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‘Batman’ #1: The Best New Comic of the New 52 (So Far)

One of the things about doing an all-new first issue of Batman is that you don’t really have to spend a whole lot of time explaining who he is. He’s a character that’s been on TV pretty much every week since 1992, starred in a movie that made over a billion dollars — that’s billion, with a B — at the box office, and was the basis of a video game that holds a Guinness World Record for being the most critically acclaimed game of all time. Chances are, if you have any pop cultural awareness at all, you know who he is and what he does.

With that being the case, it has to be difficult to do something that feels like a fresh start with a new take on the character, but with this week’s release of Batman #1, that’s exactly what Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion do. And in the process, they end up with the best comic of the “New 52.”It’s especially impressive when you take into account that Snyder’s story is in a weird place for the relaunch, in that it’s significantly less changed than the other titles. There’s a slight shakeup — Bruce Wayne’s back in the title role with Dick Grayson demoted back down to his previous identity in the pages of Nightwing, another really strong title from this week — but there aren’t the huge, sweeping changes that we’ve seen elsewhere. Much like the Green Lantern books or Legion of Super-Heroes, there’s nothing that keeps this from just being the next issue of Batman.

That’s something that I was expecting. Snyder’s said in interviews that he and the other Batman writers have been pretty happy with where those titles have been over the past few years, and since he’s a guy that made his super-hero comic debut with an incredible story focused on Dick Grayson’s tenure as Batman, it’s easy to think that wiping all that stuff away is the last thing he’d want to do. So for this issue, most everything from the existing status quo is still in place, and if you’ve been reading these comics, it’s a perfect segue into where things go from here. And yet, Snyder’s also managed to craft a story that serves as the perfect reintroduction to Batman and his world.

Part of it comes from the fact that Snyder’s able to find fun new ways to share information. There’s a nice little chunk of this comic in which Batman’s playing around with one of his new gadgets, a piece of Batcomputer Facial Recognition software that has the side effect of providing captions that tell us exactly who these characters are and what their deal is:

It’s a little goofy — and the creators are fully aware of that fact — but it’s also an extremely clever way of incorporating those bits of exposition into the story. It’s not just that we’re seeing captions, but that we’re getting the same information that Batman himself is getting. It’s a brilliant little touch that uses the medium to its advantage.

But a lot of what’s great about this book comes from how thrilling it is right from the opening pages. This is a comic that starts with Batman in Arkham Asylum, fighting an entire army of his enemies all at once, and beating them through the shocking plot twist of teaming up with the Joker.

That’s a plot that could’ve taken up an entire issue. With the slow-paced, spoon-fed style that’s been on display in some of the other DC titles, it could’ve taken up the entire first arc. Here, it’s done in seven pages.

It’s a pretty great way to kick off the book, and one that does a great job of setting the tone for how this story’s going to play out, especially in how it signals a shift in Snyder’s storytelling. For as long as I’ve been reading Batman comics, there’s been this idea that Detective Comics should be darker and more crime-oriented, while Batman is the super-hero action title. Of course, it’s not like Snyder’s run on Tec didn’t have its share of that stuff — I mean, it is a comic where Batman exploded out of a parking garage so that he could catch a dude who was running away on robot legs — but what he’s doing here takes it to the next level.

More than that, though, it illustrates the theme that Snyder’s working to build — namely, that this is Batman at the top of his game. After all, a battle against a gauntlet of enemies after a mass breakout at Arkham Asylum was the exact thing that ran Batman so ragged in the past that he got his back broken in Knightfall. Here? Seven pages. This is Batman at his prime, a guy who’s already dealt with those enemies and emerged triumphant — so by page eight, we already know that whatever shows up next, whatever can challenge him, must be something truly fearsome. And we know all this without Snyder ever having to say it. He and Capullo shows us, and they do it in the most exciting way possible.

Which brings me to the art, and I’ll admit it: I was a naysayer. To be honest, I’ve never been all that familiar with Capullo’s work in the past. I don’t think I’ve ever read an issue of Spawn, the comic he’s most well-known for, but I do have distinct memories of seeing him in one of those old Wizard how-to-draw articles when I was a teenager and not caring for it one bit. So as dumb as that may sound, that’s what informed my expectations for this comic, and I did not expect it to be any good at all.

So brace yourselves, because I don’t say this often: I was wrong.

His work here isn’t flawless. There are certainly some rough patches, mostly found in the opening splash with Arkham City‘d up redesigns for villains:

The Riddler having question marks written (carved?) on his head to accent a question mark-shaped green mohawk is hilariously rough, and as much as I love Professor Pyg’s homemade trash-bag mask, it all falls apart with the nametag. Seriously, dude might as well be wearing a plastic smock Halloween costume with that.

But again: Those guys are gone pretty quick, and in the rest of the book, Capullo nails it. He and Glapion do work in this comic that’s beautifully dynamic, and the facial expressions and body language he gives to characters are incredibly expressive.

He’s got the perfect amount of exaggeration in his cartooning that makes his characters fun to look at, even when they’re just walking through a crime scene.

And more importantly, I love the way he draws Batman.

I’m not particularly fond of Batman’s current costume, with all the seams and piping and whatnot, but Capullo’s managed to find a nice little way around that by covering it up with the cape. And it’s not like he’s hiding it, either — it’s ilke Batman is constantly existing in this perpetual darkness where even the highlights are dark grey. It’s a great effect, and in the fight scenes, it looks like Batman’s charging out of a living shadow.

It all adds up to a book that feels like the most polished comic DC has to offer with the relaunch, and the first one that I feel like you could give to anyone who was interested in this character. It’s exactly the sort of thing DC’s been trying to do with this relaunch, and Snyder and Capullo knock it out of the park.

Now if only they could do something about that logo…

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