After reading this issue twice in a row I am left speechless, presenting a bit of a problem since I am reviewing it. Let me just get it out of the way and say that I wish there was a way to give this comic a score of 20/10. If you don’t own this issue, you need to rectify that right away. I’ve never been a big fan of DC comics. But a lot of events conspired in 2011 to get me to check out the Batman titles. I just happened to catch Scott Snyder’s run on Detectice Comics. He instantaneously made me a fan. That run has been collected in trade format in The Black Mirror and you should probably get that too. He is doing even better on Batman!
For the first four issues, Batman has found himself up against The Court of Owls. This is an organization that goes way back in Gotham - so far back that most people believe it to just be a scary story told to kids. Now, you may be thinking, “Batman is the greatest detective in the world, so how could he have gone so long without checking this out?” We actually found out last issue that he DID check it out and he concluded they were not real. However, as he checked on how an ancestor died, he was plunged into a maze.
And that’s where this issue picks up. When it starts we learn that Batman has been missing for over a week and that all his allies are looking for him. Then we see Batman in the maze. Snyder has been pretty consistent through both his Batman-related runs at letting us into the mind of Batman. Back then it was Dick and now it’s Bruce. The end result is that even if this isthe Batman title and not Detective Comics, we get the sense of Bruce as a detective. It also means that the fact that this issue hinges entirely on hearing Bruce’s thoughts doesn’t feel forced or like a gimmick. It’s what you expect from Scott Snyder’s Batman.
So we have Batman navigating a maze. We’ve seen this a million times against The Riddler or the Joker. Piece of cake for Batman, right? Not so much. As he wanders around the labyrinth, we see that his mind is starting to go. On my first read, it appeared that this is due to a lack of sleep and a constant struggle for over a week to keep ever-vigilant from the Court of Owls. After all, if you’re in a maze controlled by people who “love to kill Waynes” you can’t exactly sleep easily. I also figured that his mind has also been blown by the fact that this conspiracy he was SO SURE didn’t exist was real. But on the second read, I caught sight of a stray bit of detail on the end of a panel. Readers can let me know in the comments if they saw the same thing, but I saw a hint that perhaps the maze was specifically designed to drive someone crazy - with many identical rooms to make it seem Batman is entering the same room over and over. See the image below:
But Scott Snyder doesn’t just want to drive Bruce crazy, he wants to pull you through the ringer too! The page layouts rotate by 90 and 180 degrees; sometimes making you pause, even if just for a second when you aren’t quite sure which way to turn the pages. And Bruce’s inner monologue seems like some Grant Morrison-style free association.
Speaking of Grant Morrison, if there’s just one tiny bit of nitpicking you can do with this storyline, it’s that it’s similar in tone to The Black Glove, a conspiracy that worked into three of his major Batman stories. Just like The Black Glove, the Court of Owls goes back decades and involves his relatives. I’m not saying Snyder is aping Morrison - far from it. I’m also aware of the argument that canon should only stick with a particular writer, so Snyder shouldn’t be hampered by what Morrison has written. It’s just that when I step back from the issue - I have to wonder how much room there is in Gotham for a bunch of conspiracy theory-like bad guys who have ties to Bruce’s past. (And also involved the organization making Bruce go crazy)
Comparisons to Morrison aside, this is an excellent issue and a GREAT example of the fact that Super Hero comics don’t have to be stagnant. You don’t have to go the indie route just to get an amazing story. Scott Snyder is here, giving Batman the kinds of stories he deserves and the kinds of stories that you need to be buying.