In just four short years, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have vaulted themselves to the top of the list of Batman creative teams, just under the legendary duo of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Between the ‘Court of Owls’, ‘Death of the Family’, ‘Zero Year’, and ‘Endgame’, their run on Batman has been the best run in decades, and definitely the crown jewel in the New 52 line-up.
While DC was fumbling around trying to figure out what their new universe meant and who their characters even were in these new incarnations, Snyder and Capullo were showing everyone else how it’s done. Batman #41 begins a new chapter not just for this creative team but for the character of Batman, as someone other than Bruce Wayne takes the mantle of the Bat.
As much as I have faith in this creative team, even I was wondering if they could pull off a Batman without Bruce Wayne. After all, that’s been tried before, twice — first when Azrael took over for Batman in the ’90’s, and then just prior to the New 52, when Dick Grayson became Batman. The Grayson Batman worked, because we felt that after all these years, he’d earned his time in the cowl. Azrael was a brand new character when he was Batman, and therefore the whole thing felt like what it was-a giant gimmick, and didn’t really work.
Snyder learned from the mistakes of the past, and put someone in the suit who we already know and love, and more to the point, has also earned his ears, so to speak; none other than Commissioner Jim Gordon.
Gordon has been one of the most consistently written characters in Snyder’s run, and was a huge part of ‘Zero Year’, where we saw exactly how that legendary partnership was formed, and just how integral he was to Batman becoming the Batman we know.
The character of Gordon has gone through a bit of a rennasaince in the past decade, thanks mostly to Gary Oldman’s portryal of the character in Christopher Nolan’s films. The version I grew up with was a white-haired old man who was at least seventy, but Nolan’s movies made Gordon middle-aged instead of ready for the retirement home, and the New 52 quickly followed suit. There’s even a line in this issue where Harvey Bullock questions Gordon being Batman by saying to him “you’re at least 60,” to which Gordon replies “46”. It establishes once and for all that this Jim Gordon is not that old, and certainly young enough to still kick some ass.
The issue opens some months after ‘Endgame’ and the Joker’s last rampage against Gotham. Both Batman and the Joker are presumed dead at the end of that last battle, although the last issue of ‘Endgame’ made it clear that Bruce had indeed survived (in case there was any doubt). But no one has seen or heard from him, and as everyone knows, Gotham NEEDS a Batman. So the Powers Corporation (a nice nod to the Batman Beyond series) has taken it upon itself to create a new Batman, someone who’s not exactly a cop but can work with the police, a symbol for the city.
There are a lot of nods to ’80s classic Robocop here, in fact this whole issue feels like Robocop meets Batman, although luckily Gordon doesn’t need to be blown to bits to get in the suit.
Although the story begins with the new robo-suited Batman in the middle of stopping a crime in Gotham’s Little Cuba district, it also flashes back to when Gordon was approached to take the mantle, and all the decisions that went into creating a whole new Batman from the ground up. Needless to say, Gordon didn’t just jump a the chance to become a superhero…it took quite a bit of convincing, and lot of this issue deals with just how he was eventually convinced to do it. If Gordon were eager to become a new Batman, a lot of the drama would be drained from this story. Having a reluctant Batman makes for something a bit different than what we’re all used to.
Snyder’s Gotham City has always been the real character during his Batman run as much as Bruce, if not more so, so in a way, it feels as if nothing has changed. Capullo’s art is just as spectacular as ever, and even though I’m not crazy about the new robo suit (in the story, Gordon even pointed out what I’ve thought since I first saw the new costume — those are rabbit ears not bat ears!) neither is Jim Gordon. We get a more traditional, yet updated Batman costume for him to wear under all that bulk, and it’s a pretty sweet costume, fresh but still looking like Batman. Needless to say, Capullo knows how to draw action, and the scenes with Batman fighting a new, electrically powered villain are dynamic and fun, and exactly what you’d want from a Batman book.
Of course, we all know Bruce will eventually be back as Batman, and if I were a betting man, I’d say probably even by issue #50. The end of this issue makes it clear once again that Bruce is still alive, but just why he’s been OK giving up being Batman remains a mystery. (I hope it’s not amnesia. I trust you Snyder…don’t have it be amnesia).
In the meantime, I’m on board for any version of Batman that Snyder and Capullo have to offer me, and Batman #41 is a great jumping on point for anyone looking to get into what I hope will continue to be a long and continuing run on this title from one of the best creative teams it’s ever had.