Monday, August 14, 2017

Title Bout, Part II: Batman (The new 52) #1 vs. Batman Rebirth #1 Special Edition

Scott Snyder fails to top Scott Snyder

Title bout - Here's a new concept: take two books with the same or very similar titles, review both, and then declare a winner. Books from any publisher or even the same publisher but with subtle differences (like they are from different years or volume numbers) are eligible. Heck, the books themselves can be completely different in genre, characters and content. Doesn't matter.

This time I'm going with an easy one: Batman #1 from the new 52 era vs Batman Rebirth #1 Special edition. Both were written by Scott Snyder, but are very different stories. Since these are reintroductions of arguably DC's most popular character, it should be very interesting to contrast the two comics.

Let's get started shall we?

"Knife Trick"
Writer – Scott Snyder
Pencils – Greg Capullo
Inks – Jonathan Glapion
Letters – Richard Starking & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Colors – FCO Plascencia
Assistant Editor – Katie Kubert
Associate Editor – Janelle Asselin
Editor – Mike Marts
Created by – Bob Kane and Bill Finger
May 2011

For Snyder's first reintroduction of Batman, we go to the new 52's Batman #1.

I haven't read ALL of the new 52, having confined myself to only the crappier parts. Like reading "The Green Team", "The Movement", "Lobo", and "Constantine: The Hellblazer". I'm nothing of not a connoisseur if awful books.

Even from just that brief "toe-in-the-pool" dip, I know that out of all the characters in the new 52, Batman's titles got disrupted the least. We didn’t lose the history of the four Robins or much of Batman's origins or methods. If anything, it looks like the new 52 was a minor course correction when compared with something like Morrison's take on Superman in Action Comics.

No, we get little changes to Bats, a sign that the character needed no new alterations to make it with modern audiences. He's been changed plenty in the past.

We start with a screwed up premise, however, and that premise threatens to dampen my enthusiasm for the book completely. Bruce is musing about a series of opinion pieces the Gotham paper has been doing since he was a boy: complete a simple sentence with one word: "Gotham is…" Each day a local resident would provide the word that explains their take on the city. This will be Synder's narrative arch in which he will hang the action of this storyline and for me it works in a very big way.

What doesn't work, however is this:

That's like a good 65 - 70% of Batman's rogues gallery there in one panel. When I first read this my thought was this had to be a dream. Had to be, because even one of these guys used to give the old Aparo/Adams Batman a hard time. Combining them all like this creates an impossible task for our Dark Knight Detective.

In short, if it isn't a dream he's dead meat.

And it isn’t a dream.

We get a couple of pages of "punchy-punchy, run-run" (stole that from Tim Elliot of 3rd Degree Byrne and I'm not giving it back), with Batman showing little difficulty in dispatching many of the numerous foes arranged here, even guys like Clayface and Killer Croc.

It gets to be too much for me. Too much because it devalues these villains. They need to be a threat to Batman on their own and using them for this "group shot" and allowing them to fall in the same manner as the thugs that surround Batman in the opening of the Batman'66 TV show reduces them to pushovers.

What I'm saying is that given the number of enemies arrayed against him here, Batman should be dead. Instantly. Or at least captured. But he shouldn't be holding his own let alone WINNING.

It changes the character dynamic to him being that cypher of "why can he do it?" – "Because, I'm Batman!"

Not a good start Synder. You've lost me on page two.

By the time the battle is well underway, a glimmer of hope jumps in. First Batman finds himself tossed into a familiar acquaintance's cell.

My heart stopped as I realized Snyder might trounce Joker as easily as all the others here. Instead he has Joker team up with Batman to take out the rest of these recently escaped inmates. This reversal will make sense in a minute.

Two on twenty still isn't the best of odds, but it is marginally better. Not that Batman appeared to struggle before, mind you. In the end, all the prisoners go back to being incarcerated and Batman shares a rooftop with Gordon for a brief (and incomplete) explanation.

Capullo's pencils deserve a mention here: they don't disappoint. He understands how to arrange and inset graphics as well as draw. Inking by Glapion and the colorist rate a salute as well. The book looks good, has the right tone and pacing.

Gordon asks the question that is on everyone's mind at this point.

Which Batman doesn't answer. While Gordon may not get a satisfactory explanation, the audience does. Joker next appears inside the Batcave as Bruce broods over empty air. He mentions the Dark Knight's alter-ego's dour mood and we get this bit of interaction that uncovers what's really going on here. 

Joker turns out to be Dick Grayson working undercover in Arkham Asylum. He was sent in by Batman to uncover the corrupt guard. Good one! I still think mowing through that many villains like so much dry grass diminishes their effective scare factor when faced individually, but I LIKE this storyline. Now where do we go from here?

