Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Batman #31 Review (Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo)


It’s so strange to be reading Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s most ambitious Batman arc yet, Zero Year, and have the villain who’s holding Gotham hostage be the Riddler! Making the Riddler legitimately deadly is easily one of the most surprising accomplishments in what has been a near-flawless reimagining of Batman’s origin story.

In Batman #31, Gotham has become the Savage City, a place that has been reclaimed by nature in the wake of the biblical storm, leaving most of its services crippled and has left its inhabitants at the mercy of the Riddler. In a Times Square-esque location, Riddler challenges one and all to defeat him in a battle of wits – but if you fail, you die. Batman teams up with Lucius Fox and Jim Gordon to pinpoint Riddler’s location but in order to distract him long enough, Batman must emerge from the shadows to out-riddle the Riddler.

I’ve noticed that Snyder’s settled into a rhythm with his Batman books, particularly with Zero Year. There’s usually a flashback story running parallel to the main one and in this issue it’s a young Bruce Wayne in Math class being repeated asked to solve a problem, the answer of which is “zero”, but beats throughout that scene echo Bruce’s current predicament as he tries to save Gotham’s citizens from Riddler’s demented schemes. I wouldn’t say this approach is clich├ęd – yet – and the stories are sometimes quite clever in how they sync up, but it’s becoming recognisably Snyder-esque and he’s become predictable in the way he structures his comics.

Other than that, it’s another fine issue in Zero Year with some very cinematic and exciting action scenes. The awesome steam cycle makes another appearance and Batman fights some lions, literally breathing fire at them before wrestling them into submission. And while the riddles between Batman and Riddler are more psychoanalytical attacks at one another than riddles, it’s interesting to see how poor Riddler’s aim is at sussing out Batman’s identity, showing how, in these early years, how inexperienced he was – it’s not just Batman who’s green.

Capullo’s art remains brilliant with an amazing cover and some great pages throughout, accentuated by the stunning colours of FCO, whose work has really elevated Zero Year’s look. The hot pink from Dark City was an awesome choice and the colour palette of Savage City is likewise eye-catching and remarkable.

There was only one moment in the issue where I couldn’t believe Snyder had put in something so bizarre: Jim Gordon leaps from the side of a skyscraper into a subway entrance that’s flooded with water. Wha…? Even if the impact somehow doesn’t kill him, how the hell was he able to hit a target so small from so high up?! That’s a Batman move, not a Jim Gordon one - ridiculous!

In a way, Zero Year is an example of what the entire New 52 line should’ve been – a story that starts at the beginning of the character’s transformation into hero, through their early defeats and triumphs, on their way to being the complete hero they become - but DC would need a small army of creators as talented as Snyder and Capullo to pull that off. Instead, they had Scott Lobdell, Ann Nocenti and David Finch and, as a result, they’ve almost reached 52 cancelled titles since the launch in September 2011.

So Batman #31’s not a perfect issue but it’s still a high quality one in, what’s still after nearly three years, the best New 52 title. There are only two more issues to go before Zero Year wraps and the series jumps forward to the present, which’ll be a shame as Zero Year has really been something else. But if Snyder/Capullo have shown anything, it’s that their Batman comics are improving all the time, so whatever arc the tackle next will likely be even more amazing.

Batman #31

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