‘Batman’ #37 is a whirling dervish of psychological horror

bm-cv37-large-112203Batman #37
Written by Scott Snyder (Backup written by James Tynion IV)
Pencilled by Greg Capullo (Backup art by John McCrea)
Inked by Danny Miki
Colors by FCO Plascencia (Backup colors by Michelle Madsen)
Published by DC Comics

Some of the best Batman stories are where a villain (usually someone like Scarecrow or Dr. Destiny) gets in his head, warps his sense of reality, and shows he’s not a mythic force of justice, but just a kid who misses his parents. Usually, by the end of the issue or episode, he has overcome his fear and deep-seated psychological problems and roars something like the classic Batman: The Animated Series line, “I am the night. I am vengeance. I am Batman.” This definitely doesn’t happen in Batman #37 as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continue to subvert everything which makes up the character of Batman, including his detective skills, contingency plans, and supporting cast. (Poor Commissioner Gordon!) Snyder writes Batman as shakier than usual as no cure can be found for the Joker’s latest toxin while Capullo with help from inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia, who gives each character a symbolic color. Capullo draws a few, thickly inked iconic Batman images, but for the most part, the Dark Knight and his friends are running scared in Batman #37.

Scott Snyder riffs off the famous Friedrich Nietszche quote “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you” using it to encapsulate the Batman vs. Joker conflict in Batman #37 as well as Batman’s own internal conflict. Capullo’s first page of Bruce Wayne strapped to a chair, bereft of costume, and with his eyes unnaturally open sets up the horror-filled nature of this issue. It’s a full-fledged horror story in the midst of a superhero epic. Snyder (along with James Tynion and John McCrea in the backup) explores the Joker as a primal figure of chaos as his toxin spreads to the very center of Gotham, and Batman has no clever antidote to stop it. Capullo shows Batman’s helplessness when he breaks a gorgeous half-splash of Batman soaring over his city with a jarring panel of his eyes wide openBatman-37-Page-1 with fear. He and Snyder increase the Joker’s threat level once more, and towards the end of the issue, blur the lines between reality and toxin (or something else) induced phantasms with help from Plascencia’s gaudy, almost pop-art color palette.

Snyder and Capullo even turn the nature of comic relief and humor against itself to make Batman #37 an even more mentally taxing story. Throughout his Batman run, Snyder gives characters (mostly the Pennyworths, but occasionally Batman) the occasionally one-liner to give readers a short break from the twists and chills of Gotham to smile and chuckle at some snark. However, in Batman #37, he times these bits of comedy to coincide with the worst parts of the story. It’s definitely not the time for Commissioner Gordon to be making jokes about haunted hospitals while Batman is running through one and getting assaulted by smiling, smoky citizens.

Capullo’s designs for the Jokerized Gothamites is suitably creepy, and he loses the gutters between panels in scenes with Gordon to show how Gotham has become a fatal insane asylum. This sequences show how Capullo uses Gotham City itself as a foe for Batman and to create a variety of atmospheres, sheer terror in this case. He and Snyder have transformed the watchful protector of Gotham into the protagonist of a Lovecraft short story desperately holding onto his sanity in the face of unbeatable chaos. Batman #37 is one of the scariest comics of 2014, a great achievement from a guy who happens to write Wytches and American Vampire.

 

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