In this one-shot, writers Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello have decided to tone down Batman into a simple detective story. Set five years in the past, Batman wants to discover who’s murdered a fifteen-year-old boy; sounds easy enough. But the world of Gotham is never as calm as it seems. Batman treks throughout the city questioning the likes of The Penguin, the leader of a local gang, and a GCPD detective, but in the end discovers that the young man’s demise came from the young man himself, via Mr. Bloom. Batman wasn’t there to save the young man and in the process learns that he doesn’t know as much about his home as he thought; a staple of the Snyder-era Batman run.
Snyder and Azzarello do a wonderful job of showing the creepiest and most derelict sides of Gotham. The fact that Mr. Bloom has been inundating Gotham with his “gifts” for years without Batman’s knowledge is chilling. Someone who can be under the radar for so long is an extremely strong force that current Batman will have to contend. The Corners, Gotham’s most impoverished neighborhood, serves as a reminder that Bruce Wayne may be able to build upon the ruined community but cannot alone change the crime or desperation of its denizens. When these citizens reach their absolute lowest they find Mr. Bloom who gives them their own special antidote to help with the pain. It’s evident that in the next five years Mr. Bloom perfects his formula with devastating consequences. With Mr. Bloom finally coming out of the woodwork at the end of Batman #43 it’s apparent that he’s ready to deal Gotham his finishing blow.
This issue of Batman is a stark contrast to the current Superheavy arc. Jock’s art is mostly black and white much like the newspapers used as the background in many panels. This monochromatic feel makes the issue bleak and the reader search for something that’s just beyond their field of vision. Mr. Bloom blends into the background of Blossom Row and just out of Batman’s sight, a lurking and dangerous figure. The consistent feel is that Batman can’t quite catch up with what’s nagging inside his head. Snyder and Azzarello’s script is easy to read but difficult to digest. Batman is so hell-bent on discovering the murderer he misses the forest for the trees. Always one step behind until he finally understands that he’s the person responsible for the boy’s death. Throughout the future, he’ll let Mr. Bloom grow in stature and perfect his serum and put Gotham in extreme danger. Snyder and Azzarello write, “He [Batman] will do it next time. He will catch someone.” but while he’s catching someone, he’s missing even more.
Jock is arguably one of Batman’s finest artists. There’s something menacing about the way he captures Batman’s cape and cowl. The use of the cape as an actual weapon in this issue is mesmerizing. The action in Jock’s capable hands feels real and bare-knuckled and the lone figure of Mr. Bloom in Blossom Row is straight from any horror classic. The colors by Lee Loughridge enhance Jock’s pencils. The deep blacks make Batman the true Dark Knight while all the white of the world blind Batman to Mr. Bloom’s intricately secret plans.
Batman #44 is a fantastic one-shot opening the eyes of the reader to just what lies within Gotham. It’s easy to remember The Penguin with his ego and guns a-blazing attitude. It’s harder to remember that Mr. Bloom is the real danger. Mr. Bloom has been outside Batman’s radar for five years but has finally stepped forward, figuring out what he wants is the next logical step, a simple case, indeed.