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Batman: The Black Mirror s/c

Batman: The Black Mirror s/c back

Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesca Francavilla


Page 45 Review by Stephen

As Grant Morrison pointed out in SUPERGODS, right from the earliest issues the Batman books featured a striking amount of drugs and mental illness. So it is here in a genuinely chilling story arc which spans the last eleven issues of DETECTIVE COMICS before the DC New 52 relaunch, and if you're one of the thousands of readers who hopped on board with Scott Snyder's BATMAN #1, I commend Scott's work to you here in the strongest possible terms.

The Prodigal Son returns in the form of Commissioner Jim Gordon's errant son James, dredging up memories and the nagging suspicion in his father - and the absolute conviction in half-sister Barbara - that he has always been "mad, bad and dangerous to know". Now he returns with his cards on the table, confessing to his father that last year he admitted himself to Houston General's Psychiatric Centre, was diagnosed as psychopathic, but is now on a clinical trial for a drug called Diaximyne. All early results indicate it's a medical breakthrough, successfully stimulating peptide production in the part of the brain which experiences empathy. Barbara warns Gordon to go with her guts, but he cannot resist the glimmer of hope that she's wrong. Is she?

The truth is far from straight forward. So well does Snyder play the evidence and exonerations, the memories and misdirections, that you're in for some serious surprises as is Dick Grayson (still Batman alongside Bruce Wayne who's busy recruiting internationally - hey, you do have to delegate). Indeed, one of the refreshing elements Snyder's introduced here is Grayson's own empathy which may prove his enemy - he's not the same Batman that Bruce was. If that wasn't enough, the subplot simmering steadily along boils right over when the Joker begins babbling and - like everything else here - it's very far from random. Oh, how satisfying to read it in retrospect and see all the links laid early on!

As to 'Hungry City', dead in the centre here, this was the first time in years that we had to restock DETECTIVE COMICS: page after page of stunning artwork from Jock (HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM, LOSERS) so meticulously composed that they will blow your brains out and blend them in a mixer before serving them back to you in a heady cocktail that is 99% proof and 1% circumstantial evidence. I mean it: not just the panels-within-a-panel, free-fall composition I raved about when the relevant issue first appeared, but an opening Killer Whale shot that totally redefines the term 'splash page'. I'm loathe to waste any review, so this is what I wrote:

"So. You love the company you work for and you turn up for work two hours early. It's that kind of a bank (rare these days) that's both beloved and a six-year success story. Then the doors finally open and you're confronted with the gaping jaws of an oversized, dead female Orca, beached on marble and now swimming in its own saliva. #badforbusiness as you'd say on Twitter. It's also an elaborate message to squeaky-clean bank chief Sonia Branch whose personal assistant flops from the Killer Whale's belly. Talk about being consumed by your competitors. But is it the bank's competitors or someone else responsible for the sea-themed sabotage? Dick Grayson is called in to investigate by Commissioner Gordon only to be told that Sonia's changed her name of late. She used to be Sonia Zucco, daughter of Anthony "Fats" Zucco. That's the man who killed Dick's parents."

Coming back to the wider story arc, top marks too to artist Francesco Francavilla for his quieter, more intimate style when reintroducing James to his family and jogging Barbara's childhood memories. Precisely what it called for, and his annotations in the extensive sketchbook section in the back made a great deal of sense.