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Batman #21 – Review

BATMAN #21

By: Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Danny Miki (inks), FCO Plascencia (colors) and Nick Napolitano (letters)

Back-up story: Snyder & James Tynion, IV (writers), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Taylor Esposito (letters)

The Story: A young Batman has to deal with the Red Hood and other Gotham menaces.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): When the last two Bat-epics you’ve written have been the Black Mirror and Court of Owls, expectations are bound to be high when you launch a new 11-issue saga with the ambitious title “Batman: Zero Year”.  Scott Snyder and his able companions are mostly able to live up to expectations and give us a solid first issue that leaves us wanting more.

Probably the strongest part of this issue was the first several pages where we see a trashed Gotham and a little boy spear-fishing in the flooded Gotham subway system.  He gets attacked by some guys wearing horrible masks [What is it with Snyder and creepy masks?  Owl Masks, gas masks, etc....] and he is saved by Road Warrior Batman.  The single panel of Batman with his sleeves ripped off and kitted up with all sorts of post-apocalypse standards like crossbows, dirt bikes and rope was really tantalizing: I’m willing to read just about any story if the payoff is that we learn how Batman ended up in that state.  I think we’ve found Greg Capullo’s Batman: Black and White sculpture!

The rest of the issue happens in the past and shows us a young(er) Batman and Bruce as a boy.  The boyhood scenes were especially good.  Snyder proved in Severed that he could write the hell out of young children, so it’s no surprise that ~10 year old Bruce has so much heart and optimism.  You almost cringe when you think about that plucky little boy turning into this brooding and morose character that Bruce Wayne often is.  I’ve never really thought of Bruce as a tragic hero – I’m sure others have – but Snyder and Capullo made me consider Bruce that way in just a few pages.  We need to be sure to give equal credit to Capullo on the depiction of boyhood Bruce; drawing 10 year olds seems really daunting for some artists, but Capullo makes it look effortless.

The Batman-from-the-Past portions of the story weren’t quiet as strong for me, but that might have been a personal hang-up.  It does effectively show a Bruce Wayne who has just returned from his years away from Gotham where he was learning ninja skills.  That part works.  It also shows the Red Hood and another popular Bat Villain getting ready to cause some real mayhem in Gotham.  The obvious implication is this mayhem is what leads to the flooded subways and Road Warrior Batman, but I tend to suspect that no Scott Snyder story will ever be quite that obvious.

The problem I ran into was continuity-related and I blame the New 52.  With the way the New 52 kinda jettisoned some continuity, but certainly not all continuity, I found myself wondering when these stories happened and how they connected to other Bat-stories that have happened in the past.  It’s funny how this works.  DC can tell us that those other stories are kaput, but as long as they exist in our brains, they will always make “tales from the past” really problematic.  It reminds me of a saying that one of my friends has: you can’t unring the bell.  What a lousy idea the New 52 was; take a complex continuity and make it more convoluted.

I suspect that over the course of the 11-issue story, Snyder, Capullo & Co. will be snappy enough storytellers that I’ll stop thinking about this continuity stuff, but for the purposes of this first issue, it was a distraction.

The back-up story is pretty sharp.  It’s a short tale that is illustrated by the American Vampire art team of Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig and it looks great.  Basically, it tells the story of how young Bruce Wayne learned how to be such a great driver by taking him down to Brazil.  It’s fun, quick and enlightening.  The only tiny negative is that it looks like Albuquerque smoothed the rougher edges off his art for the story.  Just be you, man!

There isn’t a lot to say about the art that I haven’t said in my reviews of the last 20 issues of this series.  Any issue illustrated by Greg Capullo is going to be aces.  He’s just not one of those artists who ever has a weaker issue where us reviewers have to make excuses: “He’s usually awesome, so I can only assume that the editors didn’t give him much time to work on this…..”  Capullo is always great.  And, by extension, any inker and colorist he works with is going to be top-notch too.  The whole artistic process on Batman just screams class and professionalism.

Conclusion: A really good opening issue.  Just don’t make my mistake and try to slot the story into all the other Bat-stories that you’ve read.

Grade: B+

- Dean Stell

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One Response

  1. Two things:

    “The whole artistic process on Batman just screams class…” – I think all the EPL blogging may be infiltrating your vocabulary.

    As for the issue itself: the timing is interesting. There are two new Batman games coming out this fall. They are both set in the formative years of Bruce’s career as Batman. The potential for a *very* tight integration between the two medias could lead to some cool story telling mechanics. The villain who shows up at the end of this issue has already been hanging around in the background of the two most recent games. On the other hand, *if* they are tightly integrated, then the game previews have already made for some serious spoilers.

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