Batman: The Black Mirror

So it seems I’ve been off doing some other things for the last ten months, like reviving an internet show no-one watches, updating a public interest blog no-one reads, and writing stories that will never, ever be turned into award-winning screenplays. So I figured I’d better come back here and set this ol’ review blog up again, especially since this year is looking to be quite interesting in terms of new comic book releases.

The interest will mostly stem from DC’s hardcover and paperback releases of their “The New 52” stories, and while it’s true that I am most definitely looking forward to offerings like Geoff Johns’ next chapters of Green Lantern and (surprisingly) the reinterpretation of Superboy in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, I remain fairly certain that the majority (or at least half) of the new content is only going to be marginally better than having your dog piss in your mouth on a Saturday morning when it’s been raining. Specifically the ones like Hawk and Dove, Batgirl and Catwoman all sound utterly stupid on paper, especially given the recent complaints that most of the female characters in the DCU have had their brains swapped for silicon implants.

So in the weeks leading up to the releases of “The New Fifty-Screwed” I thought I’d go back and look at a couple of somewhat-recent releases that I’ve really liked. It would be remiss of me to enter into a journey to DC’s reboot without shining the spotlight on Scott Snyder, and his you’d-better-bloody-give-him-an-Eisner-award run on the Batman books. I’ve heard bits and pieces about his current “Court of Owls” storyline that strongly evokes the same kind of layered, mythological take on Batman that Grant Morrison utilised for his Black Glove storyline, and if “The Black Mirror” is any indication of Snyder’s arc-writing prowess then I think it’s safe to say his Batman run will be heralded as one of the best ever written, standing alongside other legendary writers like Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb.

Admittedly I was hesitant to read “The Black Mirror” because it focussed on Dick Grayson’s Batman rather than ol’ Brucey, and to be honest the Grayson stuff I read in Tony Daniel’s “Life After Death” didn’t give me a strong liking for the character as Batman. Thankfully, though, Snyder does away with all that bullshit and delivers a stark, terrifying tale that bonds new Batman with old guard Jim Gordon in a combined story about psychology, failed parenting and the abyss gazing back with neon-black sunglasses.

The hardcover actually collects a few different stories together into one big eleven-issue arc, contributing pieces of a whole the same way a season of Heroes would do. The focus begins mainly on Grayson as he takes on The Dealer, one of the creepiest auctioneers you’re ever likely to meet and a collector of Batman villain paraphernalia, while at the same time Jim Gordon’s estranged son, James, returns after many years to show how he’s changed from his sociopathic tendencies and is really just a good little boy again. Once the Dealer gets taken care of the focus shifts primarily to Gordon and his struggles to accept – and, later, defeat – his own son as James’ insidious plans for Gotham are slowly revealed, culminating in a final issue that is as terrifying and chilling as any horror movie ending you care to name.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its accessibility; there’s a quick precede that outlines Batman Incorporated and where Bruce has toddled off to, which then dives straight into the story proper. I’d wager that you could pick this book up as a first-time Batman reader and have a pretty solid grasp on what’s going on; the narrative is presented in a manner that informs newcomers on bits and pieces of Bat-history without becoming heavy on exposition and reminiscence. There’s a wonderful balance struck between old and new reader accessibility.

The art shifts between the immeasurable talents of Jock and Francesco Francavilla between stories; the former is dirty and grungy, the latter is a bit retro and strongly reminiscent of Mazzucchelli’s art from “Batman: Year One”, used mainly in flashbacks to James Gordon’s childhood. The biggest highlight for me was towards the end of the initial Black Mirror story when Dick is trying to escape from the Dealer’s Mirror House with a gaggle of gas-masked baddies chasing him through a room that is quickly filling with poison gas; it was creepy, slightly surrealist and put you in a very tense and scary mood that few other comic books are able to replicate.

The dialogue is well-executed, although let down a little here and there when it feels a little forced. There’s a moment in the middle of the story when Jim Gordon’s talking to Barbara about James’ return, and their words don’t feel like father and daughter – more like a cop and a witness. At all other times they manage to nail it believably, though.

I hadn’t read anything of Scott Snyder’s before this book, so titles like American Vampire and Swamp Thing will be next on my list to check out. Overall, “The Black Mirror” acts as a wonderful standalone story and a good sign of how Snyder’s work on the current Batman arc may pan out.

STORY: 5/5
ARTWORK: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 13.5/15

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