After completing Crisis on Infinite Earths, I seem to have stumbled into a field of Batman comics, with this being the third consecutive Batman character collection on “the shelf”. This wouldn’t bother me even if the comics had been subpar, but since they’ve been so strong, I’m thoroughly enjoying these recent reads.
Seriously, like “Winnie the Pooh finding an extra honey pot” happy.
Early on it was clear that Batman: Year One was highly influential in setting the scene for Batman lore. This is the second comic in a row to reference Frank Miller’s storyline in detail. It’s clear even now that his story determined how the character of Batman would be handled for some time to come.
These issues center around Batman’s early forays into crime-fighting, beginning with his near-death experience in the Alaskan wilderness and subsequent rescue by a Native American shaman. The story includes a number of scenes straight out of Miller’s Year One, addressing Batman’s first attempts at vigilante justice. We follow Bruce Wayne as he attempts to fully develop his Batman identity, addressing the practical realities of such an endeavor.
By his side is the ever-faithful Alfred, who I’m happy to see has gotten quite snarky in his old age.
After such serious comics these last few trades, it was refreshing to see a bit of humor injected into the stories. The comics maintain their dark, sinister feel, but the humor actually makes them feel more realistic. No one, not even Batman, can be doom and gloom all the time. Alfred serves to lighten the mood in an otherwise frighteningly serious story.
Alfred’s role also seems to have been expanded so that his dialogue with Bruce can stand in for the extensive narration so common in earlier comics.
Within the pages of this comic, there is very little narrative. Dennis O’Neil instead chose to forgo this common literary device and replace it with believable dialogue between characters. Earlier comics had tried this, but it always felt forced, with Batman narrating his fight scenes and spelling out everything that was happening. Here, the narrative propels the story and only provides information that might otherwise not fit into the comic. We get to learn Batman’s insecurities in a natural way, building him into a more credible character.
This is continued throughout the entire comic, as entire pages may contain little to no narration or dialogue. Instead, the action in the panels is allowed to speak for itself. I have seen this method of storytelling before on “the shelf”, but it had been sporadic at best. It seemed like something one or two adventurous writers and artists had experimented with, but not something that was widely accepted as the norm. It’s a method that feels so much more organic than the alternative, and I’m glad to have finally reached the point where such devises have become more standard.
The story itself was compelling enough to keep my interest. The entire trade centered around the mystery of a masked man murdering a handful of people. Batman must determine the connection between a drug ring in Gotham and a strange Bat-like mask he first saw in Alaska. The tale reaches a rather exciting climax as Batman utterly dominates his foe in front of a host of people.
His adversary, a mere banker (not my first guess for a cold-blooded killer, but then again, this is Gotham), is brought down thanks to a few well-placed tricks on Batman’s part. The witnesses aren’t aware of these ploys though, and instead believe Batman to be a vengeful god.
This scene was awesome, plain and simple. It was creative and unique yet so thoroughly Batman.
I thought this extensive action scene would be the culminating moment of this trade, and in some ways it was. The comic continues though, with Bruce Wayne revisiting the Alaskan wilderness and receiving some pretty intense advice:
This scene reminded me very much of Catwoman’s monologue in Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper. Like Selina, Bruce realizes the power behind his mask, and learns that he must fully embrace it in order to be successful. He must “become the mask” in order to survive. I’m interested to see how closely Bruce follows this advice, and how this might impact his personality and interactions with people.
I’m surprised that with the string of short trades recently that I still seem to have plenty to say. I could write an entire blog post about Alfred and all of his awesome snarkiness (that actually sounds kind of awesome…) or about the development of Bruce Wayne’s character. The comics may be short, but they’re filled with thought-provoking material. There is so much more to analyze, so much more to piece together, that I find myself desperately eager to read more and see where the story goes from here. I have a feeling, as quickly as I’ve been working my way through “the shelf” so far, I’ll only be reading faster from here.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go write a sassy Alfred post…