Review: Batman #23.2 – The Riddler

(w) Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder

STK625226(a) Jeremy Haun

After a disappointing first issue for Villains Month, Batman #23.2: The Riddler is a huge step up from Andy Kubert’s whiffed attempt at giving the Joker depth. The years before the ‘New 52’ had not been kind to Riddler, as he was somewhat pigeonholed as the villain who gives away his plan through riddles. Two years into the line-wide relaunch and it’s clear that this is not the same Edward Nigma we knew from before. This Riddler is much more vicious, more cunning, with more drive than I’ve ever read the character before.

Riddler is an extremely intelligent man. He finds his own clarity where others only see complexity. His riddles aren’t meant to be a plot device to clue Batman into whatever’s going on anymore. No — now Nigma’s wordplay is a bi-product of the pressure and pain of his mental acuity mixed with a few too many dashes of insanity. The only way Riddler resembles his pre-reboot counterpart (aside from the green and purple suit) is that Nigma’s riddles are for his own entertainment. Joker acts out to affect others while Riddler only works to serve himself. He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone because he’s proved to himself — time and time again — that he is the most intelligent man he knows. It’s egotistical, yes, but not inaccurate. But just because someone is intelligent doesn’t make them perfect, and that is the root of Riddler’s psychosis

Fawkes’ framework for the issue is also incredible. Nigma wants to break into the most secure area of Wayne Tower by beating the nigh-impregnable security measures installed throughout the building. It’s a perfect way to showcase Riddler’s talents as a criminal mastermind. One of the scariest elements of this new Riddler is that you don’t know what’s coming next. His obsessive nature pushes him to demand nothing less than perfection from himself. When an unexpected guard throws off the rhythm of his riddles, Nigma gets noticeably bent out of shape, if only for a few moments.

Batman #23.2: The Riddler ties for my favorite Villains Month title so far (next to Green Lantern #23.1: Relic). Scott Snyder’s story written out by Ray Fawkes is surprisingly minimal with a big punch at the end that actually gives the Riddler more depth.

 

GRADE

8.5/10

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Batman #23 Review

(w) Scott SnyderBM_Cv23_q4si145qfy_

(a) Greg Capullo

“Zero Year” is something special.

Many, many writers have penned stories pertaining to Batman’s origins. Whether it’s taking a look at previously unseen corners of Bruce Wayne’s life, or introducing new elements that are retconned into existence, these writers wanted to add something new to the Batman mythos that would last. The ‘New 52’ offered a brand new challenge for writers in that all of DC’s books were getting rebooted. The Batman and Green Lantern lines retained much of their pre-reboot history due to heavy investments in both franchises in the years leading up the the launch of the ‘New 52’. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman were granted major reinterpretations because they were in dire need of narrative makeovers because their sales were dropping more and more over time. Batman and Green Lantern, on the other hand, were only growing in popularity.

“Zero Year” is interesting for two reasons.

The first is that, as a Batman writer, Scott Snyder is tasked to bring exciting stories about the Dark Knight to the table without sullying the general interpretation of the character’s past. He can’t get rid of one of the Robins or change the events that lead Bruce to become a vigilante hero. Instead, Snyder can create new reasons and meaning behind the events of Bruce Wayne’s hero career to develop a bold, rich new origin story for the Batman. And that’s exactly what he’s done. The Red Hood Gang is probably the most poignant example of Snyder’s story. As of now, we know that the Joker started off as the leader of the Red Hood Gang. In Batman #23we get one of the most insightful looks at Red Hood One and his modus operandi. “…You’re parents’ deaths. Changed my life forever,” he laments as Bruce’s apartment burns down around them. “…Because at the end of the day, what people are afraid of is the nothing of it, Bruce. The randomness. The empty center. Stare into it and try to find meaning.” This whole scene sparked memories of The Dark Knight when Alfred explains to Bruce, “Some men just want to see the world burn.” While the literal metaphor of the burning apartment is appropriate, Snyder has also made it clear that the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne sent Red Hood One/Joker on his path to crime and chaos. The narrative cunning of his revelations is that earlier in the ‘New 52’, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne were a major focus for a young Bruce who had to accept that their murders were not some clandestine conspiracy by the Court of Owls and that, in fact, it was a random mugger on a random night in a random location. Snyder has effectively mirrored the original meaning of the death of Batman’s parents. Prior to the ‘New 52’, all the meaning in their deaths came from who killed them and why it happened. Now that we know their deaths were technically a product of meaningless crime, Snyder makes their death’s more symbolic for the evil they’ve influenced. Bruce may or may not have become Batman had Red Hood One not revealed his spiritual connection to the death of Bruce’s parents, but it certainly helped.

