After the grieving and emotional turmoil of the previous issues, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reunite to tell a Batman detective story. However, they don’t have Batman completely recover from Damian’s death. There’s a poignant early scene between Alfred and Batman where Batman is watching footage of an old mission in his cowl where Alfred thinks that Batman is losing himself because of Damian’s death. Capullo does an excellent job of capturing the complicated combination of grief over both Waynes that Alfred feels through facial expressions. FCD Plascencia is back with a black and grey color palette to show the characters are still in mourning.
Capullo’s art really captures the dual life of Batman and Bruce Wayne in this book. He gets to draw an epic opening action sequence where Bruce Wayne opens fire with a double barrel shotgun. The line work from Danny Miki adds a sickening, visceral element to this opening by outlining the puffy faces of the victims. Wayne’s face even looks rounder. All is not right in Batman’s Gotham, indeed. Towards the end of the story, the plot evolves into a stereotypical “shapeshifting villain is impersonating hero” storyline, but Snyder’s characterization of Batman, allusions to folklore and mysticism, and an even more mysterious backup story add depth to what could become cliche in another writer’s hands.
The Batman of this issue felt like the complete opposite of how the Batman of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was sometimes characterized. He wasn’t hanging thugs upside down and shouting in that gravelly voice, “Where is the Joker?” No, this Batman is really the World’s Greatest Detective. It was good to see Batman look around different computer files and poke around buildings for clues after one of his high ranking employees, Brian Wade, commits “suicide”. There is a voiceover monologue, but this adds depth and color to Batman’s world and mythos. For example, we find out how Wade’s taste in architecture helps Batman find clues about his possible whereabouts. Snyder’s fixation with Gotham’s architecture that began in “Court of the Owls” continues and plays a big role in the plot of this issue. He also connects the dots between the Bat books by bringing in a villain who recently appeared in Detective Comics.
Revealing his great literary knowledge, Snyder alludes to the Viking Berserker stories as well as the Navajo Skywalker and other Native American mythology in re-telling the origin of the issue’s villain, Clayface (Basil Karlo). He also draws a nice parallel between Clayface who is losing his own humanity and absorbing other humans’ DNA, and Batman, who is becoming increasingly withdrawn and out of touch after Damian’s death. The motifs of myth and folklore also make it into the books backup story which includes a surprise team-up and an actual mystery. In the backup, Alex Maleev’s art meshes better with Capullo’s than it did with Andy Kubert’s because both pencillers draw similar Batmans, and their stories have the same detective story with mystical elements feel.
As a Batman writer, Scott Snyder is known for his long term story arcs, such as “Gates of Gotham”, “Night of the Owls”, and “Death of the Family”. However, in this issue, he shows that he can handle a simple Batman as detective story while continuing to foreshadow elements in the upcoming “Year Zero” and immersing the reader in the rich world he has built for Gotham’s Dark Knight