DC 52: Batman #1

Another review I penned from the huge DC relaunch of 52 of the main DC Comics titles for the Forbidden Planet Blog:
Batman #1

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

DC Comics

Gotham is...”

Opening with an impressive triple panel of Gotham we get three fractured glimpses of this troubled city, from filthy, rat-infested Crime Alley to a towering, modern (and yet still with gloomy, brooding, Gothic overtones) business block and finally an ornate, vast mansion (presumably Wayne Manor). One city, but a town broken up, fractured, haves and have nots thrown together often quite closely and a city that should be a powerhouse and yet feels broken, damaged; welcome to Gotham City. Over-running this a voice over from the Batman – the Gotham Gazette for many decades has asked Gothamites to complete the phrase “Gotham is…” in three words or less. The more optimistic responses of yesteryear are drowned today by negative, despairing replies – “Gotham is damned”, “Gotham is cursed”, “Gotham is Bedlam”. Others respond with the names of the multitude of bizarre villains who plague this troubled city: “Gotham is Killer Croc”, “Gotham is Two-Face”.

Some others respond slightly more hopefully – “Gotham is Batman”. “Answers I’m partial to myself” the Dark Knight comments, dryly. It’s a nice moment, having its cake and eating it, explaining the complex nature of Gotham, those who menace it and those who defend it to the new reader, but at the same time it is also subtly pointing out that the two – supervillain and superhero – seem to go together, leaving you wondering if perhaps the poor city might be better off without both sides of that coin… This voice over takes place against an enormous brawl – there’s been a mass break out at Arkham Asylum and the Batman is faced by a whole ensemble of his most famous enemies (a neat way for Snyder to introduce them rapidly), save for a certain chalk-faced Clown Prince of Crime. Batman is holding his own to begin with, but the numbers are slowly taking their toll when finally his most famous nemesis makes his appearance – The Joker. Except the Joker appears to be fighting on the side of the Dark Knight against the other Arkham inmates – what is going on?

Cut to the roof of the police headquarters after the battle and Batman is filling in Commissioner Gordon on events. It wasn’t a break-out after all, he tells him, the cells were opened deliberately by a guard who was on the take, realised Batman was on to him and released the inmates in a desperate attempt to fend him off from himself. Which guard, Gordon asks. Dan Matthews, Batman replies. Gordon can’t believe it – he’s known the man since he was a young police cadet, an outstanding and honest man, he can’t understand who even someone as good as he was can succumb to that rot of corruption that so riddles the city. Expensive divorce pending a fling with a woman (with a criminal record), mounting health bills, he was desperate, he took dirty money… Gordon sighs in despair.

Dan Matthews on the take at Arkham… There’s nobody the scum of Gotham can’t get to, is there?” asks dejected Gordon

I wouldn’t say that,” answers the Batman, getting almost a smile from Gordon.

And again it is a nice touch from Snyder, just a few panels, but it establishes for the new reader just how endemic the corruption is in Gotham, what an uphill task both these men undertake and also nicely reminds us that Gordon is, in his own unassuming way, a real superhero himself. He doesn’t have a cape, or hi-tech lair, but he fights the good fight and doesn’t give in to the easy path of looking the other way, he chooses to take on those who poison their society head on. And the Batman knows it and with this short compliment he’s letting the other man know how much he trusts in him.

Back to the Batcave, which reboot or not is still instantly familiar to older readers – the giant coin, the enormous Joker card, the T-Rex, multiple Batmobiles and other items. Batman is trying out a new optical interface, special contact lenses which let him receive a feed from the Batcave on the go – he intends to try them in his Bruce Wayne role at a society fundraiser in his own home. As he changes into evening dress he is joined by the Joker, who it turns out was actually Dick Grayson using a special digital mask. You left me in Arkham an extra day, he complains. You looked tired, I thought you could use the rest, Batman replies. Only you would think a night sleeping in Arkham was a day off, Dick responds with a wan smile…

The two head up to the Manor above where the meet Damian Wayne (yes, he is in the new continuity) and Tim Drake. The contacts feed Bruce the names and details of everyone of his guests at his fundraiser where he announces massive Wayne Corp investment in Gotham’s future to reclaim the city and asking other rich Gothamites to join him, alogn the way being introduced by Vicki Vale to another wealthy Gothamite with a record of philanthropy and a desire to run for mayor, Lincoln March – is he as decent as he seems or is that a front? Such is Gotham that the reader is never sure if they should take such a character at face value and I’m sure that was quite intentional – I imagine Lincoln will show up again in later issues with more of a role to play. The special contact lenses also function as a quick way to introduce characters like Grayson, Damian, Vicki Vale and so on to new readers, although to be honest I thought, although a different way of doing the necessary introductions, it became awfully repetitive as a device after the first few uses.

Of course no social event ever ends with Bruce enjoying himself among friends and true to form we see him observing Gordon being called away urgently and soon enough he has made his excuses, left the party and in cape and colw once more is following. There’s a nice scene where he materialises from the gloom right behind eternally downbeat but honest Gotham detective Harvey – when Batman does the appearing silently behind him Harvey doesn’t start, doesn’t even blink, he knows only one man can creep up on him like that and merely asks him what took him so long. It’s a nice little character scene handled in just a couple of frames. The crime scene reveals not only a gruesom and rather convoluted murder but an almost invisible message which only Batman notices at first. It declares that Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow. No chance, says Harvey, no-one could get through Wayne’s security – not unless they had an inside man, someone who would have to be very close to Wayne…

And I’ll leave it there rather than blow the ending, but it’s a good one and does make me want to read the next issue. The only problem I really had with this was that, as with Detective Comics #1, this doesn’t feel like a reboot. But as I said when reviewing Detective Comics Grant Morrison was asked about this at the recent Edinburgh Book Festival and replied that yes, in most reboots over the years it was true that Batman really doesn’t change much, but he was so well put together to begin with that you simply can’t change too much of him or his world without ruining the character, so yes, although it doesn’t feel that different from previous Batman I see his reasoning and to be honest I think he’s right on that score. But the story is solid – not remarkable or brilliant, mind you – but good, introduces a number of comrades and opponents quickly and showcases the relationship between Batman and Gordon rather nicely, as well as leaving you thinking you need to know what happens next.