By Danny Arriaza
Every medium you have seen has gotten it wrong, or at best they were close but stumbled. The blockbuster movies, the cartoons, even the critically acclaimed Rocksteady games made an error here or there, not so for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s almost five-year, 51-issue run on Batman. The first comic I ever purchased was Batman #3. Which was only the third issue of the duo’s run; I bought it looking for brief reading entertainment, but, after finishing issue 51 a couple of weeks back, I realize that what I thought was going to be merely entertainment turned into the definitive version of Batman.
Besides crafting a Bruce Wayne that captures everything the character should be, Snyder also penned fantastic storylines that introduced a new organization, redefined the Clown Prince of crime, and even gave someone completely unexpected the cowl. Before I continue I want to make it clear that I will delve into spoilers here, I will try to avoid some but if you want to save yourself, now would be the time, but whether you continue reading this article or not, I cannot stress enough how fantastic this run is and how much I highly recommend it.
The first story arc will probably go down in the bat mythos for the sole reason that it added a brand new villainous organization for Batman to face, and also for the implication that this secret society operated without restriction for the past 400 years in Gotham.
The Court Of Owls, a secret society composed of some of the wealthiest individuals in Gotham’s history, had been using their wealth to influence the city according to their whims, not to mention kidnapping children to train them as a group of nigh-immortal assassins, known as the Talons. Other than the obvious physical threat they posed to Bruce (tossing him out of Wayne Tower at the end of the first issue) they posed a much graver ideological threat: that Batman wasn’t representative of Gotham. The Court believed they were truly the creators and defenders of the city since its inception. This arc was full of great issues but the stand out is #5, which showed Bruce at his weakest.
Batman is captured by the Court and awakens in their prison, a maze deep underneath the city, where they torture him both physically and psychologically for days. This issue shows the type of Batman that is most relatable to everyone. A man that has trained himself to human perfection but showing that even he has a breaking point. Throughout the issue, his inner monologue is strained and crazed from the lack of sleep and most likely the drugged water he was forced to drink to avoid dying of thirst. The court tortured him with scenes carved into the rooms showing him their storied history, that they are the true rulers of the shadows, all the while he is being driven to madness. At one point, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire run, he sees his parents, aged and blind, walking through the maze. He embraces them while repeating, “I found you,” but soon the fantasy ends, and they ghastly turn into owls that claw at his tattered armor. The next panel you see is Bruce’s eye closed with a tear streaming down his face. Snyder isn’t afraid to give Bruce a situation that simply has no happy ending, and that is apparent throughout the arc. While of course, he triumphs over the Court, in the end, it isn’t a definitive victory, but Bruce never lets that show.
Then, there’s the Joker. Snyder’s version of the Joker is more macabre than any before it regardless of the medium. The Joker is the primary antagonist of two arcs, the “Death of the Family” and “Endgame” stories where he increasingly becomes more and more dangerous. In the first, he believes that Batman has grown soft because of his support system and that as his loyal jester it is his job to strengthen him once more by tearing it apart from him piece by piece. This Joker has been away from Gotham for a while, so his return is almost described biblically, as the end of days is prophesized in the book of Revelation. He is brutally deranged, killing indiscriminately in increasingly terrifying ways. He cut off his own face as a goodbye present when he left, and killed an entire department of armed police single-handedly without weapons just to get it back. And wears it throughout the arc as it rots and becomes maggot infested.
In the endgame story-arc which is the second to last in the run, sees the Joker hailed as an immortal demon that has cursed and plagued Gotham since time immemorial. That is the reason Batman can never kill him, because it is impossible. The story also begins with the Justice League attacking, and subsequently being demolished, by Batman, so that’s always entertaining.
Another segment of their run that will undoubtedly become part of the mythology is that during the final “Superheavy” arc, we got a new Batman: Commissioner James Gordon. Gordon is fantastic as the police-sponsored, mech suit wearing, Batman but his role also shows how Bruce almost can’t function without the cowl. Gordon shows incredible fighting prowess but is slowed down by a lackluster villain compared to the hideous Joker and mischievous court that preceded him. Superheavy ends with Bruce returning to finish Gordon’s fight with a new suit in tow but with a new sacrifice added to already the long list he has compiled over his career.
Gordon made a damn fine Batman in his short stint and it would have been interesting to continue that dynamic but it’s clear that Bruce is and always will be Gotham’s one bat. After all the twists and turns there was still one more issue left in the run, number 51, which is a victory lap and closes Snyder’s story on an inspiring and tear-inducing finale.
It depicts Bruce’s first full night back as Batman and references the entire backlog of storylines and wraps them up nicely. Even when the night is light and empty of any terrors, Bruce still does his rounds just to be safe. This is the city, and he will be at watch even when all seems quiet. That is what is lost in some of the movies and other mediums, even other comics.
Bruce is Batman; it’s not an alter-ego it is who he is. He sacrifices everything for the city he loves, and the city loves him back for it. His intelligence is his primary weapon, not brute force or guns. He’s also not cold he genuinely acres for people and believes in their essential goodness, he is not jaded. He is not just Batman; he is Bruce Wayne. Reversely, he is not just Bruce Wayne; he is Batman. Two sides of the same coin that will always be in the pocket of the citizenry of Gotham.
The credit for this intricate weaving of stories must be given to Scott Snyder; his writing elevated Batman to new heights and new lows seamlessly and without pause, he has etched his name into the legacy of the character permanently. But, the story needed the perfect artist, it received that in Greg Capullo. His visuals perfectly paired with Snyder’s writing and the result is immaculate.
My intent going into this piece wasn’t to write a straight forward review so much as to discuss the events of what happened during the duo’s run and to praise the efforts of these two creators. For not everything needs a review, some works of art reach a level where they just need recognition and praise.
They formed a new type of hero, where so many other forms depict him as a brooding, depressed individual fighting a one-man war here he is compassionate, a somewhat emotionally stable man fighting alongside his comrades to make the city a better place. They didn’t do him the disservice of making him a legend, here he is a tangible human known to be real that just wants to do good, and that’s enough.
“...BATMAN, you always see us at our worst. At our ugliest. You forgive us and tell us we can do better. And more and more lately, we believe you.” –BATMAN # 51 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.