After a writer/artist team concludes a big storyline and before they begin an even bigger one, there’s always a little down time. This can be used to develop side characters, wrap up/create sub plots, or just set up the new event. There’s not a lot of “Year Zero” setup in this issue, but we get some insights into the Batman/Bruce Wayne dichotomy, a little bit of action, and yet another solid backup story by James Tynion and Alex Maleev which co-stars Superman. This story, in particular, makes me wish that Tynion was writing the upcoming Batman/Superman title with Jae Lee.
The biggest strength of this issue is Greg Capullo’s art. As a former Spawn and Angela artist, Capullo is used to the grotesque and turns Clayface into a classic movie monster reveling in the brown tendrils that come off him during a pivotal motorcycle chase scene. His most powerful scene is when he draws Clayface separating his body into the heads of Joker, Penguin, and The Riddler to taunt Batman. Capullo’s gruesome take on the Joker is frightening, and his take on Riddler is decidedly modern (no tights) and will be a good fit if he is the villain of “Year Zero”. Capullo also scatters lots of little details in his panels that give this issue character, such as a single tear rolling down Batman’s face near the end and the cracks on Batman’s motorcycle helmet when Clayface’s beats him up. Inker Danny Miki embellishes these subtle details which add depth to the storytelling and give the issue “replay” value.
However, if Capullo’s art was phenomenal, then Snyder turned in a bit of a subpar script. Clayface was quite a verbose villain, and his dialogue took away from the issue’s visuals. He is a failed actor so I can forgive some of the melodrama of his dialogue, but there was several horrible puns, like when Clayface tells Batman, “We all go back to the clay, gentlemen”. Bruce Wayne also gets a particularly cliched line when he leaves Lucius Fox, saying, “Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.” This is Snyder’s attempt at exploring the different masks that Bruce Wayne puts on, but it gets a little heavy-handed, especially when Batman avoids the painful revelation of his secret identity with a bit of plot magic.
But the the story of this issue isn’t all bad. Any scene where Bruce or Batman is confronted about Damian’s death is golden. Even though he didn’t kill off Damian, Snyder has a solid handle on Bruce’s grieving process. He hasn’t gotten over Damian yet, but he’s making baby steps to returning to “normal” and slowly letting the Batman family into his life. This attitude is especially evident in the backup story which explores Superman and Batman’s relationship. From the surface, it seems like Superman is the muscle, and Batman is the brain, but in a conversation with a girl they’re rescuing, Batman reveals his actual feelings towards Superman. The villain they fight is just a monster of the week from the early seasons Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Tynion compensates with his masterful command over Batman and Superman’s voices.
This was a fun issue that avoided feeling like filler with the aid of masterful visuals from Capullo and Miki, but Batman’s insightful inner monologue was missing from most of the issue and it felt like Snyder just wanted to wrap up this story and get to “Year Zero”. However, this isn’t a bad book by any means and is worth checking out for the backup feature alone.