It’s no secret: I’ve been down on Batman for a while now. In fact, Derek and I were so very down on #21 (6/12) that we designated superstar scribe Scott Snyder as the Biggest Dis(appointment) for the month of June. (Didn’t help that he was also responsible for the June blechbuster Superman Unchained #1.) But I’m not going to dwell on that here because–get this–I’ve got good things to say about #22!
Well, mostly good things; see: to get to the good stuff, I’ve got to fly over the overblown opening blimp sequence, which lacks a certain je ne sais…“Pop!” Je sais this, however: there’s a pacing problem predicated upon the ruddy-domed villain’s verbosity. Oh, that Red Hood’s a regular Chatty Cathy with a silly streak, ain’t he? Kind of reminds me of what I didn’t like about the Joker during the–ugh–insipid Death of the Family arc. Kind of reminds me of…
Wait a sec.
Sure, we get to see Bruce stretch his wings a bit as Batman-in-training, but there’s more going on here, isn’t there? It’d be too easy to say this sequence has a singular purpose–especially since Batman is, under the cowl, about duality more than anything else. Makes sense, then, that Snyder’d be doubling down on this origin story, doesn’t it? That puts a second spotlight on Red Hood, who, if we’re doing our math properly, must be a villain-in-training–and not just any villain: he must be the soon-to-be Joker.
Presumptuous of me? I don’t think so. In fact, I think Snyder’s a bit too in-your-face about it–unless, of course, he’s not and I’m seeing something that doesn’t exist, that isn’t real at all.
Speaking of in-your-face, but in a good way, Snyder keeps it real by having Alfred keep it even more real: after a bitter back and forth, the loyal butler gives Bruce a killer behavior assessment that invokes the latter’s late parents–“Well, I think they’d be ashamed”–and then slaps the hot-headed hero wannabe across his frighteningly feral face. Oh, he deserved it, all right! And so did we: for goodness sake, it’s finally an act that has some gravitas, some authenticity–much more than, say, when newcomer Harper Row rips into Batman in issue #18. (Come on, you know it: that was a terribly unlikely and wholly unbelievable situation born more so of a father’s–Snyder’s–love for his child–Harper–than of anything else.) Not to get all touchy-feely and stuff, but Alfred’s hand became, in a mano a mano meta moment, my hand; and it felt good to put the brazen Bruce Wayne in his place. After the all-too-obvious grappling hook gag (“I was talking to the hook”), it really felt good, after all this time, to look forward to a page turn in Snyder’s Batman.
It felt even better to believe in the book again.
Page turned, the panel that so graciously greeted me–“…for old times’ sake,” indeed!–shows Bruce walking into the jaws of a tyrannosaur (you know how much I adore dinosaurs), which foreshadows the trap Philip Kane springs a page turn later. As inconvenient as that outing happens to be for Bruce, it works well as a segue into Bruce’s meeting with Edward Nygma, which features, as one might expect, some prolific paronomasia and a standout splash of a serpentine Egyptian board game that winds its way to the center with the smirking Riddler holding the upper hand–that is, until Bruce unscrambles an early riddle and runs/scrambles “up a head” to make yet another escape in an issue that generously serves up several sayonaras.
Sticking with the circle motif, the main story wraps up with a rushed return to Red Hood: he closes the show with a lame joke–further evidence, perhaps, of the evolution of the Clown Prince of Crime–and an impotent explosion that obviously does not spell the end of a suddenly contrite “Brucie.” But, hey, banal bookends aside, Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have pulled off the seemingly impossible: while pushing boldly toward an origin story that befits the complex nature of Batman–and, perhaps, his arch enemy–they’ve yanked me back from the brink; that’s right: I’ll be sticking around for #23.