The second reason “Zero Year” is interesting is because it’s not just about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman — it’s is a story about how Bruce Wayne becoming Batman affects the entire ‘New 52’ universe. It’s easy to forget that in the early days, everyone trips and falls and gets back up again. Snyder is providing a tale that touches other parts of the DCnU because Batman is a big franchise, narratively and in a publishing sense. On the business side of things, it benefits DC to offer tie-in issues to a story that’s as broad as “Zero Year”, but it’s interesting just how far their going with it. A more cynical reader would assume it’s to make even more money, though I don’t think is the case. Narratively speaking, Snyder dropped a proverbial bomb on readers when he and Greg Capullo presented us with a Gotham City that looked more like a ghost town than the grizzled urban jungle we’ve known it to be all these years. That can’t have gone unnoticed, and it but it feels more like DC is getting a second chance to go back in time and provide some much desired history for many of the books crossing over into “Zero Year” in November. The tie-ins range from almost all of the Bat books (excluding Batwoman) as well as Green Lantern Corps, Green Arrow, Action Comics, and The Flash giving readers an expansive idea of what happened to all of these characters during Gotham’s darkest days.

Batman #23 starts to focus more on supporting characters. We get to see Alfred Pennyworth before he became used to seeing his employer beaten inches from death on a fairly regular basis. Edward Nigma makes another move in his grand scheme to command the highest powers of Gotham City, the Red Hood Gang continues to be the wrench in the gears, and we discover just how much Thomas and Martha Wayne’s memory stayed alive long after their deaths.

 

GRADE

9/10

Batman Annual #2 Review

(w) Scott Snyder and Marguerite BennettBATMAN_ANN2_ra4ejm6iuw_

(a) Wes Craig

Scott Snyder’s Batman is epic. Since the beginning of the ‘New 52’, Snyder has had the freedom to build big stories that have lasting and permanent ramifications. “The City of Owls” not only established a new status quo for Gotham City, but it also introduced a deadly new Wayne into the Batman mythos. “Death of the Family” brought the Joker into the ‘New 52’, and also broke Batman’s relationships with his crime fighting allies. Now, “Zero Year” aims to reinterpret Bruce Wayne’s evolution into Batman. All of these ideas are big, grand, epic ideas that have are very important to Batman’s corner of the DCnU. The other Batman titles, on the other hand, tend to focus on the more nitty-gritty side of Batman’s mission, taking down the likes of Penguin, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Clayface, and others. Batman Annual #2 splits the difference by mixing writing techniques usually reserved for the long con arcs into a self-contained, single-issue story. The Anchoress is an extremely important villain because she is a real example of a hero faltering.

Arkham Asylum has been a lot more relevant in the ‘New 52’ than it ever was before. Now, this isn’t to say that Batman’s de facto drop-off point for his psychopathic enemies was irrelevant. It’s the opposite, in fact. Arkham Asylum is a highly secure, deeply terrifying mental health establishment. Prior to the linewide reboot, Arkham was treated, more or less, like a maximum security prison for super villains instead of a place where mentally sick people go to get better. In many ways, Batman Annual #2 is Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett’s chance to fix that, to make Arkham the meaningful, integral character it’s supposed to be. The Anchoress is the metaphor for this change, and we even get a glimpse back into “Zero Year” to see why.

The Anchoress gave herself that name because she came to Arkham Asylum of her own volition. She knew that she was sick and needed to be healed, a very rare bit of self-awareness not often seen in those who need it the most. Plus, she was in an accident involving chemical imbalances and the such that resulted in the death of her parents and left her with the ability to walk through walls. When one’s world falls apart, it’s impressive when one can recognize one’s downward spiral and confront that descent before it gets too dark to see. The Anchoress blamed herself for her family’s deaths, so she entered Arkham by choice. Even though we only experience it in quick, fleeting flashbacks, seeing Arkham Asylum as a place of healing and positivity instead of a place where nightmares are born was a refreshing change of pace, if only for a moment here and there.

The Anchoress became a patient before Batman started using Arkham as a holding space for freaks and monsters. She came in when the doctors still treated their patients, made time to observe their behavior and make a suitable diagnosis with prescribed medication or treatment. The Anchoress is the last vestige of what Arkham used to be. When Batman started dropping off the likes of the Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Bane, whoever, he inadvertently turned an effective mental institution into a cage for the criminally insane who have little to no chance of recovery. People like the Anchoress, who benefited greatly from human interaction and psychological treatment, were forgotten and shoved into the deepest, darkest corners of the Asylum.