To a really neat establishing shot of the current "Bat-Family". I enjoyed this quite a bit. It does wonders for establishing the Batman universe as well. We know that the Dick, Tim, and Damian histories survived mostly intact or else they wouldn't be standing here. Cudos to Snyder for saying so much using so little.

It does bring up a point: Batman changed so little even as every other hero in the new 52 had revamps and new origins that it makes you wonder how the creators thought all this meshed. From what I hear, Detective Comics felt little impact of the change too. However, there are so many armloads of interactive history out there between Batman and other heroes that this calls into question many, many things. Did DC have an answer to that question?

Something to dive into for another time, I suppose.

I'll skip over the next few pages of party, where Bruce unveils his new "Gotham is a dream" project of skyscrapers of monorails. (insert Simpson's episode here)

Doing so allows me to also skip the introduction of the only new male cast member, Lincoln March. Lincoln is the candidate for mayor and while he doesn't ooze sleaze, the audience can tell March will be Batman's nemesis in some capacity. He is physically imposing as well, standing a good half-a-head taller than Bruce.

But skip we must as Gordon takes a call at the party that Bruce eavesdrops on, discovering there has been a gruesome murder in the city. Off he jaunts, out into the night like a big black bat, only to discover Harvey Bullock standing over a corpse more pincushion than human.

Gruesome…and intriguing. The mystery deepens as we find the corpse left a message for Batman. A message calculated to be found on this exact date, even though the corpse is five days old.

Bruce Wayne will be murdered tomorrow. But by whom? The answer might lie in those DNA clippings he found under victims nails. Unfortunately those only create more questions…And a final answer to our "Gotham is…" puzzle.

I'm gonna profess that I loved this issue. Sure the "too many villains" thing continues to rankle me a bit. And the party scene went on a bit too long. However Snyder set up a good long term antagonist / thorn-in-the-side with March and he ended on the best of all notes: a REALLY good mystery. If I had been buying the new 52, this would have got me back into the store the next month for book number 2.

"Batman Rebirth"
Writer – Scott Snyder & Tom King
Pencils – Mikel Janin
Letters – Deron Bennett
Colors – June Chung
Associate Editor – Rebecca Taylor
Editor – Mark Doyle
Created by – Bob Kane and Bill Finger
August 2016

We move from a tale I like in a universe that I don't, to a tale I really DIS-like in a universe I haven't made up my mind about.

Snyder takes the center seat again, although this time he is passing the torch to Tom King, who scrunches in beside him and they craft a tale that is convoluted and confusing.

Beginning this introduction of Batman with Alfred picking avocados in Bruce Wayne's backyard is fine, but once he is interrupted by the front doorbell, the story quickly slides into baffling territory.

This young man (note: he is not Caucasian) arrives saying he is "here about the offer?" It's a question. He is unsure. And I am unsure too. Safe money is on this being Batman's new sidekick (DC needs ethnic diversity very badly) however I don't ever recall Batman being so brazen as posting some kind of want-ad or Craigslist post asking for "young men to fight crime beside large man dressed as nocturnal flying rodent, inquire at Wayne manor."

No, he can't be that desperate. Or crazy.

So this guy had to get a hand-picked invitation. Sometime. Off screen. Undisclosed to the audience of this book. And this book is all I have to go by. Right?

Bad form, guys.

Losing your audience on page one – not a good thing.

Worse yet is the black box at the bottom. "Monday: Spring". So this takes place on a Monday (a date would be handy) in Spring. Who cares? Well, we the readers are supposed to care as it becomes relevant to the story in just a bit.

Turning the page we get a graphic splatter across crease of Batman fighting Calendar Man. Last time I saw him was way, way back in The Long Halloween. Seems like he's had a bit of ink done around the old cranium. Now he kind of looks like a dollar store kitchen egg timer, but who am I to judge. Batman appears to be struggling against a deadline. Something about spores getting out and it sounds like something Flonase won't be able to handle.

As Batman chokes out our villain and calls for backup, the Dark Knight does something so silly, you'd think this was Batman'66's Rebirth issue. See he needs to light the spores on fire. The why of which, I'm not quite sure as both he and Julian "Calendar Man" Day have been fighting around in these spores for the past several minutes and neither of them seem the worse for wear. However they must be something bad because Batman says so and to get rid of them he has to use a device from his array of gadgets. It has to be seen to be believed.

The ears of his cowl act as electrodes from the world's wackiest plasma globe, shooting electricity from his head to ignite all the "dangerous" spores. Which he's been breathing for the past several minutes without any health effects. Never thought I'd live to see Batman become the world's largest arc reactor.

What is going through the writer's head here folks? But wait, the story gets even crazier.

Next page starts with one of those black bars as Bruce is talking with Lucius Fox while doing one-arm pullups. "Show off," I thought. Not like Lucius doesn’t KNOW but still it is kind of rude. It says that Bruce works out so much that there just isn't TIME to stop and talk with Lucius. That isn't the crazy part.

