Best Shots Review: BATMAN #48

Panel from "Batman #48"
Credit: Greg Capullo / Danny Miki / Fco Plascencia (DC Comics)
Credit: DC Comics

Spoilers ahead.

Batman #48
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Despite his biggest acclaim coming from his work in capes and cowls, Scott Snyder's earliest writing was planted deeply in the horror tradition, and the writer returns to those roots with Batman #48, as Mister Bloom begins his reign of terror across Gotham City - a reign that only the original Batman can hope to stem.

Yet the hero's journey typically begins not with diving into the fray, but with a refusal to act - and with his mind wiped of his traumas, history and pain, Bruce Wayne is no different. But while previous issues have established Bruce's new life as a domesticated youth center organizer, Snyder has finally forced his hand. Bruce can no longer ignore the call of duty - not when it's pounding on his door. While Bruce has been Batman's weakest link for the past several issues, that is now officially in the past tense - after months of looking at Bruce's surface, Snyder digs in deep, as we meet the flipside to Batman's amnesiac coin: the Joker.

After last month's cliffhanger - and, let's face it, anyone who can read the tea leaves of solicitation copy - it's clear that Bruce's retirement was not long for this world, but this issue is where Snyder actually earns it. In many ways, Snyder's take on an everyman Joker proves to be superior to his take on his stagnant Bruce Wayne - evoking The Killing Joke, just because the Joker has been wiped clean of his smile doesn't mean he's free of his own psychological scars. There's a real sense of menace behind Snyder's dialogue here, whether it's the Joker's not-quite-funny quip about fighting Bruce Wayne to the death, or his morbid observations about aquatic parasites infesting the tongues of fish. It's foreboding and claustrophobic - that is, until the rest of the world suddenly comes crashing down upon them.

While Bruce's story has superceded Jim Gordon's as the heart of this series, it's not to say that the former commissioner's story has gotten boring. While Snyder has a more intimate kind of menace in the middle of the book, the rest of the issue play out as more of a grand-scale disaster movie, as Mister Bloom finally makes his move, stretching and distending himself as sort of a plant-like King Kong, with a captive Gordon as his Fay Wray. Like I've said in previous issues, Bloom's voice reminds me a lot of Heath Ledger's Joker, and his focus on Gotham's citizenry follows in the same vein. It's not enough to destroy the city - Snyder's Bloom wants the city to choose to destroy itself. It's not just the destruction of property, it's the destruction of values, of humanity, of one's own free will. In particular, my favorite part of this issue has to be the tempo Snyder implements here to really drive home how badly things are going - he jumps from scene to scene, showing that the scale of the violence and madness isn't contained to any one area, but to all corners of this besieged Gotham City.

This issue also really illustrates Greg Capullo's versatility as an artist, and in some ways, even hearkens back to his Image Comics roots. There's a certain sense of drama to Bruce and the Joker's chat in the park, and Capullo is quick to hint at this duo's once-homicidal dynamic, flashing to the Joker's lapel flower or watching Bruce suddenly stand up and loom over his former foe. Fco Plascencia's colors also are superb in this sequence - it straddles the line between an almost sepia-style flashback, while still retaining that rustic color that could evoke urban decay or brimming tensions struggling to breach the surface. But Capullo's take on Mister Bloom's assault on the city that really sell's this book's spooky bonafides - Bloom's spindly, distorted design brings me back to the days of readying Capullo on Spawn, as he tackles an inhuman character that looks like he could be spit out of the maw of Hell itself.

Ultimately, Batman #48's greatest downfall also happens to be its greatest strength - it took a lot of guts for Snyder and Capullo to sideline DC Comics' most popular character and replace him with an everyman, and signalling Batman's return so soon makes me wonder what might have been with an organized, institution-friendly Dark Knight. You can't help but feel like the switchover is a little abrupt, almost as a reaction to post-Convergence reader attrition. But even while Jim Gordon's time as Gotham's sole Caped Crusader has come a little short, Snyder and Capullo are definitely positioning a triumphant return for DC Comics' original Dark Knight Detective.

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