Now, the Anchoress is pissed because her “sanctuary” has mutated from a place of safety and healing into a cold, pale ghost of it’s former self. The best villains are the ones you can relate with, and the Anchoress hits this nail on the head. This woman went through so much so early in her life that she voluntarily put herself into a cage she couldn’t escape to protect everyone else. She went into Arkham a trusting person who only sought help. Batman’s influence on the Asylum’s purpose hardened her into the vengeful old lady we see in the pages of Batman Annual #2. The Anchoress wants to end Batman because Batman ended her, effectively. She repeats it to Batman a few times, that she is “Your creation!” The Anchoress sees the downfall of Arkham Asylum as Batman’s fault, pure and simple.

Batman Annual #2 is a phenomenal issue. The epic nature of Scott Snyder’s Batman run is palpable throughout this issue simply because Anchoress is such a compelling and important character. Batman knows a lot; he’s the most intelligent tactician on the planet and he’s versed in nearly every form of martial arts there is, he can go head-to-head with some of the most vicious and deranged criminals in the entire world. But there are still some things he cannot do. He can’t predict scenarios playing out years later, he can’t make up for past mistakes, and he can’t be anything other than Batman. The Anchoress forces Bruce to confront these truths and ask himself how he could let someone slip through the cracks of his mission to eradicate crime from Gotham City. In the end, Batman recognizes his own weaknesses are the ones he doesn’t even know about. Every Batman fan should read this issue.

GRADE

9/10

Batman #21 Review (Zero Year, Part 1)

(w) Scott Snyder
(p) Greg Capullo
(i) Danny Miki

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: this issue is amazing. Not only does it perfectly set up the entire storyline that’s set to last for the next calendar year, but it also introduces a host of new elements to Batman’s ‘New 52’ history. It’s a tight race this week for which of Scott Snyder’s books — Superman Unchained #1 or Batman #21 — is comes out on top. I’m in the Batman camp this time.

I’d like to address an issue I’ve been seeing online since “Zero Year” was announced, and that now is becoming more prevalent. Many people are upset that Snyder is taking Batman into the past for an entire year’s worth of issues. This criticism is two-pronged: the arc is too long, and it’s firmly set in the past instead of progressing Batman’s current-day adventures. On both counts I’m not convinced.

The allegation that “Zero Year” — at 11 issues, but taking a full year due to the break in September for Villains Month — will be too long seems silly at this point in Snyder’s career writing Batman. His initial arc on Batman for the ‘New 52’ was technically also 11 issues in length, though it’s considered two arcs. “Death of the Family” may have been only five issues in Batman, but the numerous tie-in issues gave the core narrative a larger breadth than it normally could have achieved by itself. At this point, I trust Scott Snyder to deliver something incredible. And on a purely logistical level, the title page says “Zero Year – Secret City: Part One” alluding to the idea that this mega-arc will be broken into more manageable segments.

On the gripe with Snyder focusing on Batman’s past instead of his current day exploits is just redundant. First of all, Batman has been framing the Batman family of titles for most of the ‘New 52’, if not directly than at least through Snyder’s characterization of Batman staying mostly consistent across all the titles he’s featured within. Second, Batman is the solo star of two other series — Detective Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight — as well as having his name in an additional two others — Batman and Robin and Batman, Incorporated. All of these titles will be telling current day stories (save for November, from some rumors I’ve seen online), so why can’t Snyder delve into the past? One of the major complaints about the ‘New 52’, in general, is the lack of information regarding the five to six years between the first appearance of Superman in Metropolis and what’s going on in the current day. For the next year, we get to see just that.

Batman: Year One was bout Batman’s relationship with Jim Gordon. “Zero Year” is about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. It’s a simple concept that bears a lot of weight because with the condensed nature of the ‘New 52’, this is the year of Batman’s career when he establishes his rogues gallery. Yes, there seems to be a central antagonist here at the starting point, but it would be folly to assume Snyder will only stick to one villain for eleven issues that spans a year of Batman’s life.

GRADE
10/10

Spotlight: Superman Unchained #1

(w) Scott Snyder
(p) Jim Lee
(i) Scott Williams

Was it that hard to produce a non-Grant Morrison Superman book, DC?

