Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comics You Should Read - a BATMAN DAY Special: BATMAN By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Comics You Should Read: BATMAN By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

BATMAN By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

- Hey, it's the 75th Anniversary of Batman, and today is BATMAN DAY. That's pretty awesome. Like many of you reading this, I'm a huge Batman fan. The character is now so omnipresent that it almost feels silly to say that. But really, my love for all things Bat really took root in a couple of ways. I was just a tad too young to really get into the Batman '89 movie. I saw it eventually on VHS, and saw Batman Returns in the theaters. But what really hooked me was a double-whammy of the early/mid-90's Batman comic books, and of course, the brilliant Dini/Burnett production Batman: The Animated Series. I could write many an essay just about the enduring legacy and sheer genius of the animated show, but since this is a comics column, let's focus on that.

Batman is sort of unique in comics in that, remarkably, the character has been consistently well-written for decades. Sure, Batman has seen his share of clunkers in the comics. But year-in, year-out, the character seems to inspire writers and artists to do some of their absolute best work. I first got hooked to the books back in the Knightfall era in the 90's. My mind was blown reading about Bruce Wayne's defeat at the hands of Bane - after running a gauntlet of Arkham escapees and being pushed to his mental and physical limits. The architects of that era - writers like Denny O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant remain all-time favorite Bat-talent. Later, other writers like Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, and Gail Simone took up the mantle - writing the Bat-family characters with a depth and sweeping sense of dark drama that kept him at the top of the comic book must-read list. In addition to the current stuff, through the years I went back and read the classic stories that defined not just Batman, but comics in general, over the decades. Alan Moore's seminal The Killing Joke. Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween. Frank Miller's Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. O'Neil and Adams' run from the 70's. And many more, too numerous to name here.

Which brings me to Scott Snyder ...

Before DC Comics rebooted their entire universe a few years back (long story), Scott Snyder - after making his mark with the creator-owned American Vampire series - took the reigns of the storied Detective Comics, writing some of the absolute best Batman stories we'd seen in years. During most of his run, Batman was actually Dick Grayson, who'd assumed the mantle of the Bat after Bruce Wayne went missing and was presumed dead (again, long story). Suffice it to say, Snyder's Bat-stories were fantastic - dark, noirish, ultra-intense mysteries. The highlight was a memorable arc, "The Black Mirror," in which James Gordon Jr - son of the commissioner and brother to Barbara - was re-introduced as a disturbing, psychotic villain - a serial killer who put his own family in danger. Very quickly, Snyder established himself as a definitive Batman writer for the 2010's.

Post-New 52 reboot, Snyder was given the reigns to write DC's flagship Batman book (self-titled as just "Batman"), and was paired with fan-favorite artist Greg Capullo, who had made his name working on X-Men books and Spawn in the 90's. It was clear from Day 1 that Snyder had huge ambitions for BATMAN, and planned a long reign as writer and chief architect of the character in this new era.

Snyder's run so far has been defined by a series of big, multipart arcs that each feel like a self-contained Batman movie. Sure, there are serialized elements that run from arc to arc, but Snyder's style has been to make each storyline feel like it's own thing, each a mini-epic, many already becoming instant, modern classics.

Snyder's first big arc is already legendary in its own time. In "Court of Owls", Batman encounters a centuries-old conspiracy of elite, immortal Gothamites who have long manipulated the city in secret. The members of the Court of Owls - rendered as insanely creepy by Capullo - with eerie owl-masks worn with formal attire - bring to mind the sorts of high-society-gone-wrong villains you might encounter in Bioshock's world of Rapture. The Court of Owls are the best addition to Batman's rogues gallery in years, and they've very quickly become a major part of Batman and Gotham lore. I'd love to see the next Batman film adapt Snyder's epic story here, because it truly is different from what we've seen before. With the Owls, Batman is pitted against an adversary that outnumbers him, and is even more prone to hiding in the shadows than he is.

Next, Snyder tackled the Big One, Batman's greatest villain, The Joker. In his "Death of the Family" arc, Snyder does a huge, crazy, epic Joker story - in which the insane and evil clown attempts to turn the extended members of the Bat-Family against one another by putting each through all manner of physical and mental torture. The story is incredibly and intense and disturbing, and really is a definitive modern take on the twisted Batman / Joker relationship.

Snyder's current major story is perhaps his most epic yet - "Zero Year." For this still-in-progress adventure, Snyder flashes back to Bruce Wayne's first year as Batman, showing a young Bruce still figuring out his technique and tactics, and forging his early alliances with the likes of James Gordon and Lucius Fox. Ultimately, the story takes a unique turn, as The Riddler makes a grand bid to take over Gotham, and turns the entire city into his own personal plaything. A defeated Batman is forced to leave the gone-to-hell city and regroup, eventually returning to wage all-out war to reclaim his city and free its people. Snyder makes the often lightweight Riddler into a truly dangerous villain in this story, and raises the stakes to enormous levels for Batman and Gotham. The whole thing plays out like a mega-summer-blockbuster, with huge-scale action aplenty.

Each of these stories is immensely aided by Greg Capullo's artwork, which is deceivingly simplistic but incredibly cinematic. The guy is simply a great storyteller, and his panels flow dynamically from one to another. Each issue of his Batman feels like a blockbuster movie in comics form. That said, the guy can also do moody intensity like no other - his Joker stories, for example, are indescribably creepy and disturbingly rendered.

To sum up: if you're into Batman, you would do well to celebrate his 75th by jumping aboard the Snyder and Capullo bandwagon. Their run began in 2011, and is so far collected in four volumes: Batman: The Court of Owls, Batman: The City of Owls, Batman: Death of the Family, and Batman: Zero Year - Secret City. The ongoing issues are, of course, available at your local comic book shop or digitally via the Comixology app. This is some of the best Batman I've read in years, and each new issue of Snyder and Capullo's BATMAN is always at or near the top of my must-read list.

READ IT IF YOU LIKE: Batman, duh.

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