Saturday, July 14, 2012

Out of the Darkness

I have recently been doing a lot of Batman reviews as I prepare for the release of The Dark Knight Rises. Although initially I was hoping to see the movie on the Friday it came out, I just found out a few days ago that I won’t even be in town at the time. Luckily, this means that I can see the movie at midnight on Thursday night—so I look forward to going to my very first midnight IMAX screening in under a week!

This can only mean one thing: more Batman! And so, good readers, I give you The Black Mirror, written by Scott Snyder. Technically, this isn’t a Batman storyline—it initially appeared in Detective Comics—but it does feature Batman. Sort of. A lot of things have happened in the series since I last checked in (although thanks to the DC reboot, I suppose none of it ever happened after all—but let’s ignore that). Dick Grayson has taken up the Batman’s cape. Bruce Wayne apparently has a son now! And I’m sure there’s plenty of other continuity stuff I completely blanked out on. But as long as the reader knows that Dick Grayson is now Batman, they shouldn’t have a problem following the story along.

The Black Mirror combines several storylines that constantly cross over and involve the same characters, and they are more or less taking place in the same time frame. In the first story, a bullied child attacks his tormentor after ingesting some hormonal mutagen, which is the nasty stuff that created the villain Killer Croc. Batman investigates the source of the mutagen and discovers Mirror House, an exclusive social club in which people gather to bid on items that used to belong to villains. But who is the elusive figure in charge of it all?

In the second main storyline, Jim Gordon’s son, James Junior, comes back to town… and it turns out that all is not well in the Gordon clan. James Jr. apparently hasn’t been used extensively beyond storylines like Year One, and so Scott Snyder gives him a completely unique backstory that really makes the Gordon family dynamic fascinating. It turns out that James Jr. is a recovering psychopath, on experimental medication that seems to have cured him. His story seems good, but his father doesn’t quite believe it. And as time marches on, we see that these suspicions are not entirely unfounded…

I really don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling one of the best Batman stories I’ve ever read. This isn’t a traditional mystery—there’s no circle of suspects from which to choose, etc. — but it is a mystery nonetheless. Batman has to do detective work and he pieces the puzzle together “on the fly” while gathering clues. Since nothing is concealed from the reader that isn’t concealed from Batman, this makes for a very satisfying experience.

And it’s a heckuva story. Two different artists work on the two different story arcs, and this makes it all that much better because the different styles really complement the individual storylines so well. I’m no art critic, but the artwork really is just breathtaking, especially the occasional two-page spreads that we get. And the closing panels of the comic are absolutely haunting!

The characters are all fascinating, whether they are as familiar as Jim Gordon or as unfamiliar as his son, James Jr. The whole idea of Dick Grayson being Batman is pulled off really well, and as long as you know the major steps the series has taken, there won’t be too many issues with continuity.

What more can I say without spoilers? Well… the finale is one of the most exciting I’ve ever read. The stakes are extremely high and it’s a tantalising psychological game of cat-and-mouse. All the plot threads are tied in neatly by the end and there’s no sense of dissatisfaction when you’ve turned the final page on the comic. It’s tricky to discuss just how awesome this story is without using spoilers. But let me try: it involves the Joker, a dead killer whale inside a bank, a mysterious auctioneer whose clients have a real fetish for evil, poison gases and toxins, flashbacks to the past, a Peter Pan killer, and a jump from a plane.

Interested? Then you’ll definitely enjoy The Black Mirror. It is an awesome Batman story in every way and it leaves me hungry for more action from Scott Snyder! Happily, it seems he was given the reins over the Batman series after DC’s reboot. Does this mean we can expect more reviews in the future? Why, of course!

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