September 7th 2011
Like many, I was not going to pick this up. My experience with Tony Daniel’s Batman work has been a bit average. I have never found the stories all that interesting and certainly not as compelling as Grant Morrison or even the classics by Denny O’Neil. They never really lacked for atmosphere, but the actual story was usually two dimensional, even by modern comic standards. Not that they were ever bad, just that they never stood out and really made you remember them. What made me decide to pick this one up was a spoiler I saw online. I’m not going to say where, as it will affect the overall enjoyment of the story. But the spoiler was enough to get my hopes up that this might be more than just another average Batman story. It was. In a BIG way!
The basic plot is conventional enough, the Batman is trying to hunt down the Joker. From there, the reboot takes over. Batman has only been doing this for a few years and the Joker has been around even less. He is a unpredicatble serial killer that no one can seem to catch. Batman is once again working without the aid of the police. Only Jim Gordon is on his side, and even that alliance seems a bit shaky. The storytelling device of the internal monologue is ever-present, much more than it has been in recent years. The Batman that I have grown tired of is gone though. The attitude in the last few years has been “Batman knows all”, and to be honest, it has gotten old. He should not be perfect and while he probably IS the smartest guy in the room most of the time, does he have to be such a prick about it? Not here, it would seem. While I would not call him humble, he is certainly not the Bruce Wayne we have gotten used to lately. I have liked the idea that he is, and will always be the most experienced in the DCU, but I also would really like to see a human in that suit. That is definitely something that was not there in Justice League #1. Score one for the New 52!
The spoiler that grabbed me was the last page, and it is a doozy. It is my hope that this signals the start of the “something really different” I have hoped for from the reboot. I don’t want, and I think many people out there might feel the same, the same tired old stories with a new number. Now that they have thrown the baby and the bath water out, make it worth something. Take chances. Shake up the franchises. With the exception of Batman and Green Lantern, what have they really got to lose? And even there, not much. This change, assuming it is real, substantive and far-reaching, could make all the difference in both saving DC and the industry as a whole. The tried and true trademarks of the big 3 will always be there, but the month to month storytelling in the comics needs help, and if DC get it right, every other company out there could well be playing catch up for a while.
Visually, this is a great book. Lots of instances where Daniel is borrowing from Frank Miller and Neal Adams and many other artist, but unlike so many cheap homages, this works very well. Large, dramatic splash pages and small, tight extreme close-ups. There are pages that feel like everything else is shut out. You are very much pulled into this book in a way that I have not felt in many years. As I was reading this, the world around me really did fade into the background. I don’t mean to say the story and art were that much of a revelation, just that the way it was put together was that effectively done. The book was that well structured. The art was clean, crisp and consistent through the whole thing. It has been a gripe of mine in the last few years as far as the art has been concerned. Some pages in a book may well be great, while others either look rushed or are done by a fill in artist, both of which can pull you right out of a story if there is no narrative reason for the change.
I grade on a pretty tough scale when I think of these things, so I wont be that specific here. But this book is probably sitting at #2 of the current bunch from the New 52. I have several others to review, including the one at the top of that list for me, all of which I will get to in the next few days. Stay tuned…