It can sometimes be hard to figure out exactly where to jump in on a character like Batman. After all, with over seventy-five years of stories to choose from, a casual reader can have a difficult time choosing which book is worth their while. DC doesn’t help much, publishing a multitude of Batman-related comics each month, forcing new readers to essentially take a gamble on which books may or may not be worth their time.
But I’m here to tell you that while most of the Batman titles are okay to good, the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the main Batman book, written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo. Their collaboration began at the advent of the New 52 marketing strategy, and was spearheaded by the compelling and decidedly gothic “Court of Owls” storyline.
The story begins as Batman stumbles onto a strange and haunting conspiracy to kill off Bruce Wayne, prompting him to begin delving deep into the histories of some of Gotham’s mythology and folklore. Digging into the mystery, Batman uncovers a secret society known as The Court of Owls, protected by their unstoppable killing machine The Talon. Bruce races to not only stop the Court’s machinations, but also grapples with the idea that there may be a force more ingrained into the fabric of Gotham City than he is.
What helps to make this book stellar is the creative partnership between Snyder and Capullo. Rarely has there been a creative team that is so in sync with one another that each successive issue is better than the previous one. Yet these two exemplify this ideal perfectly. Snyder’s compelling dialogue mesh with Capullo’s stark pencils to make the book an ideal work of Bat-Fiction worth any fan’s time.
Capullo really takes the reigns when it comes to the kinetic action the book has. Coming off of some of the biggest hits Image Comics has published – including Todd McFarlane’s Spawn – Capullo brings a real grit to Gotham City. Everyone and their cousin has a design for Batman, but Capullo’s manages to distill the character down to his bare essentials, looking as idealistic as any rendering DC has published. Even looking at the designs he created for The Talon shows how much of a pro he is. From grandiose fights in an underground labyrinth to building tension just through body language, Capullo is the perfect choice for a book of this caliber.
But it’s not all Capullo on this book. Snyder helps to propel the story forward by building a Gotham that feels just as much a character as Alfred or Commissioner Gordon. Just through the way Bruce acts when he speaks about Gotham – evident from a compelling speech in the first issue about what “Gotham is” – the reader can see how much the city is an integral part of the story.
Snyder also does well with the characterization of the focal figures of the story. Bruce isn’t just a perfect “optimum man” as he has been portrayed in other series. Here, he’s a flawed individual who has to accept his limitations and overcome them in order to triumph. Even side characters like Nightwing and mayoral candidate Lincoln March are detailed enough to feel like real characters and not simply faceless figures for Batman to talk at. While Capullo may make the book look pretty, it’s Snyder that makes the story impactful reading.
If there can be a downside to this book, it’s that it’s not completely removed from “mini-events” surrounding the Batman books. The end of the “Court of Owls” storyline builds to a line-wide crossover entitled “Night of the Owls,” which sees all of the current Bat-Books pulled into the fray against the Court. While one could read Batman alone and get the complete story as Snyder and Capullo envisioned it, completists may feel like they’re missing a piece of the story.
The same could be said for pretty much all of the Snyder/Capullo stories as well. While their run has become known for grand storylines that are both fan-favorites and critical darlings, their main story arcs – “Death of the Family,” “Zero Year,” “Endgame,” and “Superheavy” – pull in other books to the stories. Fans looking for a book that is complete in it of itself may not like such a thing, but the quality of these books outweighs this minor quibble.
It’s telling that many people are already considering the Snyder/Capullo run to be one of the best in the history of the character. With powerful characterization and breathtaking pencils, Batman has never been in such good hands as it has been for the past five years. The run is winding down soon, with this month’s Batman #51 being the last issue these two will do together for some time. Yet I highly recommend going back and reading the full run, and the place to start is with “The Court of Owls.”
Batman, volumes 1-8 are available now in bookstores and feature the storylines “Court of Owls,” “Death of the Family,” “Zero Year,” “Endgame,” and “Superheavy.” Batman #51 hits comic book shops on April 27.