Dodano: 6 December 2013
BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR
The Black Mirror is for the current generation of Bat-fans what Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s classic stories or The Killing Joke used to be. The story made Scott Snyder a star in the comic book industry and brought Jock along with Francesco Francavilla the status of eminent artists. Their success was due not only to developing the ideas present in Frank Miller’s or Alan Moore’s; most importantly, they proved that the best Batman stories don’t have to be based on Bruce Wayne and the trauma of him watching his parents murdered. Wayne is virtually absent from this book.
There was once a time when the Dark Knight disappeared without a trace. It was suspected he died while fighting Darkseid during the alien invasion on Earth. Faced with the tragedy and the interregnum, his most loyal disciple and adopted son Dick Grayson took up Bruce’s mantle. With Damian Wayne he formed a one-of-a-kind dynamic duo, shown by Grant Morrison in an amazing way in Batman & Robin. However, comic book lives are governed by somewhat different laws than the ordinary lives and Bruce Wayne has returned in a big way (the details of this period are described here).
Even though the first and the true Batman has come back, his aims have radically changed. No longer is his aim to get rid of crime in Gotham, it is to wipe it out globally. Putting his ‘Batman Incorporated’ project into motion, Bruce lets Dick hang on to his cloak and mask to keep acting as the watcher of Gotham. The Black Mirror focuses on that very time when Grayson was both the Dark Knight and the member of international crime-fighting syndicate.
It might seem The Black Mirror is deeply rooted in Bat mythology and the reader should know a few most important comic books about Batman before reading this one. True, it’s not obligatory, but it makes sense to revise a few stories before delving into Snyder’s Bat debut, not necessarily Grant Morrison’s epic saga though. (I’m talking especially of Year One, The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, and No Man’s Land, all of them pretty often referred to by the scriptwriter.) It is actually one of the few interesting Batman stories using the potential of storylines invented under the rule of Dennis O’Neil or Bob Schreck as editors. It continues their legacy, faithfully rendering the atmosphere of those stories but also adding to them.
Scott Snyder was given a chance to write Batman stories because of the success in creating his own series American Vampire published by Vertigo. From today’s perspective it’s hard to believe he once could write about the caped crusader without making up events, crossovers, or writing about something really important in Bat family life. The Black Mirror is not like that: it focuses on more run-of-the-mill, personal problems in both Grayson’s and Commissioner Gordon’s lives.
What we get is a collection of short stories that present separate investigations by Dick Grayson as Batman, during which he has to face new villains. Here Snyder uses the notion of Gotham as the hero’s main antagonist, so impressively deployed by David Lapham in Batman: City of Crime. The Gothic metropolis is a leviathan that embodies the phobias of modern Western society. Depending on who’s trying to protect it, the city (like an autonomous organism) readjusts to the defender of the innocent and challenges them. It harasses and debases them to make them realise evil and cynicism pressing in from all sides no matter how noble that person is.
For a superhero comic book The Black Mirror seems strikingly chilling. Snyder proves he’s a master of creating the thriller atmosphere and of presenting the worst in man. Especially when James Gordon Jr., the common element in all stories, appears on the scene. Snyder resurrects the character who surfaced in such classics as Year One or Archie Goodwin’s Night Cries but was later not used at all. Thanks to the author of American Vampire we learn of his fate and the reasons for his return to Gotham. As it turns out later, there are dark secrets all around him and the most peculiar investigation in Gordon’s career, the case of Peter Pan and lost children, is about to begin…
You can probably guess Gordon Junior is the main villain in the book. Admittedly, we are dealing with a true psychopath, a brilliant monster devoid of feeling and humanity. On the one hand, he ranks among the best Batman foes in these last few years and the way Snyder portrays him is simply exquisite. At the same time, I felt a tinge of boredom that a character not seen for a long time has changed into another crank that takes pleasure in cruelty. How many times have we seen it already, not to mention the used-up Joker? Especially since Gordon Junior lacks cogent motivation, as is plain to see in the ending.
Just like in other comics, here too Snyder has trouble closing his narrative in a dazzling way. It is definitely his Achilles’ heel, although in this case it is not as painful as in Death of the Family. Here, he managed to capture the duality, the double-edged nature of reality. Of grim and brutal grotesque hidden under the cloak of ordinariness or normality. In addition, he mixed it with his favourite motifs: coming across one’s past, horror, elites (Gotham’s crème de la crème buys objects that were once the property of city’s worst criminals), and the legacy of one’s way of life. This facet becomes really interesting when Snyder introduces the daughter of Tony Zucco (the gangster responsible for Grayson’s parents’ death) as a responsible businesswoman trying to have nothing to do with her father’s reputation.
This volume of stories proves not only that Snyder feels perfectly the ambience of the Dark Knight or that he knows how to build the atmosphere of terror—he also passes muster as the writer able to co-operate so well with two quite different artists that the aesthetics of the story suffer no harm. Both Jock and Francesco Francavilla show here some of the best work they have ever produced. The first one is a true virtuoso of covers and of the page layout that renders dynamic action scenes as well as is possible. The other one confirms with his ink and mood-setting colours that he fully understands the noir convention when colouring James Gordon’s family life. Their creativity is also shown in an interesting way in bonus materials where we can see a lot of unused but very well-done projects. I was especially impressed by the story of Francavilla’s efforts in convincing Bat editor that it was he who should help Snyder with Gordon’s mini-stories. It shows that for the Italian artists comics are not only occupation but also, and most of all, passion. And how committed they are to detail! I was incredibly excited when in one panel I saw an owl that foreshadows Batman’s future…
To sum up, The Black Mirror is so far the best comic book Scott Snyder has given us. No other work of his has maintained so well the proportions in building the climate of thriller. What’s more, the co-operation between two artists marked by different sensibilities was handled smoothly and skilfully. It is quite a dark and brutal comic book, suitable more for a mature, experienced reader of Batman detective stories. At the same time, it says something extremely honest and true about surviving and beating the odds as well as about staying blind and passive towards the people we have feelings for.
The only thing I regret is that the era of Dick Grayson as Batman didn’t last long. As I was reading this book, I felt a bit like a kid who’s holding Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s comics in his hand for the first time, the comics where so many new characters, especially enemies, appeared. There are no reasons why this era couldn’t go on for another year or two to present new antagonists as a sort of acid test for Grayson. Likewise, my feelings towards Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin are mixed. Bruce Wayne needn’t have come back so soon. What is more, Snyder shows that Wayne as Batman has become too used up, predictable, tiring. Perhaps it’s time to end the concept of one and only Batman and to create a dynasty of Dark Knights instead, akin to Matt Wagner’s Grendel? In my opinion it would rejuvenate the somewhat stale brand a lot.
The author of this review is Michał Chudoliński. You can learn more about him here.
Translated by Adam Ladziński
Batman SC: The Black Mirror
Script: Scott Snyder
Pencillers: Francesco Francavilla, Mark ‘Jock’ Simpson
Colorists: Francesco Francavilla, David Baron
Lettering: Sal Cipriano, Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Mark ‘Jock’ Simpson
Includes: Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #871–881
Publication date: 5 March 2013
Original publication date: January 2011 – October 2011
Paper: chalk overlay
Price: US $16.99