about character.
Batman is so iconic, that it can often be easy for writers – even in good stories – to overlook him as a character. They’ll give personality to the supporting figures surrounding him, while Bruce Wayne himself simply remains an unwavering constant. “I’m Batman,” as almost become an all-purposes adjective for the character, a shorthand for actually presenting him as a human being. Not so, here. Snyder is not intimidated by the back catalogue, or the iconic status, and cuts right through it all to give us a story that is very much about Batman as a character. That “I’m always one step ahead and have planned and prepared for everything” quality that much of Morrison’s classic work with the character has been a celebration of is here warped into a kind of hubris, an inability to admit there is a threat in Gotham beyond his understanding that may prove to be his undoing. We’re in the early stages of that development here, but you get a sense it’ll come further into play later, and I’m fascinated to see where Snyder is going with this.
There are a couple of minor quibbles. Prospective mayor Lincoln March is an interesting character, and gets a nice monologue laying out the parallels between himself and Bruce Wayne, but as far as “I’m totally a good guy – honest!” characters go, he’s about as trustworthy as Tommy Elliott, and unless Snyder plans to subvert those expectations about him inevitably turning out to be a bad apple, this is a character whose role feels a bit heavily telegraphed. But that’s a small niggle, and there’s plenty more in the comic that’s executed to perfection.
One small beat I was particularly fond of comes during the autopsy scene, with a seemingly throwaway line from Gordon to Batman, regarding how Bruce Wayne will be protected from the death threat made against him: “I take it you’re keeping an eye on him.” This is a line that works on three levels. At its most basic level, it works as simply Gordon acknowledging that Batman is a guy who’s always well prepared. On a deeper level, for those familiar with recent events in the Batman franchise, it’s an acknowledgement of Bruce Wayne going public as the spearheading figure behind Batman Inc. And, of course, on the deepest level, it’s giving a nod to the idea (revisited near the end of Snyder’s run on Detective) that Gordon is fully aware that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and pretends not to know simply to humor him and give himself plausible deniability. It’s a textbook example of how Snyder has achieved the ideal balance between making Batman accessible to new readers and rewarding to longtime readers.
Two issues in, and I’m already imagining the complete, 11-chapter graphic novel collecting this saga joining the canon of classic Batman stories – alongside Snyder’s Black Mirror, might I add. The pacing is careful and deliberate, with some cards still being held close to the chest, but you get a sense that Snyder knows exactly where he is going, and that the pace and the stakes will continue to escalate with each passing installment. Furthermore, this is a comic that looks simply stunning, with Greg Capullo and his artistic collaborators giving us one of the slickest looking titles of the New 52. It’s a good thing that this is the most read comic of all the New 52, as few titles out there showcase all that’s great about DC – and comics in general – better than this one.