Communication Skills for Multiversal Salvation, or, Dark Nights: Metal

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(C) The Devil

Dark Nights: Metal is at once a Batman story and a Justice League story, a mystery and an adventure, a fragile, intimate drama and a sprawling, cosmic epic, and the mission of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s latest collaboration (with Jonathan Glapion on inks and FCO Plascencia on colors) seems to be bridging those very sorts of fictional polarities. Metal is a story that posits that perhaps detectives and swashbucklers are one and the same, that perhaps the barrier distinguishing cosmic infinity from the sprawling expanses of any single individual’s imagination is far thinner than we might think.

Metal concerns the invasion of the DC Universe by the Dark Multiverse, a realm of raw imagination, comprised of the dreams and nightmares that on the rarest of occasions are forged into existence within the living, breathing DCU proper. Essentially, the world of Batman and the Justice League is an ark of existence, of reality, adrift on an unimaginably vast sea of could-have-been and should-never-be. Someone or something has breached the hull of that ark, which is now taking on sick water in the form of nightmare Batmen conjured from Bruce Wayne’s worst fears and insecurities. What follows is a desperate attempt to plug the leak in the DCU before the entire existing multiverse sinks into the Dark Multiverse.

It’s a mystery and an adventure, at once terrifying and exciting, a sentiment captured in the narrative’s dual focus on Batman the Detective and Carter Hall, the missing adventurer Hawkman.

Questions and clues abound: why is a covert ops team surveilling Batman? Why are strange metal artifacts around the globe reacting strangely to some unknown force? What secretes lie within the secret journal of Carter Hall?

Spectacle and bombast abound: the Justice League battles interlocking mechs in an alien gladiatorial arena. A demonic Bat-God clings to the apex of a dizzying spire that punctures a stormy sky, flanked by dual Joker-dragons.

And yet, whether it’s an army of villainous Justice League doppelgangers or a furrow in Wonder Woman’s brow as she prepares for battle, Capullo, Glapion and Plascencia never miss a beat, the attention afforded both to the smallest detail and the loudest spectacle alike indicative of Metal’s continued interplay between the intimate and the immense, the mysterious and the adventurous.

But the disparity between those two seeming opposites never feels jarring or disorienting, as Metal is, at its heart, largely concerned with that which unites them: communication.

Sound is a fascinating and prominent motif throughout DN:M, be it battle cries, devilish bellows, power chords, or good old-fashioned banging two pieces of metal together. Again and again importance is placed on sound, the difference between the life and death of all existence hanging on one character’s willingness or ability to create it and another’s ability to hear and comprehend it. It’s telling then that just before it hits the fan in the story’s opening issues, Batman refuses to communicate with his peers. His failure to communicate, his decision to withhold information, reaps dire consequences and the rest of this epic is largely concerned with not only discovery in the face of the unknown malevolence brought forth, but the communication of those discoveries with others.

Across the galaxy, in the depths of the sea and deep within the distorted bowels of the Dark Multiverse itself, the Justice League find themselves investigating any thread that might lead them to a plug for that leak in the ol’ aforementioned reality ark that is their entire known multiverse, but separated as they are those answers mean nothing without the willingness and ability to communicate that information, to share it, to come to a common understanding through detection and adventure.

For all its mystery and all its spectacle, Dark Nights: Metal ultimately revolves around communication, that which links the dreams and nightmares of our minds with the vastness of the universe. It’s a story about coming together, about living and experiencing and sharing those experiences to the betterment of all involved.

It is one hell of a comic book.

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“Gotham Is,” or, Batman: The Series Finale

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After wrapping up Superheavy, their final story arc on Batman, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo (with inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia) put a period at the end of their sprawling, five-year bat-sentence with one of the single greatest individual issues of their entire run.

Batman #51, entitled “Gotham Is,” is at once a poignant, standalone Batman chapter and a deeply impactful series finale. If you just picked up Batman #51 on a whim because that psycho in Dawn of Justice seemed neat you’re in for a satisfying read. It’s an excellent standalone Batman story that provides equally tragic and uplifting insight into the character. But it’s as the finale to a five-year saga that Batman #51 really soars.

“Gotham Is” calls back to 2011’s Batman #1, using a Gotham newspaper column featured in the first issue as a framing device. I’ve read that first issue and the subsequent Court of Owls story arc so many times in so many formats that by the end of the first page the last issue felt like a sort of homecoming. From there, a story about a mysterious power outage in Gotham weaves throughout the city touching on not only the characters and locations from throughout Snyder and Capullo’s run on the series, but also the various feats of literary and artistic strength that have elevated the run since 2011. Snyder uses character narration to directly, affectingly address the reader and Capullo’s detailed, architectural prowess is on full display in his depictions of everything from Gotham’s skyscrapers to its street lights.

Throughout Snyder and Capullo’s time on Batman the book has always felt like something more than any other comic that ends up in a neat, alphabetized stack on my coffee table every Wednesday. Month after month each issue felt like an event. For me, there are movies and then there are Christopher Nolan movies. There’s television and then there’s Hannibal (or at least there was). There are comics and then there is Snyder and Capullo’s Batman.