The crazy part is the black bar. It says simply "Tuesday. Summer." and to me that means we've skipped way ahead several months to a day in Summer and we are now watching events unfold in the next season.

That's NOT what Snyder and King meant. They mean that the very next DAY after "Monday. Spring." and it is suddenly Summer. Which I don't get at ALL. A day can be warmer or milder or whatever, but to state a Spring day is suddenly "SUMMER" just because it is warm doesn't make any sense. None.

I didn't get that until "Wednesday. Fall." what they were even trying to say with this. When I did, part of me gave up on reading and started trying to understand HOW they would even come to these conclusions or how this would occur. They are challenging my belief in the narrative they are weaving. And that's bad.

When your audience stops suspending disbelieve you've lost them, maybe for good.

And speaking of "suspending" look at where Bruce is doing these PX90 stunts.

Hardly inconspicuous and downright brazen. Batman should be shown as smarter than doing one-armed pull-ups off the helo pad on some fancy hotel in broad daylight. Reckless behavior such as this gets guys secret ID cards taken away. Permanently.

Lucius drones on about helping Bruce win back all his money for the umpteenth time. I didn't even know he lost it all in the first place. And I'm a bit distracted by Bruce letting go of the railing.

Now Batman can't fly. Nor can he glide without his suit. Bruce is clearly wearing nothing but shorts. So this is pretty much the end for Mr. Wayne here.

Except it isn't. Because comic books don't need physics. Also, Bruce appears to have an insane deathwish that I've never seen in any other Bat-book outside of Dark Knight.

Not to mention I checked out over this sequence. Don't insult my intelligence this much and expect me to be entertained.

However they keep right on doing just that, as Batman discusses a very different version of Julian Day with his new protégé. We find that he's more than just a serial killer, but that now he's some kind of mutant who's body ages with the seasons and he molts out of his skin like a snake in Spring.

Uh…if you had lost me at the pull-ups, you sure would have here.

NOT ONLY THAT! but also it is now "Wednesday. Fall." and Calendar Man is speeding up time. Yeah. I. Can't. Even.

At this point I found myself so far off the trail in the forest that I knew there was no hope of making it back. Calendar Man has a machine that is speeding up time one season a day so he can do something with spores and…what? What? What?

Remember when Batman punched people and solved mysteries? Let's get back to THAT, shall we?

Instead we get shots of Batman talking with … I don't know who this is… Duke who? Give me some context. Don't be so cool that I have to come to the book knowing everything already. Total Fail.

Anyway Batman says he is sorry about Duke's parents who appear to be crazed murders (Gee Ricky, I'm sorry your mother blew up.) and that he isn't training him to be the next Robin. This is followed by the reveal of a yellow Bat-Teen suit more at home in the Lego Batman video game than it is in an actual Batman comic book.

Running is what you should be doing, Duke. Run right out of this book and into one that will treat you and the audience with respect. You gonna get so shot wearing that bright yellow lemon suit. I've seen roadway construction workers who could blend into the scenery better than you will in that getup. Take the name of that new Jordan Peele movie to heart and Get Out! While you still can.

Next up we have Batman diving into a tank of water so cold (because it is now "Thursday. Winter.") that he can't carry an air tank with him because It would freeze solid. At the bottom of said tank of water is one of Day's machines for making time go faster. Duke is in his ear. Just before running out of oxygen, he does this:

But that doesn't stop the march of the seasons…or maybe it does. We did start out in Spring and here we are at Friday and it is Spring again.

Also nasty-ass molting sequence. This book has taking so many odd left turns, I really don't know what to expect around the corner. Thankfully we've almost run out of pages.

And those pages are: Bruce and Duke kick a tree while Alfred feeds avocados to the cave bats. No. Seriously.

What did I think of this one? Pretty obvious.

Winner: Batman (the new 52) #1
By an overwhelming point total, Snyder's reintroduction of the Batman in the new 52 makes way more sense and is just more "Batman" than whatever the heck is going on in the baton fumble of Snyder to King in Batman Rebirth. I'll have my eye on the bargain bins for more of both, but I'll be picking them up for vastly different reasons. 52 for pleasure and Rebirth for entertaining you good folks with.


  1. I HATED Grant Morrison writing Batman, but since Tom King took over, I pray for Morrison's return. This Rebirth intro issue was only the beginning of the madness. Rebirth Batman went off the rails quick, and so far off the rails that the rails are just a distant memory at this point. Great reviews and right on the spot!

    1. I bought the Anthology of Rebirth at Cosco for $20 and after hearing everyone say things like this, I'm not looking forward to reading the Batman parts. And sadly the Superman in it isn't Action Comics.


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