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Comic Review: Batman #29

Batman #29 leaping through the air

Batman #29 is one of the most powerful comics I’ve ever read.

It’s an oversized issue, crammed with the finale of the Zero Year ‘Dark City’ storyline, but that’s not what makes it powerful.

It’s the first four pages. It’s the two parents, the one child, and the horrible knowledge of what happens next.

Scott Snyder picks up Batman #29 with a flashback scene to Bruce’s childhood. It’s right after Officer Gordon caught Bruce sneaking into the movies to see Zorro, and Bruce is now sitting contritely in the police station between his parents.

But these aren’t the parents we’ve seen in Batman for the last 75 years. They’re not wise, stern, idealized versions of the Father and the Mother.

For the first time, they’re Thomas and Martha. They’re people.

And that’s what makes it hurt so much.

Thomas isn’t an imposing figure of masculinity. He’s a man who can laugh at himself, at his son, and at the situation. He’s a real character.

He even has fun with his over-serious son over his bit of juvenile delinquency.

“You are officially disinherited,” he tells Bruce with mock seriousness. “I’m having Alfred draw the papers up.”

Bet you never expected to hear him say that.

The scene is utterly brilliant. Snyder gives us one boy who feels genuinely sorry, and two parents who see that he’s learned his lesson and needs a little love.

That love comes in the form of giving him what he wanted: they’re going to turn the Zorro movie into a family event.

It hurts to even open the pages again and go over the scene. It’s so small, and yet it speaks so much. Snyder does what others have never done by making you feel the deaths of Thomas and Martha as deaths in themselves, and he does it using the unexplored territory of the day before the night the Waynes were killed. For the first time, we mourn not just for the boy who is left behind, but for the lives of the two people who were his taken away.

The end of their lives – a story we all know so well – gets its due at the end of this issue, but in the intervening pages, Snyder and artist Greg Capullo put together a Zero Year piece that is as good as anything they’ve ever done. The Riddler ascends to true super-villain status by tangling the police, Batman, Dr. Death and even the menacing hurricane up into one giant plot to bring Gotham to its knees.

And it works, despite Batman’s very best efforts to stop it.

There’s a lot in this comic. Capullo pays homage to Frank Miller’s lightning-silhouetted Batman from The Dark Knight Returns. Batman flies a bat-airship. Dr. Death is just hideous. It’s all masterful.

But this story is, at its heart, about the failure of heroes. Batman fails to save the city, and his new ally Gordon fails to stop his foolish fellow cops from handing Gotham over to the Riddler.

Sure, Batman wins out over Dr. Death, the eternally re-animated bone creature who has thrown his lot in with the Riddler. By Dr. Death is just a pawn in the Riddler’s game, and we never get to see Bats go toe-to-toe with the king of the question marks.

At this point, he’s just not that good enough.

Which leads us to the last three pages, and that’s where Greg Capullo takes over.

Snyder has just one line to set it up. Then, Capullo intercuts the Riddler’s victory – and Batman’s rage and failure – with THAT scene. Batman pounds the Riddler’s control panel with his fists as everything around him explodes, and in between each shot, we see the shots.

Martha Wayne, blood dripping down her eye, the light from the gun making a halo around her head.

Tragic. Heart-wrenching.

Perfect.

10 out of 10

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