Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Pascencia
Letters by Nick Napolitano Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
No doubt, this was a challenging issue for Snyder and Capullo as they brought readers to the moment where Bruce Wayne decides to embrace his inner darkness and become the Batman. The question for many readers is whether their efforts would come across as mimicking those who came before them or if they would be successful in bringing a fresh perspective to this penultimate moment in the life of Bruce Wayne and the Batman?
This issue covers all of the necessary origin material quite well and will feel familiar to those well versed in Batman origin stories. We see a young Bruce discovering the caverns under Wayne Manor with his father helping to lift him out of the darkness as most recently seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. There is also the scene of a brooding young man sitting alone in a luxurious chair now committed to avenging his dead parents’ murder through fighting crime through becoming “a bat” as was seen in Bill Finger’s origin story from Detective Comics #33. There are some minor updates in this latest origin story, but by and large, it doesn’t feel drastically out of place with what readers already know about Bruce’s moment of crisis.
While Snyder and Capullo don’t add much to Batman’s already existing origin within this issue, they do offer readers a rather unique take on the Joker’s beginnings that makes this slice of “Zero Year” really interesting – but you’ll want to pay attention to the dialogue or you’ll miss it. Given Snyder’s interest in the complex relationship between Batman and the Joker, this reveal offers readers further insight into how he envisions these two icons became intertwined. Moreover, it provides a sort of meta-response to the stories of the past that argue that Batman is largely responsible for the existence of his rogues through his outlandish presence, which thereby challenges the criminals of Gotham to “up the ante.” Perhaps, Snyder sees the “fault” lying elsewhere…
Before reading Batman #23, I want to pass along a few helpful pointers to getting the most out of this issue. First, it’s worth going back and rereading Batman #22 to better recall the past issue’s events. Snyder drops the reader in media res and the refresher will help the story’s opening make more sense. Additionally, Snyder and Capullo organized the various threads of the issue in such a way that it can get confusing for readers looking for a single, chronologically-driven narrative. This is where FCO Pascencia becomes a friend to the readers as he alters his color palette to help cue readers into both the setting and perspective of each panel. I was only able to make sense of Bruce’s encounter with the Red Hood gang and his escape from them through paying close attention to the shift in coloring. Moreover, there is one panel where the reader sees the events transpiring through the eyes of the Red Hood. Again, Plascencia’s alteration of light and colors helped me to see the change in point of view. Often, we as readers comment on how the colors looked in an issue, but it’s not as often we look at some of the technical functions they serve. This issue provides a brilliant example of how they can provide valuable, if subtle, guideposts for readers.
One question I found myself asking during this issue is why Snyder chose to eschew a more linear narrative model, and as mentioned before, opted instead to weave multiple threads covering different periods in Bruce’s life into his story. Two of the threads in this issue are only hours – if not minutes – removed from one another. Additionally, settings from different time periods overlap as well, and this made the plot a little more difficult to follow at times. It certainly adds to the impression of building towards some grand conclusion. Given Snyder’s penchant for big and bold endings, this is probably be a safe bet, but we don’t really see the full pay off at this time. It’s the type of thing that people will likely find this to be less disruptive in the collected edition versus serialized format; however, it’s something monthly readers will need to be aware of.
So, my recommendations are to read the book carefully in order to avoid any sort of plot confusion. The elements are there, but they require a careful eye. The delivery used in Issue #23 requires a slow read, and based on Snyder’s general trend of using a slow build, I’d expect this issue to provide a sort of calm before the storm – that is, the arrival of Batman, which will likely be revealed in the next issue. But read the book – you don’t want to miss out.