History will ultimately be the judge of whether or not the New 52 was a worthy endeavor, but needless to say many fans still have their gripes about the campaign. Much about the reboot was criticised with series either sacrificing some of their more interesting elements or simply re-threading character arcs that had been fully fleshed out decades before. Yet Batman by Scott Synder and Greg Capullo emerged as the bastion of comic story-telling in a post-New 52 world. From introducing new iconic characters and villains, to fundamentally revamping the Dark Knight’s definitive origin story, Synder and Capullo, told “THE” modern Batman story. Whereas some series fluctuated in quality, for over five years this creative team maintained a consistent quality and ingenuity befitting the legacy of the character. All good things must come to an end, however, and the aptly numbered issue 52 sees writer; James T. Tynion IV and artists; Riley Rossmo and Brian Level set the stage for what is to come.
Tynion’s Batman is very reminiscent of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s run in that there is a whimsy to this version of the Dark Knight. While remaining a tragic figure, there is a palpable joy within this Batman as he takes to the streets. This isn’t a Bruce Wayne who just needs to be Batman, he actively wants to be that symbol. One gets the sense that this Bruce has developed to the point that he is no longer fighting for his parents per se. While they may be his inspiration, Bruce is finally donning the cowl for himself and because it’s what he feels is right. Tynion really channels the voice of Batman through this issue, almost as if Kevin Conroy is narrating it to the reader.
Story-wise, it features a dual narrative as Batman on the hunt for a new villain as flashbacks reveal various pivotal moments in his training. Thematically, this issue reflects the circular nature of the comic book industry itself. Runs ends, creators come and go, but the characters themselves and their narratives continue. Batman is a character whose entire motivation is around centered on that never-ending struggle against crime, corruption and a cavalcade of bad guys. This issue is an ending to one era for the Caped Crusader and a distinct beginning of another. Stylistically, it may fall into the latter category more so than the former as this issues lacks the feel of Synder/Capullo issue. The transition between creators isn’t as smooth as one might hope. This issue is more focused on defining the new direction and less about seamlessly blending the two styles to make the hand-over feel more natural. One wonders if this was an issue that could have been left until the re-launch and whether the temptation to have the series finish on #52 was too meta for the DC marketing department to ignore.
Fittingly, one of the panels (which can be seen in the preview below) contains a great visual callback to the phenomenal Batman: the Animated Series. The issue itself, both in terms of story and artwork is structured like a standalone episode of that show. Rossmo and Level use simplistic, but effect panel composition to bring the story to life. TFurthermore, the design of the new villain debuted in this issue is a refreshing contrast to Batman’s usual rogues gallery. he interiors themselves are just as Batman book should be; dark, gothic, but with a pulp affectation that makes Gotham City a character in and of itself.
Batman returns next month with Batman: Rebirth before the launch of another ongoing later this year written by Tom King. Until then this issues serves as a fond farewell to a legendary run, with the promise a more adventures to come. For as long as criminals remain a superstitious and cowardly lot, there will always be a Batman.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.