Two weeks into DC’s New 52 relaunch, and I’m already getting sick of Batman. Not only is he in every third comic as a cameo, but his name is in at least one title every week of the relaunch. His former Robins are also all over the place, popping up in books like Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Teen Titans. So far, in Detective Comics #1 and Batman & Robin #1 we’ve seen pretty routine Batman stories. All of the Batman story points are presented, the Batmobile, Alfred, the Bat Cave, etc., you check off the “classic villain” box (it’s good if the answer is the Joker, Two Face, the Riddler, or Killer Croc, but others are acceptable), and maybe throw in a scene set in Arkham Asylum. For bonus points, include a conversation between Batman and someone else and have Batman vanish silently while the other character is talking.
It’s all so routine that I think the pattern has become comforting for a lot of readers. I sometimes wonder if Batman fans are really fans of the character himself, or simply the comfortable repetition of Batman tropes that get trotted out in almost every Batman story. Sure, sometimes a writer manages to arrange all of these tropes in a slightly novel way to create a Batman story that stands out from the pack, but mostly they are run of the mill.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman #1 is one of the times the writer got it absolutely right, and despite a pretty firm adherence to the Bat-Formula I criticize above, this is an excellent introduction to the Dark Knight, an excellent expression of the Batman mythos, and an excellent comic book.
Detective Comics #1 in Week 1 had a cool look to it and an exciting final panel cliffhanger, but featured muddled storytelling. Week 2’s Batman & Robin was pretty fun, but ultimately pretty shallow. Batman #1 features a great, tightly plotted narrative and fun art that puts character over realism in a combination that makes it the best straight-up Batman comic in the entire New 52 relaunch.
Of course, in Batman’s case the relaunch isn’t a relaunch at all, as most if not all of the preexisting continuity is intact. Snyder still gets into the spirit of things by providing a “ground zero” issue for the character. It helps to know a little bit about the three Robins that feature in the comic (Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damien Wayne), but you don’t really need to in order to follow the story.
With captions from a Bruce Wayne speech about the urban redevelopment project hinted at in Detective #1 (they seem to really be going through with it, despite my earlier suspicions) that narrate the entire issue, Snyder also gets the award for best framing device of the relaunch. After reading a lot of frankly pretty sloppy comics over the last few weeks, it’s clear that Snyder put a lot of thought into how the words of Wayne’s speech and the visuals of the story work together.
The comic is also a great example of a trend that seems to be present in a lot of the relaunched DC titles: extreme, graphic violence. In particular, this issue features a crime scene with a full-on image of a man in his underwear crucified to an apartment wall by at least 23 throwing knives. His blood-soaked corpse is reminiscent of a scene from the movie Seven, which would have been scandalous 10 years ago, but which is just more or less ho-hum in the brave new DCU. This type of thing isn’t really out of place in a Batman comic, but it is present in way more than half of the books in the DC relaunch, and this is yet another bit of gross, graphic violence on an already teetering pile. Hey, kids! Comics!
Anyway, the issue ends with a cool sequence implicating one of Batman’s greatest allies in a scene that turns Bruce Wayne’s whole narrative from the speech on end, and the last page gets the series rolling with one of the great requirements of an excellent Batman story: a mystery.