Superman Unchained is exactly what I’ve been wanting from Superman in the ‘New 52’. Now, I loved Morrison’s run on Action Comics, but it was a high-concept story that was difficult to follow month to month. Then there’s the eponymous series that was mishandled from day one, only to be given to Scott Lobdell who has managed to drive the title even more into the ground than it already was. Letting Scott Snyder take a crack at the Man of Steel was a great decision that has resulted in the single greatest Superman issue of the ‘New 52’.


** SPOILERS AHEAD! **


My favorite part of Superman Unchained #1 is when Clark is reentering Earth’s atmosphere while attempting to divert a falling satellite from crashing into a populated area. While speeding toward Earth, Superman experiences the same sensation of free falling as he did when he was a boy jumping from a silo into a giant stack of hay. It’s not the most bombastic or exciting part of Superman Unchained #1, but it’s extremely important to the Superman mythos, in general.

Many writers attempt to humanize Superman through the use of the character’s inner psychological conflicts. Since Clark is a god among men, a lot of good storytelling comes from analyzing just how he handles himself beyond fighting villains or stopping alien invasions. Superman: For Tomorrow was one of the most successful examples of this kind of narrative. But then it became commonplace. It felt like Superman’s emotional turmoil was becoming the focus instead of the lining that gave meaning to Clark’s actions.

Snyder’s decision to make Clark reminisce about his life in Smallville is meaningful because it rarely ever happens. Sure, there are flashbacks to random moments here and there, and the Kents are always at the forefront of Clark’s thoughts, but specifics have been few and far between. The story of the Colder Jump shows Superman’s humanity. And not through the lens of holding back his strength or doling out sage advice to mere humans, but through being human himself. Everyone has triggers that set memories into motion — Superman’s are just a little larger than life. For all the times Clark talks about Smallville, it’s great to finally experience a real connection to the Man of Steel’s life as just a Man.

This scene is one example of Snyder employing a theme that basically juxtaposes the ordinary against the extraordinary. Clark is remembering life in Smallville at the same time he’s literally moving a building-sized satellite through our planet’s atmosphere. The theme continues into Superman’s conversation with Lex Luthor, which takes place in a helicopter that Clark is holding upside down. Both Clark and Lex speak to each other like they’re sipping tea at a Parisian cafe even though one is an alien Jesus figure and the other is a hyper-intelligent sociopath bent on destroying Superman. By the end, it’s clear that the theme has been present throughout the issue. More or less, Superman Unchained #1 gives readers a good, basic view of what Superman does day to day. Clark never breaks a sweat, his voice never falters, and his step never misses. An extraordinary life is simply life to Superman.

Superman Unchained #1 is what readers have been waiting for: a true flagship title for the Man of Steel. Scott Snyder so fantastically taps into what makes Superman great that I actually found myself disappointed that the issue was over and that there wasn’t any more to read. If Snyder can do with Superman what he’s done with Batman in terms of overall character development, Superman Unchained is set to be one of the best series of the ‘New 52.’

GRADE
9.5/10

Batman #20

(w) Scott Snyder     (a) Greg Capullo

“Nowhere Man” — Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s homage to Batman: The Animated Series — wraps up this month in the pages of Batman #20. It’s been nice to see a shorter tale from Snyder, whose epic stories have, for the most part, outlined Batman’s overall narrative in the ‘New 52’.

It’s hard not to like this issue if you were a fan of Batman: TAS in the late 90s. The series was good for presenting excellent fight scenes and highlighting that fact that Batman and Bruce Wayne were always at odds. “Nowhere Man” hits all the right beats that the show would, it included a generous amount of panel time for James Gordon and Lucius Fox, and keeps with the idea that Batman has a more adventurous side that’s not always shown.


** SPOILERS AHEAD **


Then there’s the Batman Beyond suit.

I’m gonna nerd out for a moment. Bear with me.

Snyder and Capullo like to play head games with readers, but this bit of fan service is not only another great nod to the DC animated universe, but also just really damn awesome. And it’s 20 years away from being financially viable? That fits (generally) into the timeline of the animated Batman Beyond. Also, the suit shown in Batman #20 is far more robotic and encapsulating than the one worn by Terry McGuinness in Batman Beyond, suggesting that even though it’s 20 years from being viable, it would be at least 50 before it could be slimmed down to body-fitting size.

Nerd-out over.

Thus, Batman #20 isn’t the most memorable issue of the series, but it’s still a great comic book. And really, that’s what ongoing series are all about. Even when the story isn’t world-shattering or life-changing, it can still be high quality and have meaning beyond it’s plot. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo understand this and work the principle into “Nowhere Man” seamlessly.

GRADE
8/10