This Year’s Finest 2015: Batman, Endings and Beginnings

This is a tweet by James Tynion IV on February 24th 2015 of Scott Snyder outlining this year in Batman. The picture clearly shows everything Snyder was planning for the year, so for me to write a post breaking down one of my favorite comics of the year seems rather silly at this point. However, after just rereading the whole year of Batman comics there is simply nothing left to do but write.

I am going to cheat a little bit and include the beginning few issues of Endgame even though they were released in 2014. The Endgame arc is essential to everything that Snyder and Capullo did on Batman this year and as much as we love endings, the importance lies with the beginning. This year of Batman can be broken down into three sections I like to call; The Immortal Joker, Rise of the Bat-bunny and The One-Shot. On paper the year contained two long arcs and a one-shot, but that is a crude understatement. It is the nature of comic books to be broken into arcs and one-shots but this year of Batman is a sophisticated narrative, starting off with action and intensity but morphing into a deep characterization of a cities response to a horrific catastrophe, both on the  marco and micro level. Snyder and Capullo took some incredible risks in Batman 35-47. If you think they played it safe by starting the year with another Joker story and ending it with SPOILERS CENSORED I would have to strongly disagree. Snyder and Capullo had a good thing going for a few years. They have the best selling comic in the business and the luxury of slapping their name on any book and selling 100,000 copies. They easily could have stuck to the same formula and kept this a horror book. But, instead they took risks, they made choices that had fans cursing them on announcement and praising them on execution. Look at them now. Forty-seven issues in and it’s still one of the top selling books every month and one of my favorite books this year. Snyder writes compelling and exciting story arcs and dials himself into any and every bat villain he gets his hands on, but Snyder’s Batman run is about one thing, Joker. He is there at the beginning and he will be there at the end. He will have the same damn thing to tell Bats every step of the way. Ha.

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Starting at the End: The Immortal Joker

Endgame is the 6 issue arc that takes us from Batman 35-40. I have read Death of the Family three times and Endgame twice. Guess what? I’m not going to compare the two. Why would I? These are two separate stories at two different times in both character’s journeys. While Death of the Family is Joker’s love letter to Batman, Endgame is his temper tantrum (Alright, a little comparison). By forcing Joker off that cliff Batman inadvertently gave him incredible power. Joker washed up into a pool of Dionesium, a regeneration agent which not only gave Joker an incredible healing ability but also is the compound he needs to turn his toxin into an infectious degenerate virus. Batman’s greatest foe is back. He has been planning his psychological and physical assault on Batman for two years and now he is stronger than ever.

This story line is rich. Snyder has hidden so many Easter eggs while also injecting mystery and suspense into each issue of the arc. The story opens on the Gotham theater and the Apollo chest plate. I discussed it’s significance in my week’s finest review of Batman #40. The next page is a helicopter view of Gotham with a cloud of smoke engulfing most of the city’s center. As reporters talk about the harmless nature of the gas and question it’s purpose, our mood switches from nervous to excited and we think, “I know who released the gas! It’s Batman! The good guy!” This first issue is quite impressive. Batman emerges out of the smoke in a big armored Bat suit designed to fight the Justice League. One can’t help but reminisce on the Dark Knight Returns. Perhaps Snyder even slots this in to say, “Hey look guys an Iron Man Bat suit is cool. Remember that for later.” Batman proceeds to fight the Justice League, taking each member down with his uniquely designed suit. That is, until the big guy shows up and we find out it is in fact the big bad Joke controlling them.

Through the arc we dive into the history of the Joker as Snyder takes the “choose your own adventure” origin of the character and slaps immortality on it. Everyone prefers not knowing anything about the Joker. Snyder uses this to make the character self aware. The Joker stresses this fact to Bruce, assuring him that he knows everything about Bruce while Bruce knows absolutely nothing about him. The Joker goes to great lengths to convince Bruce that he is immortal, The Pale Man, and has been ruling Gotham since its inception. He knows that nothing would torment the greatest detective more than not realizing his biggest adversary has been torturing Gotham well before his time. The Joker uses this as his psychological attack, which Bruce picks up on and in a fantastic cave brawl,  uses his final moments with Joker to repay the favor and make the Pale Man squirm as he mocks the Joker’s claims.

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There is also a nod to the 1989 Burton film as the Joker steals some stuff from the Batcave and has a parade through Gotham. I could hear the Prince music faintly in the background. Batman, having to use all his physical strength and mental capacity is able to end the Joker’s terror but the city has already suffered. The Joker’s virus turned the citizens of Gotham into killing smiling zombies. There were massive amounts of death and destruction and now, the city will have to recover from this horrific event without their Dark Knight. Batman, laying dead on the caves rocky ground, is still able to have the last laugh.

The Face of A Hero: Rise of the Bat-bunny

A few online comments I have read since the arrival of Jim Gordon in a robotic bat suit resembling a bunny. All comments were pulled directly from DC comics website.

“The city/state developing their own tax-payer funded Ironman/Batman/Bunny is totally beyond believable.  That its Gordon in the suit is even worse.”

“I LIKE JAMES GORDON AS GPC.. BUT NOT AS IRONBATMANBUNNY.”

“Batman wanting to lay down and die with Joker was the dumbest Batman event or scene in history.”

“You destroyed my favorite Hero and you turned him into an anime robotic bunny. I hate you, ill never buy another comic again.”

“Change the name of the character or the main title of the comics please : this thing is not Batman, he’s Rabbit Man, Iron Man bis, Robogordoncop, all the names you want, but please, don’t call this thing Batman !!!”

