It’s no secret Batman is DC’s most popular book. Scratch that, it’s no secret that Batman is DC’s most popular character. His world has so much depth you can tell stories both in the comics and on TV that don’t even feature him. Gotham and its citizens are as interesting as Batman himself. Gotham is a city that feels real and impossible at the same time. The creative team behind Batman #44 have shown in previous stories that Gotham is a black mirror, we can see our world in Gotham, we can see how easy it would be for our world to become as dangerous as Batman’s.
In this issue the series’ regular artist Greg Cappullo takes a break, and writer Scott Snyder is joined by one of his other regular collaborators, Jock. Together these two creators are able to tell simple and poignant stories that will stay with you long after reading. The final pages of their previous works; The Black Mirror and Wytches, still haunt me. They are also joined by Brian Azzarello, who assisted Snyder with this particular issue. Azzarello wrote the popular graphic novel Joker, that presented the title character as though he were a very real world criminal.
The story in this issue is set earlier in Batman’s career, so the writers are able to show character development for Batman. So many Batman stories are set when he is already THE BATMAN, an almost faultless force of justice. In this issue we are able to see the effect this case has on a fledgling hero. Snyder and Azzarello bring together their two styles and tell a story that is half Batman and half HBO’s the Wire. On the surface this is a simple whodunit, as Batman investigates the death of a young Gotham teen. As he follows the clues and interviews suspects, it becomes clear this is as much about modern life as it is about the boy’s death. The corruption of local businesses and politicians, as well as the actions of a well-meaning, but short-sighted philanthropist all contributed to the boy’s death. Batman is able to see how he himself failed this boy, and takes action to improve his role in Gotham City.
While the story is a well written, and a powerful cautionary tale, the true success of the issue is the art work by Jock and the color by Lee Loughridge. Jock’s Batman may be the definitive Batman for this era of comics. His use of shadow makes it almost impossible to tell where Batman ends and the city begins. He is one with Gotham. His fight choreography always feels brutal, so much that you worry for Batman during a knife fight. The lowlife thug with a knife feels like a danger, rather than a piece of scenery for Batman to punch. You can see Batman step out of the shadows in this issue, as he realises he needs to start to listen to the stories within Gotham, and stop simply reacting to what he sees. Jock’s art work is enhanced by Loughridge’s use, or lack of, color. Loughridge uses his color pallet to engage the audience during the flashback sequences, and then allows Jock’s brooding inks to tell Batman’s investigation.
This is a great Batman story, suitable for new fans or long time readers. Though it is separate from the ongoing story Snyder and Cappullo are currently telling in this series, there is some subtle connections that add to that arc. At the same time this issue has its own beginning, middle and end that tells an interesting, down to earth Batman story. It reminds us why Batman is so popular, he’s a diverse character who can be used to tell all kinds of Superhero stories, but who can also be used in parables that make us reflect where we are.