Batman #51 reaffirmed those feelings. Circling back through the characters, locales and events of the previous 50 issues it’s a finale that makes the entire saga Snyder and Capullo have told on Batman feel like a narrative free of the storied history of the character. From Court of Owls to Superheavy they’ve told a tale that, beyond being great Batman, is just great storytelling. Without ever having previously heard of Batman you could go from #1 to number #51 and you’d be taken on a complete, self-contained journey with compelling characters, engaging twists and turns, and a truly satisfying conclusion.

The greatest strength of Batman #51, and Snyder and Capullo’s entire tenure on the book, is that it stands alone on its own merits as a story that greatly contributes to the 75 year old Batman canon but in no way depends upon it. It’s the kind of issue and the kind of run that make me wish I’d never heard of Batman so I could see him for the first time through this specific, glorious prism.

 

Since I started this blog in February 2012 Snyder & Capullo’s Batman has consistently my favorite thing to write about. Check out some of my previous posts on their legendary time with the Dark Knight:

Superheavy

Endgame

Zero Year Concludes

Zero Year Begins

Death of the Family

 

 

 

 

 

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Superheavy, or, Batman ’16

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Gundam Batman

Probably the highest praise I can think of to give Superheavy, the recent Batman story arc that concluded with last week’s Batman #50, is that it is a piece that could only have been made here and now by the current stewards of the Dark Knight.

In the wake of a major assault on Gotham by the Joker, Jim Gordon, of “stop pointing that gun at my family” fame, is left to take to the mantle of the Bat. The ten issues that follow showcase a team (writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia with guest artists Jock and Yanick Paquette) not just at the height of their technical abilities, but at the height of their creativity as well. Superheavy is full of vibrant monsters, lavish prose, precise architecture and seamless dialogue.

But it’s not just the specific, well-oiled creative team that make Superheavy a Batman story that could never have been told before, it’s the story itself, a reaction to the lapsed relationship between low-income, minority communities and the powers put in place to protect them. Not a new problem, to be sure, but one that in the last few years has found its way to the forefront of the American dialogue.
In reacting to the specific societal concerns of the day Superheavy puts forth a thesis on Batman that we wouldn’t have seen even five years ago when Snyder and Capullo first started their run on Batman.

Superheavy dives head first into the idea that Batman is “more than just a man,” by stripping the Bat of the man and leaving Gotham City to decide what the symbol left behind means for themselves. Ultimately, even in a climate where law enforcement disproportionately fails specific communities time and time again, the symbol Gotham arrives at isn’t frightening, confrontational or vengeful. The Batman born here and now is an avatar of hope, aspiration and community. In 2016 The Bat isn’t a soldier in a one-man war on crime, it’s a beacon for others to follow. A validation of the hope that the world around us is not only worthy of improvement, but that it individually we have the power to be agents of that improvement.

It’s not a Bat we could’ve gotten in 1966 or 1989 or 2008. It’s not a Bat we could have gotten in 2011. Snyder, Capullo and company have not only told another in a string of excellent Batman stories, they’ve told one that could only have been told by them and couldn’t have been told until now.

Endgame, or, Happy Belated 75th Birthday Batman!

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Looking good for 75.

Endgame, the major story arc in writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia’s Batman book during the character’s 75th Anniversary last year, initially had me the littlest bit weary. Plot details for the arc had been kept under wraps until the debut of the first issue but by the close of Batman #35 it was clear that the antagonist was the Joker, a character who, in clumsier hands, could easily, loudly steal the spotlight from the caped crusader on his 75th birthday.

Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, the Snyder/Capullo Batman team didn’t turn in a crazy-for-the-sake-of-crazy Joker story. Much like Death of the Family before it Endgame doesn’t thrust Joker into the spotlight so much as use him as a spotlight to highlight Batman and, in this case, his tireless, decades-long mission.

Endgame introduced a terrifying new fold into the Joker’s character – a bit of straight up hatred. After his last encounter with Batman the Joker returns spiteful and malicious. Despite the despicable cruelty the Joker has displayed over the years it’s almost always seemed to be in the name of random violence. The Joker is a force of chaos, a force of meaninglessness. Endgame gave the Joker spite and in doing so gave an avatar of seemingly unpredictable and pointless carnage purpose.

That purpose is contradictory to Joker’s supposed core values and in succumbing to that which he rages so hard against, purpose, the Joker undermines himself and is philosophically defeated long before he and Batman come to blows.

Furthermore, giving Joker such a specific purpose in Endgame highlights how the character has actually had a broader purpose all along – the pursuit of proving the purposelessness of it all. He’s a contradiction. He’s a smokescreen of terror and cruelty that at its core can’t hold up to even the slightest bit of intellectual scrutiny. His terrorism in support of meaninglessness gives him meaning. He is his own counterargument. His crusade is a joke. Go figure.

Where Endgame triumphs, other than the very cool segment on jellyfish and the consistently fantastic art, is in showcasing just how flawed and broken the pursuits of Batman’s antagonists are and, in contrast, how sturdy and true Batman’s own 75 year old mission continues to be because Batman fights for meaning. He’s dressed head to toe in symbolism and his bread and butter is deriving significance from the exact kind of senseless violence the Joker so haphazardly hocks.

