Saturday, March 3, 2012

Comic Review -- Batman #4-6 / Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, & Jonathan Glapion

Batman #4: Face the Court
I like the cover for this issue.  Batman in the sights of the Talon, an outline of a Gotham Batman may not know as well as he thinks... it really sets the tone for this issue.  Playing up these elements also shows Batman's obsession with the Court of Owls as a hoax, as well as the Talon's current obsession with killing him.

Batman narrowly escapes the blast from the tripwire he caught at the end of last issue, and heads back to the Batcave, where Alfred attempts to slip him a sedative and get him to sleep.  Dick Grayson, visiting Bruce, finds him awake and continuing to obsess over the Court of Owls.  He explains to Dick about how he looked into it as a child, his curiosity and unwillingness to accept his parents' death as a random act nearly got him killed.  He then journeys into the sewers, where he is ambushed by the Talon, stripped of his utility belt, and dropped into a nightmarish underground maze, where the Court of Owls mockingly greet him.

I have to hand it to Scott Snyder--I'm really enjoying this story.  The subject matter, the way its plotted... it all makes sense, and is plausibly presented in a way that makes Bruce capable of missing the big picture without making him look like a complete moron.  The explanation of how he searched for the Court in the wake of his parents' murder--and how it nearly killed him--makes it clear that, despite his assertions to the contrary, Bruce very well could letting his emotions and past experiences cloud his judgment.  This is in some ways a reassuring reminder that he, like everyone around him, is human, and capable of the occasional mistake.  It just so happens that this mistake may have huge ramifications for his knowledge of Gotham City.

I also really enjoyed the Talon's brief appearance.  It's quick, violent, and brutally effective, as he lives up to his reputation as a tool for the Court.  After he dumps Batman into the labyrinth and leaves him there, you can't help but feel a shudder run through you as you see he's exactly where his enemies want him to be.

Greg Capullo's art continues to impress, though I'm starting to notice that the eyes on his characters look a little too big at times.  It's not a problem, really--the eyes are the most expressive part of the face, one could argue--but it is something I've started to take note of in this issue.  Time will tell whether it works for or against the overall look.  Overall though, everyone and everything looks great.

Overall, I'm hooked.  I've got to see where this ends up going, and what ultimately the Court of Owls is--real, or extremely clever hoax?  The answer will say a lot about not only Batman, but the Court itself.  Definitely a gripping and interesting story for this title.  Highly recommended.

Batman #5: Face the Court
Oh, wow.  Nice cover.  Batman, lying on the ground, covered in blood, trying to pull himself away as the Talon bears down on him, daggers drawn and dripping. The scene is only partially lit and suggests a partially enclosed area.  This looks deliciously grim!

Over a week has passed, with Batman stuck in the Court of Owls' underground labyrinth.  He's delusional, dehydrated, and keeping to the shadows, where he believes it's safe and they won't find him.  Vacillating between fear and rage, illusion and reality, he sees picture galleries of their victims, as well as cameras set up for himself.  Finally, seeing a picture of himself as the latest victim, he is stabbed viciously from behind by the Talon.  The Bat-signal is defaced, prompting Robin to both demand and plead that it be replaced quickly.

The fact that Batman has been trapped for longer than a week by the Court, with no trace, is a pretty big deal.  That they've reduced him to hiding in the shadows, pushed to the edge of his faculties and seeing illusions shows that, whoever they are, they're no pushover group of adversaries.  Something big is going on here, and I'm both horrified and thrilled by it.

I did enjoy the forced perspective mechanism once Batman drinks the presumably drugged water in the labyrinth, where the reader has to turn the comic sideways, then upside down to continue the story.  It's a good mirror of Batman's twisting perceptions and reinforces the suggestion that no one--especially Batman--knows where this is going or how it will turn out.  Very nice and timely use of what could have been a very gimmicky and distracting trick.

Capullo's obsession with the eyes of his characters, which last review I mildly criticized, actually serves him very well here, where shadows and darkness mask all but the most extreme of emotions.  Seeing Bruce's eyes, or specifically, one eye under the torn cowl really drive home just how desperate the situation is, and really works in favor of the narrative.

Overall, this is an eerie and pulse-pounding thrill ride, with an ending that makes you drop your jaw.  While I'm sure he won't die--he never does--I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Batman has to deal with in the next installment.  A wonderfully surreal and nerve-wracking read.  Highly recommended.

Batman #6: Beneath the Glass
Another horrifically good cover here!  I have to give an eager thumbs-up to Greg Capullo for his cover work on this series.  The image of Batman metamorphosing into a man-sized owl is both vivid and grotesque, and probably not far from what Batman is feeling by this point in the story.  I love it.

In an apparent endgame to Batman's time in the labyrinth, the Court of Owls reveals itself to him as the Talon moves in to finish him off for good.  Still plagued by fear and hallucinogens, Batman nevertheless fights back, against the Talon and the Court, using his wits, resolve, and intelligence to engineer an escape from their deadly labyrinth.  With their Talon beaten and broken, the Court members decide to awaken an army of them, to use against the Dark Knight for good.

This was an interesting segment of the story, that does ask the reader to suspend a little more disbelief than usual.  While I'm more than a little skeptical that even Batman can come back from such a thorough psychological and physical beating, I'm willing to chalk it up to that singular strength of will that makes him so special, even if it's just for the sake of narrative license.  What is a little more hard to swallow, in the context of this story, is the Talon's apparent uselessness to the Court after Batman turns the tables on him.  I'm supposed to believe a man who survived a several-hundred story fall like it was nothing, is too beaten and demoralized to come back from a beating from a man who's been starved, dehydrated, drugged, and bloodied for about a week?  I think that is asking a bit much.

It's interesting to note that the Court of Owls doesn't have an age limit, apparently--either that or it's disturbingly easy to qualify for membership when you're young.  This suggests to me that they're some kind of family, which of course begs the question of what Gotham family is rich, powerful, and connected enough to do all of this and keep off of Batman's radar.  If you think the list of possible candidates who could be Batman is short, the list of possible families that could be the Court has got to be even shorter.

Artistically, wow.  The artwork was creepy, nightmarish, and vivid, particularly the illusory sequences of Batman when he's mobbed by the Court.  Some images may even make you sick to your stomach, depending on how sensitive you are--the Owls clucking and possibly touching their tongues to Batman, at one point, are particularly disturbing, on at least a psychological level.  So far Capullo and Glapion have done a wonderful job at keeping this story visually dark, grotesque, and engaging in support of the narrative.

Overall, I'm eager for the next chapter.  More Talons?  A Court of Owls that's so blase about the fact that Batman just escaped them?  If they're only just getting warmed up, I can't wait to see what Batman has to put up with next.  Very highly recommended.

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