Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Batman #10 review

Batman confronts the Court of Owls, but its members have confronted their own mortality - rather than face the judgment of Batman, they've taken their own lives. With a big dollop of 'apparently'.

Batman follows the clues, and his gut instincts, to Willowwood, an old Gotham hospital for kids with mental problems, where he finds philanthropist Lincoln March. It turns out he wasn't killed by Court assassins the Talons, he's been in league with the Owls all along. But feeling that they betrayed him, he's killed the prime movers. 

Now he's donning a Talon suit of his own, to take on Batman. And the fight is more personal than Bruce could have anticipated, as Lincoln reveals that he is ... Bruce's forgotten brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.

Yeah, right. I believe that about as much as I believed March was properly dead last issue. For it to be true we'd have to accept that:
  • Martha and Thomas Wayne would wish to place their son in a home when they could afford first-class live-in care.
  • Thomas Wayne was inclined to name a son after himself, but not his first-born.
  • Batman, who has trained his mind to perform all manner of memory stunts, can't recall that his mother was pregnant when he was three or four.
  • The hospital never bothered to contact the Waynes' executors, most likely Alfred, about the child before calamity closed it when Bruce was entering his teens.
It's all a bit much to believe. I'm old enough to remember the short-lived comics career of the original Thomas Wayne Jr in the early Seventies - Peter S Svensson looks at those stories over at Bleeding Cool - and while this is a fun nod to that, I reckon writer Scott Snyder is playing with us. The mention of a clay badge Martha wore hints at master of disguise Clayface toying with Bruce for some reason. My best guess, though, is that Lincoln is simply a foundling fed a line by those pesky Owls.

If he somehow is Thomas, well, that's him dead before the year's out.

It's fun to speculate, and it's fun to read this story. Batman gets some cool moments, particular in the opening scene, which sees him scare a rich biddy connected to the Court. His remembering a lesson from the detective Henri Ducard works well. The slow revelations of Lincoln /Thomas seem corny, like a bad episode of Murder She Wrote, but that's him giving Bruce time to escape bonds while he puts on his Talon drag. But my favourite scene is a conversation between Bruce and Alfred - an orphan he may be, but there's no denying Bruce has a father around. This sequence also shows Bruce has a concentration aid that makes lots of sense, given his ghoulish sensibility and collector mania (look at the Batcave and tell me the guy isn't an especially morbid fanboy!).
While he still doesn't shed any light on why the patrician class of Gotham would dress in owl masks and plot, when they already rule the city, Snyder's script works well on its own terms. And artist Greg Capullo is his perfect partner, controlling the pace of this important instalment with smart storytelling decisions, rendered with skill and style. Little details such as old lady Powers' clawlike hands and Batman's entrance to the Court's inner sanctum reflected in a mirror add to the story, even if you notice them but subliminally. And more deliberately showy scenes, such as Batman's arrival at the 'courthouse' (above), make for effective drama. The only moment that I'd say is undersold is the panel in which Lincoln claims to be Thomas, which is presented as just another frame on the page - it deserves at least half a page, if not a splash.

But that's the nearest thing there is to a 'problem'. Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion and colourist FCO Plascencia are producing career-best work that's elevating a decent storyline to the level of truly memorable. Let's hope that before it's collected someone at DC corrects a couple of typos, little irritations that mar the big picture.

The very readable back-up, by Snyder and James Tynion IV, shows Alfred's father and predecessor as Wayne butler, Jarvis, remembering the events that apparently led to the early birth of Thomas Jr. Certainly, Martha - feisty to the point of stupidity - is pregnant here, and there's a car accident, but will a child be born who becomes Lincoln March? If so, it'll be because the Owls steal him away, not because the Waynes put him into someone else's care. I'm still not buying it - I'm betting there's a  Lil Wayne not in a Talon suit, but in DC heaven.

Whatever the case, there's a fine level of craftsmanship on display from artist Rafael Albuquerque and colourist Dave McCaig. It's just a shame that another typo shows up here - whatever happened to proofreading? I don't doubt I make the occasional booboo on this blog - Sod's Law says there'll be a few in this very post - but I'm a one-man band, and not charging anybody.

Overall, this is a sharply-written, extremely well-drawn comic (you can judge the book by Capullo's excellent cover), one of the best chapters of the too-long Owls storyline. I look forward to the conclusion, and maybe even being proven wrong about a few things.

10 comments:

  1. I doubt that Lincoln March is really who he says he is. That guy is clearly off his rocker and he is just screwing with Bruce.

    A great issue in general and I'm really excited to see how this ends next issue. The question is though, how will issue 12 read? It will be focusing on our mysterious Harper Roy from issue 7 and what it is like to live Gotham. Of course, there is more to it, but I'm quite interested to see what Scott does with this issue and how the guest artist does.

    So... September is Zero Issue month! Voodoo, Captain Atom, and Resurrection Man (sad face) are all ending and four new titles are in:
    + Talon: You will never escape the owls! NEEEVVVEEERRR! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    + Sword of Sorcey: Looks like this title is going for the All-Star Western and G.I. Cobmat way where we get a long main story and a bonus story, though it is a fantasy story. It's going to star Amtheyst as the main story!
    + Team Seven: Yes, this story will be focusing on that mysterious team that Steve Trevor mentioned before. Quite a crew looking at who was on it.
    + Phantom Stranger: I dunno, I'm not sure how well this title will do. Dan Didio's last title (OMAC), well surprisingly decent and fun, didn't do so well. Maybe people will be interested in it after reading the Free Comic Day issue?

    I'm down for Talon and Sword of Sorcery, while dropping Batgirl and finishing Night Force & Voodoo Child (Cancelled apparently. Didn't last too long). How about you?

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    1. I'm looking forward to the issue featuring Harper Row - is she related to Danny the Street?

      As for the new titles, I'm a big Amethyst fan (I had a letter in her lettercol once), I hope she's done justice. Beowulf, I'll need more convincing.

      Talon. Nope, no way, no how.

      Team Seven. I may try, due to my lifelong fondness for Steve Trevor, but I can't see me sticking around.

      Phantom Stranger - I'm intrigued, is he being done as horror host or strip character?

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  2. Can't be him. We're gonna have the rug pulled out from us in the next ish. I think the pacing of the back-up feature is the giveaway. It validates some aspects of his story, sure, but not the resolution of it and therein will lie the eventual twist, I'm guessing.

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    1. I think you're right, great points.

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  3. You make some good points about Thomas Jr. not being a real Wayne, though I think he has a stronger link to Earth-3's Owl-Man (that world's Thomas Wayne Jr.) than to the 70s version, though he's of course, both.

    The art continues to bother me though. For me, it's an ill fit to Snyder's words, much to EX! TREME! often blowing action and expressions out of proportion preventing me from suspending disbelief. I really hate that cover with those ugly Photoshop smears/wings. How about a proper background? But that's me.

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    1. If it was up to me, covers would have word balloons and blurbs. But as we're not getting such things, I'll take a moody shot so long as it's connected to the issues. I didn't even click that the wings were PhotoShop, they seem to fit the illo.

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  4. Notintheface1 on twitter schooled me about the Willowwood connection between the 70s TWJ and this one. So the DNA is pretty close to 50/50!

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  5. Am I the only one who thinks the overview of this plot sounds like a Jeph Loeb story?

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    1. I've seen a fair few people mention that the TWJ is a tad Tommy Elliot. Also, Dr Hurt.

      So you're not alone, you're a leader of men.

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  6. If Bruce Wayne is now dumb enough never to even suspect the Owls, then he's stupid enough to have not noticed his mother had another child when he was a kid...

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