Comics You Should Be Reading: Snyder and Capullo's 'Batman'
Of all the major superheroes, Batman seems like the one most suited to sophisticated storytelling. Whether it's because he's the most interesting character, he attracts the best creative talent or people just like him more, the Dark Knight can probably claim more classic comic stories than any other spandex-clad character.
One of those stories is being created for us as we speak, dear friends. Though there are at least four Batman-centric books in DC's recently-rebooted lineup of superhero titles (depending on how big a role you think Batman has to have before a book is him-centric), Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman is far and away the best of them. It could in fact make that claim since its first issue, and it seems to only get better, to the point where last month's Batman #5 was probably one of the best single-issue comic stories to be released in months, if not years.
What makes this series so good? Snyder and Capullo clearly understand what makes Batman tick. He is, at his core, a guy who's always prepared. Like, for anything (the way they have Batman dispatch scrub thugs in the first few issues of this book is hilarious). So they've created for Batman an enemy that's even more prepared than he. Since colonial days, the Court of Owls has nested in Gotham City, secretly shaping its development to align with their own goals. Whenever someone comes to prominence whose intentions run up against theirs, they send assassins to kill that person. Although no one knew it at the time, that's exactly what happened to Alan Wayne, Bruce's great-great grandfather, who was responsible for much of Gotham's development in the late nineteenth century. Now that Bruce has set his sites on urban renewal, the Owls have targeted him as well.
As readers get deeper and deeper into Snyder and Capullo's series (currently only on its sixth issue!), Batman begins to learn the true extent of the Court of Owls' power. Where he once thought they were nothing more than a legend meant to scare bold Gothamites, he can no longer escape their reality. They've built secret bases inside every building with the "Wayne" name on it. They murder political dissidents and activists in front of him. They set traps so complicated that even Batman can't escape. That's scary stuff, and so far the highlight of this book has been seeing Bruce trapped in their labyrinth, drugged and helpless, being made to accept the power of the Owls before they deal him a killing blow.
Scott Snyder's one of the most talented writers working in comics today (besides Batman, give his Swamp Thing and American Vampire a look!), but he's found an equal partner-in-crime in penciller Greg Capullo. Capullo comes from 1990s Image, where he cut his teeth on books like Spawn. That gives everything he draws a dark, film noir-style edge that complements the gritty, often paranoid and sometimes outright creepy tone of this story. According to Capullo's DeviantArt page, it was actually his idea to change the page orientation in Batman #5 so that as Bruce descends deeper and deeper into madness we're actually forced to read the comic backwards. Rare are the artists so good at thinking both within and outside of the page. Greg Capullo, you're the man.
And we can't not mention Snyder's keen eye for character—it isn't just Batman and the Owls who deserve our attention here, but the massive and well-defined supporting cast as well. Although there are other comics devoted to Batman's relationship with the Robins, Snyder has probably given us the best scenes of the "Batman family" interacting, including a great exchange between Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne in issue #1. There's also a lot of attention paid to Comissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock, who between Capullo's pencil and Snyder's script look and act like the hardened, no-nonsense cops you expect them to be.
And one final point: too often $2.99 comic books feel like they have no substance. You pick up an issue, read it in five minutes and don't look at it again. That isn't a problem here. Snyder's scripts are meaty; each issue feels like a complete story that's totally worth the money you spent on it, and this book practically demands that you read everything twice to really get the full impact of what's happening. There are lots of little touches to love about each issue, too, whether it's Batman teaching us all about actual owls or a history of Gotham City's development. Man, that Batman's a smart guy.
It's hard to capture everything that's been great about the first six issues of Snyder and Capullo's Batman in a few paragraphs, so here's a quick summary: great attention to detail. Awesome new villains. Kick-ass Batman who's thrown off his game by an enemy he never saw coming. Creepy atmosphere. Some mind-blowing storytelling that challenges the comic book format. It's a recipe for success, and it's only six issues deep, so your local shop can probably get you caught up relatively easily. If not, you can always go to the digital route, or pick up the first graphic novel collection in May. Either way, you're sure to enjoy this book.