Many apologies: this review is about a month late, and so not exactly topical. Perhaps the reason for the delay is that I’m running out of things to say about Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s enthralling relaunch of Batman. I can only say what I feel I’ve said over the past 3 months: this tops the last instalment, and is the best issue yet.
Batman #3 began to pull back the curtain a little on the sheer scope of the threat Batman faced, elevating what was already a gripping story to a whole new level. From there, it would have been very tempting to just barrel on ahead with the white-knuckle ride, and I’m sure that would have resulted in a very good comic. But instead, Snyder dials back, and instead goes introspective with an issue that focuses on the character of Bruce Wayne, and his motivations in this particular battle. I’ve talked before about how Batman’s utter refusal to believe in the existence of the Court of Owls was in danger of becoming a kind of hubris, one in danger of leading to his downfall. But here, we discover Bruce’s very personal reasons for not believing in them, reasons which go deeper than mere hard-headedness.
We really don’t see enough of young Bruce Wayne. In the character’s comic history, it seems like his parents died, then he disappeared into a vacuum for several years – popping up here and there as a young man going on globe-trotting adventures to hone his body and mind – before emerging as an adult just in time for Batman: Year One. So, I found it fascinating getting a glimpse here of Bruce Wayne as a child, in the more immediate aftermath of his parent’s death. We see anger, in danger of becoming destructive – it’s glossed over, but see how he kills the owl and destroys its eggs: the kind of spiteful animal cruelty more associate with future serial killers than superheroes – but he’s not totally lost in grief. We see how, even as a young boy, Bruce Wayne had a keen, analytical mind, and a desire to seek justice and hunt down the corrupt. I enjoy it when Morrison touches on this idea, and it’s nice seeing Snyder assert it too: contrary to what some commentators have said, no, not anybody can be Batman. It wasn’t the years of training, the vast resources, or even the tragedy that made Bruce Wayne Batman. It was something about him, something that was always there, even when he was young.
As a brief aside, who here would love to see an all-ages series from DC called Bruce Wayne: Boy Detective? GET ON IT, DC!
Talking about this flashback sequence is as good a time as any to bring up my ever-growing love for Greg Capullo. I’ve been full of praise for the bombastic, blockbuster imagery Capullo has brought to this title since day one, and this issue’s opening sequence – with Batman escaping from an exploding building – really lets Capullo flex those action muscles. But Capullo shows real diversity when chronicling Bruce Wayne’s childhood encounter with the Court of Owls – aided by the immersive blacks of Jonathan Glapion and the muted, almost monochrome palette of FCO – shifting to a stark, eerie style more reminiscent of horror than A-list superhero fare.
Looking beyond the flashback and into the issue as a whole, Batman #4 boasts one of my favourite Capullo pages yet: Batman standing in shadow, looking on, as Gordon waits for him to show up at the Bat Signal. Iconic. Capullo impresses me more and more with each passing month, doing real superstar work that – even before you get into Snyder’s excellent story – is going to ensure that the eventual graphic novel collection of this storyline is as visually definitive as a Long Halloween or a Hush.
Given how I’m running out of nice things to say about this title, I may very well have said this already. But in the first few months of the New 52, in my praise of the accessible, action-packed Batman, I said that it was one of the very best of the DC relaunch, second only to Animal Man and Snyder’s own Swamp Thing. But I don’t think I can even make that concession anymore. Batman is the best book DC is putting on shelves, and perhaps that’s the way it should be. Batman #5 is due out tomorrow. All reports suggest that it is the best issue yet. Of course it is.