For some reason, I wouldn’t associate Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo with circles. The themes and visions in their dark tales of Gotham are too bold and jagged, too harsh in outline and filled with vivid, aggressive, if restrained and seething, energy. Triangles would seem more to suit them as a geometrical metaphor. Still, their run on Batman turns out to describe a closed loop of philosophical statements and literary conceits.
Batman #51 is not the final issue before the line-wide Rebirth event at the end of this month. That will be, appropriately enough, Batman #52. However, this is the last issue that Snyder and Capullo will share, and thus it will mark the try end of the longest and most successful run of the New 52 era. Snyder takes the opportunity to reiterate the main tropes of his vision, a view of Batman and Gotham he has been developing since his time on Detective Comics in the pre-Flashpoint period.
First, we see Batman, specifically the Bruce Wayne Batman, as a fundamentally tragic figure, a man whose superhero persona has consumed his life and destroyed every opportunity for happiness and normalcy, and ultimately every opportunity for survival. Snyder sketches this out in a brief, poignant conversation between Bruce and Alfred, taking the opportunity to explain how the faithful butler has recovered the hand he lost to the Joker’s attack in Endgame.
We then proceed on a tour of Gotham on a relatively normal night, normal in that the only crisis is a mysterious blackout. We visit the restless and hateful inmates of Arkham Asylum, now in new quarters and under new management. We see that the Court, no make that the Parliament, of Owls is stirring beneath the city, preparing a new mysterious plot. We visit our old friend the Penguin as he holds a larcenous summit and hatches his schemes. Snyder returns to one of his favorite ideas, that Gotham constantly challenges you. It is a living rival, at times an evil and malevolent one, always ready to move against any weakness, always ready to strike at any flaw.
Snyder and Capullo undoubtedly created one of the great and memorable Batman runs. Their books were redolent with a kind of neo-gothic majesty, a sense of power and darkness and doom. Capullo’s pencil’s suggested burden and menace while also retaining beauty and motion. Danny Miki’s inks contributed ever-present shadow, while FCO Plascencia’s colors had just the right touch of the lurid. When people think of this era, it is this book that will provide the iconic images.
Still, every story runs its course. In truth, this issue illustrates the full majesty of this run, while also becoming just a bit tiresome. We have heard this all before. We know what Snyder thinks of Gotham. We know he sees Batman as tragic. It’s time for a renewal, time for, in truth, a rebirth. Let’s see another Gotham and another Batman.
But even if it's all a bit old after five years, this issue reminds us of why it's all so grand. Yes, it's time to move on. But all of this will be missed very badly. Snyder will deservedly join Morrison and O'Neil and Moench and Grant and Rucka and Finger and Semple and all the rest who have had a hand in building the Empire of the Bat. But his stories will remain as part of that empire, even as new realms open for intrepid explorers.