New villain Mr Bloom is front and centre this month as replacement Batman Jim Gordon investigates the plant patches that have been bringing street thugs super-powers... and death. Their maker meets Gotham gang boss the Penguin to talk about his business, and things don't go well for either party.
Elsewhere, Batman is confronted by local gang the Devil Pigs, has a scary encounter with sharks without benefit of shark repellent Bat-spray and winds up in a furnace.
Earlier in the issue, Gordon visits Bruce Wayne at the kids' community centre where he's volunteering, to ask for help. He doesn't know Bruce was Batman, but Gordon's robo-suit was developed by Waynetech and he hopes Bruce can help him make some modifications to let him operate off-grid, without being monitored by the Powers Corporation.
And young Duke apparently wants to do something Very Silly Indeed.
It's exciting stuff, but these aren't the most compelling moments of Scott Snyder's script for 'Superheavy Part 3' - they would be the scenes between Alfred and a visiting Clark Kent. Alfred explains how the Joker's longevity formula revived Bruce after he was buried under Gotham. He died, but his brain was renewed - without the memories that made him Batman. Alfred has explained about his tragic past, but of course, that doesn't give Bruce the emotional connections - and he makes his pseudo-father stop before he tells him he was Batman.
Clark believes the world must have Bruce as Batman, he seems to be thinking the peace Bruce has found - complete with a budding relationship with Julie Madison - is worth destroying to give back to Gotham its original guardian. And there may be a way - before his latest death (ah, comics) Bruce had been building a machine that would ensure a line of Batmen into the future, by transferring his memories into clone bodies aged to 27. That's a nice nod to Batman's debut issue, Detective Comics #27, and the more recent New 52 Detective Comics #27, in which Snyder showed us a future in which Bruce had succeeded with said machine.
Alfred, as a non-superhero, realises the horror of such mad science, the warped morality of creating a never-ending line of men who can never know peace, who exist only to fight. He appreciates that Bruce already has a legacy, of Robins and sundry allies, who will themselves inspire others to follow in their Spandex footsteps.
It's a fascinating situation. Usually I'd expect Clark to be entirely with Alfred, but he's going through a weird time himself, looking to harsher solutions. With luck he'll come round, and Alfred won't have to get tough with the Kryptonite ring with which he subtly threatens Clark.
When I heard that Gordon would be Batman for awhile, I expected the 'main hero not seen for six months' bit we usually get when there's a substitution, but no, Snyder's brought Bruce into play immediately. It's fascinating to see him interacting with the new version of Julie Madison introduced at the end of the Zero Year story. Historically Batman's first girlfriend - heck, his fiancé - this version dated Bruce when they were teens and seems lovely, but given she's apparently wasted no time in moving Bruce in with her, I'm not so sure. She knows he's had a severe trauma, he's obviously got ongoing issues, and she seems to want hi dependent on her. Back off, woman!
There's some great character work in this series. The new Bruce isn't haunted the way he was as Batman, but he seems empty - he hasn't the pain, but he seems not to be a whole person. Without full acceptance of his past - for surely he at least suspects what the final piece of information Alfred would have given him was - he's unable to move forward, be truly happy. It could be that Bruce's options will be life as Batman, tainted by tragedy but making a big difference, vs life as Bearded Bruce, changing one life at a time but somehow feeling he could be doing so much more.
It's a shame - like Alfred, I believe he's done his bit, and deserves a chance to be the Bruce Wayne he was born to be. And yet, Alfred knows that before he 'found' Batman, Bruce almost underwent a brain op to take the pain away, and finally decided against it. I can't see Alfred using the 'hero machine' on Bruce - besides, it's never quite worked - but I can envision him accepting whatever finally leads to the return of the one true Batman.
Maybe it'll have something to do with this part of the flashback.
is this just Snyder giving us a bit of Resurrection imagery, Bruce was reborn on the third day and so forth ... or has he spent two days learning about his past as the Batman. Does he know more than he's telling Alfred?
That would make sense if, as this panels hints, Bruce is saving something for Gordon.
Speaking of whom, Gordon is providing great fun, with his dry sense of humour. His speech patterns have changed since he entered the superhero game, but he's certainly doing a decent job. And how great that he's breaking away from the Powers that be and edging towards vigilantism.
And Alfred, well, Snyder may be writing my favourite version ever - he's dropped the sarcasm, which would be inappropriate right now, and emphasised the mam's wisdom and compassion. Alfred truly is the best father in comics.
Greg Capullo and inker Danny Miki continue to draw the heck out of this book, providing good-looking, info-packed storytelling. While I'm still unnerved by the new Jim Gordon design, it's a fun one to play with - the expressions they give our often bemused substitute hero are perfect. Bruce, too, looks great, he rather suits the beard, while Clark look similar enough to the not-particularly-Superman he is in his own books right now to pass. Tattoo fan Julie has an attractive goofiness, while Alfred exudes concern for Bruce. And Mr Bloom, as seen on that gorgeous cover, is just a joyful design.
The shark tank sequence looks brilliant - literally, thanks to the vibrant colours of FCO Plascencia - while I continue to be disturbed by the sexiness of Gordon's Bat-underwear (the robo-suit doesn't actually appear this issue).
The always top-notch Steve Wands letters, and Capullo, Miki and Plascencia give us the memorable cover image. There's a DC Bombshells variant by Dan Hipp, it's gorgeous and I do hope the new comic gives us a story to go with it.
Snyder, Capullo and partners continue to give us DC's best ongoing title - the inventiveness, the character work, the terrific visuals ... it all makes for a rich, rewarding read.