We’ve avoided major spoilers with this list, but have obviously used some examples and references from the new Batman series. If you want to be completely surprised by the comics, just take our word on it and grab the first collection, The Court of Owls, at your local comic shop.
If DC’s increase in sales is any indication, the relaunch of 52 huge titles in 2011 has been a success. Personally, it’s re-sparked my interest in a few titles, including Animal Man, Action Comics and the Snyder-penned Swamp Thing. But right up there in the top spot is Batman, featuring work from American Vampire-creator Snyder, Spawn artist Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion.
You’d think with more than 700 issues of Batman before the re-launch, there wouldn’t be much to discover in Bruce Wayne and his family of Gotham crime fighters. But with an immediate look at a decades-old secret society in Gotham with the Court of Owls, Snyder and Capullo have brought a fresh take on the character and the city he protects, only to push him to the limit issues later with a Joker run-in with an arc called Death of the Family. If that’s not reason enough to go out and buy the comics (Death of the Family just wrapped up, and Court of Owls’ conclusion, Night of the Owls, was released in one book, by the way…), here are nine of our favorite reasons to crack open the comic every month.
Depending on the artist, it’s not hard to date images of Batman by the decade. Whether it’s a heavy-leathered, too-buff-to-be-human Dark Knight or a blue underwear-clad Caped Crusader, everyone’s got their own favorite Batman costume. Former Spawn artist Capullo manages to wrap the best of all worlds with a gray body suit, massive “bat” emblem and a cape that makes the Bat a statue-esque threat when standing up straight.
When The New 52 kicked off, you could basically hear the frustrated screams echoing outside of comic stores around the country as fans finished the first issue of Batman. Although we won’t spoil the fun, the last page left first-time readers upset enough to doubt the new direction, but hooked enough to stay tuned to whatever came next. And Snyder and Capullo redeem themselves down the path in a big way.
It would be a massive spoiler to mention the contents of issue 16, but I can at least say the 14th page isn’t for the light-hearted. Although the Court of Owls story brings the tension in the form of a slow-churning mystery, the Joker-heavy Death of the Family is filled with gruesome imagery that’s enough to offset a meal or two—again, Capullo nails every page in the books. Jim Gordon has a gory attack, the Joker composes an unimaginable tribute to his history with Batman; They’re all set up by Snyder’s story and knocked down by Capullo’s gritty, hyper-detailed images. And by the end of the Death of the Family run leaving Batman’s future wide open, we’re excited to see what makes our skin crawl next.
From the puzzle-like unfurling of the Court of Owls to a doomy look at The Joker through his pin-point pupils, Snyder’s Batman would be engaging if it was text alone. While there’s plenty of action, twists and cliffhangers you’d hope for in a superhero comic, the big rewards here are in the richer details that come from Snyder’s creative writing background (he got an MFA from Columbia). He’s got a novel in the works, too.
Although the task of relaunching Batman was a daunting one, Snyder said in an interview with Kevin Smith that he kept a level head by putting his own hopes first. By treating the new run of Batman as his own brand of fan-fiction, Snyder incorporates a love of Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham’s history and approaches it with the confidence of a fan spinning up alternate endings in his bedroom.
For those who haven’t explored Batman outside of the film medium, Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker is one that’s hard to top, but Snyder and Capullo’s one-two punch on the Dark Knight’s ultimate rival isn’t only smart, but downright terrifying. Snyder brings the character’s eerie motives to life in Death of the Family, painting the Joker as King Batman’s court jester, a being who lives to keep the hero at his best. With a stapled-on face and nauseatingly detailed grin, Capullo’s pitch-perfect Joker matches Snyder’s twisted interpretation. This is a new, fresh take on a villain comic readers didn’t know they were hungry for, but Snyder and Capullo serve up an all-too satisfying conclusion in Batman #17.
Snyder showed his love of Gotham already with his impressive Black Mirror run in the pre-52 Detective Comics. With the relaunch of Batman, Snyder again paints the city as one worth saving, but also an entity that’s capable of producing its defenders’ worst nightmares. There’s no better way to kick this thought off than with Court of Owls, a story that sees Wayne’s Gotham terrorized from the inside-out under an organization that’s nested under his own nose.
When Snyder was told he’d be taking over the Batman title, he thought he’d be starting at an issue number somewhere in the 700s. It’s pressure enough to take on such a massive title and character, but what’s more is when your bosses tell you this run begins at issue No. 1, a complete re-launch of the series. And he did that in an inspired, bold arc that had readers hooked from the beginning.
Although much of Batman’s history remains in-tact through the series, Snyder and Capullo scrambled everything we thought we (and Bruce Wayne) knew about Gotham in the bold, eight-issue run that kicked off the series (and is later continued in Night of the Owls). It involves the myth of an underground collective known as The Court of Owls, a group of Gotham string-pullers so secretive that even the poster-child of Gotham doesn’t believe its existence. Without revealing too much, it’s an arc that will have you convinced there’s still a lot to learn about the man behind the cowl.
Cracking open a given issue proves Capullo and Snyder are a perfectly paired match. From creepy owl’s eye-view panels; to issue five’s comic-twisting, upside-down images; to Capullo’s illustrations of the Court, which send chills down my spine every time, I basically want a poster-size print of every nuanced page Capullo does. So good.
If you keep up with Snyder or Capullo on Twitter or in interviews, or if you simply pay attention to the content they’re releasing month-to-month, it’s clear the duo loves working on the series (and is equally as excited talking about it) as much as we do reading it. Capullo’s constantly sharing images, mock-ups and his own thoughts on the run; Snyder’s engaging with fans and bracing himself for their reactions with every Wednesday release. The extra miles and labors of love that are put into every issue are obvious—and we’re thankful recipients.