Six issues in, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have managed to make Batman stand alone at the top of the New 52. There are other great books, but not even Animal Man or Swamp Thing can compare to what these two have done in a short six issues. Snyder has a death grip on Batman’s character and an understanding of Gotham City that no writer has had in a long time. These are the Batman books we’ll be talking about twenty years from now.
This Batman series has taken one of the most basic parts of Bruce’s character, and turned it against him. Bruce has always lived and breathed Gotham City. It’s just as integral to his character as watching his parents get killed in Crime Alley was. Gotham is Batman’s city. In this arc, though, that’s challenged. The Court of Owls threatens his control over the city, and they say that they’ve been there just as long as the Waynes have.
The best Batman villains play off Bruce’s character traits: the Joker is the chaos to Bruce’s order, Two-Face mirrors the split personality between Batman and Bruce, and The Court of Owls undermine the one thing that Batman takes comfort in: the fact that he knows Gotham better than anyone else. They embody one of Bruce’s biggest fears: that he doesn’t have as much control over Gotham as he thinks he does. In this issue, Batman and The Talon fight in a scale model of Gotham City, making Snyder’s main story point clear. It’s a brilliant way to have them fight over the city, and it doesn’t come off as forced or cheesy.
Just like in issue five, we’re never completely sure what is real and what is a hallucination. Snyder’s writing plays a big part in this, but Capullo’s art is what makes it stand out. Characters switch between being human and being owl monsters with sharp talons and teeth, including Batman himself. The environment is constantly changing as well, and we’re never really sure exactly where we are.
More to Capullo’s credit, even with the constant changing and intended confusion, there isn’t any unintentional confusion that comes with it. Even though the action is sometimes foggy, it’s intentional, and the story itself isn’t confusing. Capullo’s art, too, is clean, even with everything that’s going on in it.
Batman himself is drawn to look like he’s on the cusp of insanity, and Capullo nails it. Just like in the last issue, one of Bats’ eyeholes is torn open, making him seem more human and vulnerable than when his eyes are whitened blank from the cowl.
In Grant Morrison’s Batman R.I.P., he and Tony Daniel attempted a similar insanity with the Batman of Zur-en-arrh, but Capullo and Snyder’s take on is different, and better. In R.I.P., even though he was losing his mind, Bruce was still Batman. He didn’t have the same vulnerability that he has here. In this issue, Bats is on the verge of giving up, and he loses the superhuman aura that Batman has in costume. Credit for that goes as much to Capullo’s art as it does to Snyder’s writing.
Capullo’s art is detailed but clean. This is the most clear when the background art is simple, which it is in most of the book. Since everything primarily takes place in the same room of the Court of Owls’ labyrinth, which has mostly blank white walls, Capullo gets to focus on the characters.
In addition to the penciling, Jonathan Glapion’s inks are a huge part of why the art is so good. Batman and Talon both wear primarily black costumes, and Glapion lays down heavy blacks on them. Against the white bakcgrounds, the heavy blacks create a contrast that makes the two stand out both from both the background and each other during fight scenes.
When a great writer and a great artist work together, the results aren’t always this good. Just like in a band, if the members don’t click together creatively, it doesn’t matter how good they are separately. This is an example of what happens when collaboration like that works, and works well. There hasn’t been an issue of Batman that has been less than stellar so far, and this one is no different.