Scott Snyder has written my favorite Batman. Period. Snyder’s take on the inner-workings of Batman’s mind go above and beyond anything else I’ve read on the character. What’s more is he and the art team of Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion, and FCO Plascencia have managed to make Gotham into more than just a setting, but into Batman’s greatest confidant and greatest enemy. I give this comic 4 stars!
The first 11 issues of Batman have our dear Dark Knight facing a new breed of enemy. In Gotham there is an old nursery rhyme meant to scare young children about a group of Gotham elites that has ruled the city for generations from the shadows. This Court of Owls has used its wealth and influence to shape Gotham in its own image and bump off those who would subvert their plans, mostly generations of Waynes who have been killed by the Owl’s personal army of assassins named the Talons. Batman originally investigated the Court of Owls as a child, young Bruce Wayne was convinced that the Court of Owls were involved in the deaths of his parents. Bruce couldn’t prove the existence of the Court and believed them just to be one of Gotham’s urban legends.
The Court of Owls comes across as a creepier-than-the-Illuminati-like-Aristocracy, they are more than a crime family or a street gang or a cult. They hold real political and financial power, enough to rival the police, Batman, and everything else Gotham can throw at them. The Court of Owls has been setting up secret hide-outs in the missing 13th floor of Wayne-funded skyscrapers since the 1800’s. They’ve thrived in secret for years, waiting to strike back and reclaim the city. Batman sees for himself how far the Court can and is willing to go when he spends days trapped beneath the sewers of Gotham in a maze seemingly constructed to break Batman’s spirit before he is killed in front of the Court. Managing to break free and run to the river Batman’s life is saved by a young girl named Harper (she’ll come back in Iss #12).
After returning to the Cave, Batman and the family wage war on the Court. But not before they send their Talons to Wayne Manor as part of an all out assault on 40-some people who run and shape Gotham; the Court is bent on taking Gotham back for themselves. Batman fights off the Talons and captures them while in a mecha-suit that would put the Iron Man armor to shame.
After the Talons are captured the Court of Owls is found dead; suicide by poisoned wine. Batman doesn’t buy this and digs deeper into the mystery only to uncover a seemingly dark Wayne family secret. If true it could mean that Batman didn’t know his parents at all or it could have been a conspiracy set up by the Court, another effort to reclaim their city. The finale in Iss #11 leaves the Court crippled but not defeated and I have a feeling they will come back in future issues. And the main antagonist (who shall remain nameless for spoilers’ sake) is also lurking somewhere in the shadows of the city.
I say that Snyder has made Gotham Batman’s greatest ally and worst enemy for good reason. Snyder’s Gotham keeps Batman’s secrets and the foundations that the Wayne family put in place are ever utilized by the Batman. Gotham is the one thing that Batman is certain he knows inside and out; it is something he is certain he can save. When old nightmares turn out to be very real Batman is faced with something far more menacing than a villain: His very battleground is shifting under his feet, his home isn’t his alone. He doesn’t know what else Gotham has kept from him and he realizes that the city isn’t his as he had thought it was.
The look that Gotham has is gritty and grand. It’s both towering with skyscrapers and secrets. Colorist FCO Plascencia uses a varied pallet of muted earthy colors that make Gotham feel old and vivid red-orange that light the city at night. I was absolutely blown away with the city. In many ways it’s as much of a main character as Batman. During the course of the comic we are graced with tidbits of the city’s history that only accentuate the very mystery and grandeur that is Gotham. One of the greatest achievements of this book was giving Gotham a look and history that makes it seem absolutely real (save for the costumed heroes). The rest of the comic art is gorgeous and works perfectly with the title. My favorite character design so far belongs to the look given to a false Joker that turned out to be Nightwing in disguise.
Snyder’s Batman is perfect. I can’t find a flaw in his writing; from the dialogue between Alfred and Bruce to the conversations between Nightwing and Batman. There is always something it seems like Batman isn’t saying and the other characters seem to pick up on it so well. Of course there are moments when there is some genuine affection Batman shows but they are few and far between as it should be. Batman’s inner-monologue reveals how his mind works, from the drug-induced hallucinations to the cold-calculating in a fight, it’s always a pleasure to read. Snyder uses Batman’s inner-monologue to reveal facts about the history of Gotham, Wayne Manor, and his own family. It works perfectly with the images as this comic understands how to use it’s medium to tell a story.
The panel set up was clean and easy to follow, except for Iss #5. That comic you actually had to turn completely upside down to read. I originally thought it had been a manufacturing mix up but realized it was because Batman was going insane(er). Though it caught me off guard it spoke volumes on what Batman was going through in the maze. It was a master stroke of creative genius!
This is easily one of the best books of the New 52! Let us know if you feel the same in the forums! And if you feel like checking it out Batman Vol 1: The Court of Owls is available as a trade! I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a Batman fan! And even if you’re not this may convince you otherwise.