I have now managed to read a few of the just-released collections of the New 52. JLI was bland, and largely uninteresting. I will read the second volume though, most likely since it will be the last until they continue the now cancelled monthly book in some other form. I have not finished Justice League yet, but will probably post something here when I do. I just could not stay with Animal Man despite its strong start.
For this collection of the first part of the Court of Owls story (issues 1 through 7 of the rebooted Batman series), I was honestly not all that excited about it. There are a few others of the bunch that I was more eager to read than this, and I was not expecting much. I knew I liked Scott Snyder’s writing and I have always thought that artist Greg Capullo (inked here by Jonathan Glapion) never got the attention he deserved working on Spawn, but for whatever reason I just could not get excited about this book. Now I cannot wait for the next volume. This is the best comic I have read in months, if not longer!
There are hints of storytelling mastery here from Snyder that his previous work has NEVER touched. Tiny details round out a fairly stock story about a hidden and ancient menace in Gotham City, setting this apart though is a flair for character and pace, as well as the little details. Small additions to Batman’s tech pay off later in the story and allow the story to skip over what would otherwise be pages of needless exposition. The complete cast of the Batman family is explored, some members more than others, but it never feels forced like so many books do when they need to catch the reader up on the world. There are problems though, like when you are reminded of bits in the characters’ past. For a reboot (I know this was not really a reboot), there is a lot of past history that is still here. The baggage of the old DCU is felt whenever Nightwing or Robin show up. There are a lot of old sidekicks running around for this to be only Batman’s fifth year under the cowl. The entire story is based on a comic book trope I have never cared for. It is the “raise your hands, anyone who DIDN’T visit Krypton before it blew up.” story premise. Not only is the Court of Owls cult retconned as something that has always been there, but never noticed, but specific connections to both Batman’s and Nightwing’s past are put into the myth. The additions are well handled by Snyder, but they do stand out as retcons. Some of the building blocks are not interesting, but what the sculptor does with the clay is always more important that what he starts with. This is the realization of story elements from the Gates of Gotham story from last year, and taken as part of that series it does work a bit better. I just kept tripping over the reboot.
Capullo’s art is excellent, but with a few caveats. His storytelling is not as tight as it could be, and I found certain panels lost in the page layouts. There are moments where the style employed overwhelms the story. That said, this is a great looking book. While he occasionally goes off-model with faces, I am not prepared to say these are not deliberate choices. There are moments where the style gets very wild and the iconography changes drastically to highlight the situation, so the more subtle instances may simply have stood out more for me than they were intended. The one complaint I recall hearing from before I read this is the use of the page turnaround. There is a point where you have to read the book on its side, then upside down. This is not a new trick. Dave Sim and John Byrne used it to great effect in the 80’s and there are several others before and since. (Will Eisner, anyone?) It is not that hard to navigate and I think the bitching about it was pretty silly. Deal people, deal.
This is the best Batman book in years. While I am looking forward to reading the first collection of Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics, it will have a long way to go to impress as much as this story has.