Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Batman - The Black Mirror


Unlike a surprisingly vocal group on the comics internets, I wasn't pulling for Dick Grayson to remain Batman forever. For many, many reasons, Grayson is Nightwing, and the longer he stayed in the cape and cowl, the more likely we'd end up in some new "Kyle Rayner is my Green Lantern!" conversation a bit down the road as we dealt with that small section of the populace that came to Batman during the window of Grayson as Batman.

But I like the stories that came out of the era, at least those by Morrison, and I'm pleased to say I quite enjoyed Scott Snyder's The Black Mirror collection as well (and, hey, what are the chances he's an Arcade Fire fan? Pretty high, I'd guess).

Black Mirror started as a series of back-ups in Detective and dovetailed into the mainline story, which must have been quite thrilling to watch unfold over the course of the year. I missed all of this as during the post Return of Bruce Wayne era, I have relegated all new Batman reading to trades.

Snyder's Batman is as close (closer than Morrison's) to how I've been interpreting Gotham and Batman's place in the city as anything else I've read. I'm not sure its exactly Alan Grant-riffic, but it is back to Batman as the line of defense against a city under siege by human monsters (which, actually, is more or less how I read Arkham Asylum by Morrison some years back. It was the pen for all the monsters/ the inside of a madman's mind).

The story throws red herrings, plays off paranoia developed after living so close to the Gotham's violent undercurrent and explores the lives of characters that were present in the assumed past of Batman comics, but whose lives were moving steadily forward in parallel to those of Batman and Robin, but off frame.  Sure, its a bit odd to come in so late in the game with this entirely new backstory, but it fits for the Gordon family, and fills in gaps and works with ellipses Miller left at the end of Year One that no other writer has ever picked up.

It does, however, raise  some questions even while it cements issues around "so how old is Batman, exactly?"

But the real success here isn't just in playing well as a continuity cop.  Snyder manages to tell a compelling page turner of a tale that I thought worked great as a collection, even while enjoying the episodic nature of the book.  The various alleys taken, from the Etienne story to Tiger Shark to our final conclusion all manage to fold together nicely, and while its not so much a mystery at some point, its still manages to work as character study for some of our primaries and for Gotham, itself (something Snyder is exploring in current issues of Batman.

I'd be remiss not to mention the impressive collaboration of artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla, who managed to blend their two distinctive styles of Klaus Janson-esque scratchy line art and illustrative exactness a la Mazzuchelli.  Its a nice blend as they handle separate assignments within the same book. And that's not to mention the exemplary coloring.

Its an odd contrast to the sort of stuff I felt Tony Daniel was doing over in Batman last year and that it seems he's doing in Detective now that just feels so much like watered-down retreads of other stuff you've seen before.  Snyder seems to have found a way to tell a fresh story using familiar parts of the Batman mythos without the need to overhaul everything we've known, and that's not small thing.

Anyhoo...  its a little pricey as a hardback, but if you can find it on sale, its a nice, solid Bat-read.

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