“Totally ridiculous. Frank Miller did a great start and end of Batman was not necessary to change. This Scott Snyder managed to destroy the best character in the DC, he should never write Batman. Currently, who should be in command Batman was P. Tomasi. The DC will rethink these ridiculous story when sales fall dramatically.”

Most of these comments were written prior to the issues release. Also, I will note that there were a few positive comments, trusting Snyder and Capullo to continue delivering a high level comic book. However, most of the comments are similar to what you see above. Reading these comments ignites a little flame inside. Oh ye of little faith. You like James Gordon as GCPD not as Batman? Shocker! Good thing he has been part of the GCPD for over 75 years, you have a lot of stories to refer to. So, before you storm castle Snyder with a large tree truck you are planning to use as a battering ram while reciting “Kill the Bunny! Kill the Bunny! Kill the Bunny!” give the guy a shot.

Note: NBC! does not endorse the harming of bunnies in any way. Whether they be cute and cuddly or tall and robotic.

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Snyder is a genius, literally. All you have to do is listen to him on a podcast talk about practically anything. You will be totally sucked in and impressed by his depth of research and knowledge. Now, throw in that he is one of the best comic book writers of this generation. With that information, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust Bat-bunny to add necessary depth to a already rich story. The “Rise of Bat-bunny” as I like to call it, begins in issue #41. This is a near perfect issue. It is Snyder’s explanation to fans about why this will work. Gotham is a city in shambles. They are trying to recover from a traumatic experience. The city is suffering from PTSD and they have no Batman to turn to. He has vanished at the most crucial time. Bat-bunny is Gotham’s answer. A city that Bruce believes in, fights for and inevitably died for has picked itself off the ground, dusted off it’s pants, wiped the blood from it’s lip and found the courage to carry on. Snyder fills issue #41 with criticism from Bullock as well as Gordon himself. Gordon even calls the suit “Robobat-Bunny” as he tries to wrap his head around the situation. Although the aired concerns are coming from the characters in the book, it seems like Snyder has pulled them right from the comment section. He uses this issue to reassure us the idea may seem ridiculous, but stick with it, the reason is there. After we are through with all of the why Gordon shouldn’t be Bat-bunny, we get the why he should straight from horses mouth.
“You’ve never wondered? Whether he’d have been more effective if he’d worked within the law not outside it?”

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Snyder takes us on a journey through this arc. A journey that develops three characters and their roles in this tale. Gordon, struggles with the responsibility of upholding the Batman name, while trying to play by “the rules”. Duke, a young teen who’s family was ripped apart by the chaos Joker inflicted on the city.  Bruce, an amnesiac man desperate for answers but afraid to uncover the truth. While Gordon and Duke both share some fantastic character growth, it is Bruce’s journey at the stories core. Alfred just wants Bruce to have a normal life. He has already changed the city for good, now that he has complete amnesia, it is time to let him be free of the Bat. But, Bruce cannot avoid it. The newest issue #47 to hit stands this week was a powerful step forward in Bruce’s journey. The train tunnel scene is the strongest of the arc so far. Duke plays a pivotal role in helping Bruce realize his true calling, who he really is. As Bruce peers down the tunnel at the oncoming lights, he sees his destiny staring back. Snyder brings us close, gives us the warm fuzzies just early enough to let our guard down for the final panel’s “big moment”. I’m going to spoil issue #47 in the next paragraph so just skip it if you haven’t read it yet.

While the train tunnel scene was the beginning steps to Bruce’s return, the final panel park bench scene is the definite return of Joker. We should have seen this coming? I mean, it was explained that the Dionesium must have seeped into Bruce’s body, which is why he is still alive. Surely we had the thought at that time the same must have happened to Joker. Well, enough time passed without a mention and I completely forgot there was a possibility for Joker’s return. I surely was not expecting his return merely seconds after we finally reached a satisfying Bruce moment, seven issues in the making. One thing is certain, Snyder is not predictable. Even when you know what is going to happen, he is still able to hit you over the head with it. That is some serious skillz bro. What is possibly coming in 2016 at the end of this arc, I have no idea. But, I definitely hope it contains this…

I’m Not The Bad Guy Here, I’m Just Here: The One-Shot

Patrick wrote a terrific review of Batman #44 that you should definitely read. As if this Bat team was not taking enough risks in 2015, they throw in a one shot that serves as one of the most important single issues by any publisher this year. I was criticized a little for my dismissal of the Braga side story in The Rat Queens Special earlier this year. My criticism of the book was that I just didn’t care for the character. Braga was not a prominent cast member in the book and the Rat Queens team took this character to create a stand alone story representing the  LGBT community. A great gesture by the team but really at no risk. Are we really proud of this issue? An issue which does show progression in the comic book medium but with a character no one really cares about and a book that even changed its name, just so people know it’s not part of the “main” story. To me this doesn’t show progress, it shows an attempt at progress but still inadvertently playing into the same prejudices that hold progression back. Batman #44 is the one-shot the medium deserves. As Patrick points out, this is the most popular comic book, starring the most popular character, in the middle of an already risky story arc. The team puts the issue front and center as Batman follows a trail highlighting the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States. A criticism not of individuals, but of a system. This is the most important single issue of the year to which the Rat Queens special pales in comparison. Hopefully this issue opens the door for other creators to tackle these issues in their top selling comics. Batman #44 doesn’t show the progression of the medium, it pioneers progression.

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Well, that is the year of Batman. If you are still unable to figure out the twitter pic of Snyder’s outline it’s because I made no reference to it do to my lack of knowing what the hell it is. I cannot imagine what 2016 is going to hold but I assure you when issue #48 comes out, it will be the first thing I crack open that week.

  • Dean

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