Batman 18 Puts the Spotlight on Harper Row

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Batman18covercapulloBatman 18
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Pencillers: Andy Kubert, Alex Maleev
Inker: Sandra Hope
Colorists: Brad Anderson, Nathan Fairbairn
Letterers: Nick Napolitano, Carlos Mangual
Cover: Greg Capullo

One of the things that Scott Snyder has excelled at during his run on Batman (other than handling huge events and breathing new life into Batman’s rogue gallery) is expanding Batman’s world. There has been the Court of the Owls, Thomas Wayne Jr/Lincoln March, and now Harper and her brother Cullen Row. Snyder is able to graft these elements into the Batman mythology without them seeming contrived for the sake of the plot or event. Harper and Cullen Row previously appeared after “Night of the Owls”, and their appearance after “Death of the Family” and Damian’s death is even more significant.

But Cullen and especially, Harper, aren’t one-dimensional characters who act as foils to Batman. They get some meaningful interactions with each other as Cullen comes to grips with coming out of the closet and Harper’s obsession with Batman as well as their father’s imprisonment. He plays the hopeful optimist that wants to redeem his criminal father to the more cynical Harper who is angry at his actions. Harper also has a real motivation to help out Batman because his “boss” Bruce Wayne is providing her and her brother with better housing and a chance at a better life. She might have the catsuit and the purple hair of a Mary Sue, but Harper has believable strengths and weaknesses. Her hacking skills rival Oracle, but she is very impetuous, and a thug   almost beats her to death when she tries to “rescue” Batman with her taser.

Speaking of Batman, Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope do an excellent job at portraying a tired, battered Batman that “lost” his family and just wept in his dead son’s bedroom. The Batman scenes in this book fit perfectly with Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman and Robin 18 silent issue that shows Batman’s grief, including his beating up thugs outside the Bat-Signal. This Batman goes at his work with a brutality that reminds one of Frank Miller’s work in The Dark Knight Returns and other less acclaimed books. But Hope does a great job of touching up Batman’s taut musculature and little touches like his torn cape and stab wounds from an earlier fight to capture this feeling of desperation. In his encounter with Harper, his lines about her not being ready are true, but these lines are tempered with a harshness coming from Damian’s death that are usually reserved for his villains.

However, Harper makes a strong case for becoming Oracle or Robin with her heartfelt plea with Batman not to die and reminding him of his role as defender of Gotham, which she describes as his “family”.  (She’s been working out too.)The grieving over Damian’s death and effects of the Joker’s schemes will not end after this issue, but at least Batman has someone who cares about him. Harper has lost a parent too, is incredibly intelligent, and has saved Batman’s life once already. Like John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, she is like an amalgamation of all the other Robins with a little Carrie Kelly thrown in. Even if Harper doesn’t take up this mantle, this Harper_Rowissue establishes her as a major character in the Batman books in the New 52 and a sympathetic figure.

This issue had all the hallmarks of a comic by Scott Snyder, including strong characterization (we even get some gory details about the mutant dogs set on Batman and Harper), a tight plot, and a distinct internal voice for Harper.  Not once does she sound like Batman or Bruce. Andy Kubert also adds a darker edge to the action sequences with the shaky panels mirroring Batman’s bruised psyche. The only problem with that issue is the shift between Kubert and Maleev’s art. Their figure drawings of Batman and Harper are radically different and make the transition between stories awkward. But despite this small hiccup, Snyder and company continue to expand Batman’s world and explore the character through a new perspective.

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