Unlike the Joker, Batman has a philosophical center that holds up to scrutiny because it is inarguable. We can gleam meaning from our days, be they triumphant or tragic. It’s a sentiment that rang true in 1939 when Batman’s origins were first revealed in the pages of Detective Comics #33 and it’s a sentiment that rings true in the final panels of Endgame. All this is to say Endgame that while it might be the Joker on the cover of the Endgame graphic novel, it couldn’t be a more Batman-centric tale.

Endgame was the perfect story to tell on the occasion of Batman’s 75th birthday.

Zero Year Concludes, or, A Batman is Born

When it comes to entertainment cannon is a myth. No matter what any producer or director or publisher tells you anything that happened to your favorite characters, whether in a novel or a reboot or a video game or an animated short, happened to those characters.

Because, you know, its fiction. And the idea of trying to dictate which elements of fiction did and didn’t happen is preposterous.

One of the best things about comic books in particular is that the longevity of the medium’s hallmark characters allows each individual reader to develop and refine their own personal history for their favorite decades old superhero.

Like Batman.

NEXT. LEVEL.

NEXT. LEVEL.

Maybe there are crucial moments in Batman’s history you choose to ignore, like the time he turned into Spawn in the mid-90s. Maybe there are obscure elements of the character’s history you choose to amplify, like Zur-En-Arrh.

Maybe your Batman was born under the eye of Christopher Nolan. Maybe your Batman was conjured up by the pen of Frank Miller. Maybe your Batman will be born this fall on the new Gotham television series. Whatever your preference they’re all Batman.

As of last week, my Batman was born in Zero Year.

The twelve-issue retelling of Batman’s origins by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo (which concluded in Batman #33 last week) didn’t seek to drastically redefine the Dark Knight. Rather, Zero Year tells an updated origin story that actively conjures the spirits of Batman’s most famous iterations from throughout the character’s 75 year history and blends them into one profoundly current narrative.

Sure, the Batman of Zero Year is driven by a psychological compulsion Frank Miller so masterfully focused on, but he also crusades about a Gotham that evokes the gothic art deco of The Animated Series and the architectural grandeur of the Dark Knight Trilogy. And while Zero Year utilizes a distinctly Nolanesque three-act structure, colorist FCO Plascencia’s vivid palette recalls the 1960s Batman television series.

COLOR ATTACK

COLOR ATTACK

Zero Year takes Batman’s entire mythology, from purple gloves and bat-pole references to abject horror and psychological torment, and stirs everything into one pot. But while any piece of fan fiction could certainly cobble together Batman’s history, Zero Year succeeds in its characterization, dialogue, scope, amount of lion fights and most importantly its awareness.

Zero Year is told with an active awareness that it is not the first, nor will it be the last, telling of Batman’s beginnings. It’s an awareness that for some readers its pages will be doctrine and for others they’ll be ignored completely in favor of Year One or some other origin story.

It all comes back to the idea that superheroes and comic books are fiction and readers are going to concoct their own histories and timelines for Batman regardless of any attempt at official continuity. It’s an idea that Zero Year embodies in its portrayal of Gotham City.

Snyder and Capullo aren’t offering a different Batman. He’s younger, cockier and less experienced to be sure, but you’ll never question his authenticity. Their Gotham, however, is unlike any other in that it is distinctly of the moment. It isn’t a city from 1939 or 1987 or even 2012. This Gotham exists today, here and now.

It’s a city that fears random, unpredictable shootings and super storms and it’s a city that, to its own detriment, deeply internalizes those fears. The villains of Zero Year (Red Hood One, Dr. Death, The Riddler) offer distinctly personal and internal assaults. They attack Gotham’s citizens’ identities, their skeletons and their minds, and as a result Batman responds differently than he would in Miller’s Year One, in which his enemies are the distinctly external forces of corruption, organized crime and general urban decay.

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COLORLESS ATTACK

From the beginning Zero Year makes a point of portraying Gotham as a city of today and as a result Snyder and Capullo have yielded a Batman specifically for 2014. But by the end of Zero Year this Gotham of the moment, with its myriad historic influences, is literally rebooted, and while we spend nearly 12-issues with the Gotham of 2014 we’re given almost no time to explore this final rebooted Gotham that occupies the story’s final pages. In fact, all we’re left with is the knowledge that there is still a Wayne Enterprises building and that the city is, if nothing else, new.

It’s a blank slate. A blank Gotham. Any Batman story could follow Zero Year because it’s just that masterful a beginning.

As Zero Year concludes Bruce Wayne addresses the citizens of Gotham, but it’s hard not to hear Snyder and Capullo directly addressing Batman fans everywhere:

“…look at it, the city. It isn’t what it was twenty years ago, even ten years ago. Not at all. That’s the wonderful thing about it, isn’t it? It’s always changing. Gotham as we know it, you and I, it exists for a moment in time, its people, its neighborhoods, the hopes and fears that power it, and then… poof! It’s gone. And a new city stands in its place.”

 

For more Batman:

Death of the Family

Zero Year v. Year One