By Chris Hayden
In the latest issue of his popular Batman run, writer Scott Snyder teams up for writing duties with Brian Azzarello to deliver a startlingly topical story that eschews many of elements you would expect from your typical Batman adventure, in favor of something refreshingly unique. Snyder and Azzarello take a break from Gordon's Batman and the developing Mr. Bloom arc, instead presenting us with a simple detective tale set shortly after the events of Zero Year, a time in which Bruce Wayne still wore the cape and cowl.
Led by matter of fact third person narration and some dialogue, the reader follows Batman as he attempts to solve the case of a teenage boy found dead in the Gotham Marshes soon after Zero Year. We see a Batman still early in his career, tested by his battle with the Riddler, but nevertheless in a state of development. While he may have the skills and toys of the Caped Crusader we all know and love, the story lays bare the consequences of his long absence from Gotham as he traveled the globe training. We see a Dark Knight still refining his approach to not just detective work, but also his relationship to the denizens he is trying to protect. Snyder and Jock forgo the typical confrontations with colorful villains and their dastardly schemes, instead opting to show us the more human and relatable side of crime in Gotham, where things are often shades of gray.
The issue itself plays out as something akin to an old noir film. We watch as the world's greatest detective follows up leads, questions witnesses and doggedly pursues a resolution. The journey forces him to contend with his own limitations, namely his relationship with perhaps the most underappreciated character in all of Batman mythos: The city of Gotham itself. We see a detective hunting for not only motive and resolution, but also a better understanding of the city he has sworn to protect. Without offering any spoilers, I can say that the issue masterfully plays the dual role of both tying in to the ongoing Mr. Bloom arc while simultaneously working as a compelling stand-alone story that fleshes out Bruce Wayne's Batman in ways we haven't seen before.
Throughout the story's twists and turns, and there are several, certain themes begin to emerge that prove to be compelling and thought provoking. As Batman follows his line of investigation, he begins to discover that true culpability, however far removed, may ultimately rest with none other than Bruce Wayne. It's an interesting commentary on the notion of vigilantism in general, as the genuinely well-meaning effort to rebuild Gotham undertaken by Wayne inadvertently create issues that he must confront as Batman. It delves into the true cause of crime in Gotham beyond the zany super crimes to which we are accustomed: simple human desperation. It shares these elements with an earlier New 52 story by Snyder and James Tynion IV, entitled First Snow. Superficially, the story is a confrontation between Batman and Mr. Freeze. As it progresses, however, we come to the revelation that it was a freshly returned Bruce who pushed Victor Fries over the edge, prompting his turn to crime. We see the World's Greatest Detective grapple with his role in Gotham not just as Batman, but also as Bruce Wayne.
The art is likewise a departure from the norm, with series staple Greg Capullo taking a break for this issue, replaced by Jock, with color art by Lee Loughridge and lettering by Deron Bennett. The art features jagged lines and a more subdued color palette when compared to the softer edged and colorful art from Zero Year, Endgame and Gordon's current tenure as the Bat-Bunny. These stylistic changes perfectly compliment the noir feel of the story, and more than fills the massive shoes left behind by Capullo, easily one of my favorite artists in comics today.
While it may be a bit of a departure from what we usually get from Snyder, the tale is a welcome interruption to the current arc, perhaps in part because it returns Bruce Wayne to the role he has never been able to truly shed. Not even a tumble through time can keep Wayne from being Batman. Ultimately, Batman #44 is a more than welcome addition to what is easily one of DCs most exciting runs, and Scott Snyder continues to both surprise and impress with what he can do with the medium.
Chris Hayden is a long time comic book geek and newly productive member of society from New Jersey. Reach out on twitter @chayden2814.