Tis time for another thrilling tale of Batman as written from the pen (keyboard) of Scott Snyder. Snyder, (former writer for Detective Comics and Vertigo's American Vampire and current writer of Batman and Talon) as we all know, has been tearing it up on Batman ever since the launch of the DCNU with some massive story arcs, but Batman #19 and #20 represent the first time he has slowed thing down and told a shorter, if not less intense, story. Last issue started with a bang showing us Bruce Wayne wearing a Batman costume and tearing through a line of cops to commit acts of terror. A flashback brought us up to speed and revealed that the master molder Clayface is to blame for “Bruce's” crime spree. Apparently, Clayface has evolved to be able to transform on a cellular level which makes him more of a threat than ever to Batman. The last panel of Batman #19 left us with the monstrous image of Clayface preparing to eliminate Bruce Wayne, and without the toys in his Bat suit, it looks like it might be a gooey end for our genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.
Does Snyder prove that he can shape a satisfying tale in but two issues or does his story dry up and crack under the strain?
In this issue, Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox escape from certain death and Clayface leads the police on a not so merry chase.
Just How Stupid Are Batman's Friends?
This is one of those issues which will leave you perplexed at how anybody can still be ignorant of the identity of Batman. You might think that seeing Bruce Wayne eagerly don a Bat suit and act heroically might clue Lucius Fox into the fact that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but no, apparently this is just one of those eccentric things that billionaires occasionally do, and Fox is determined not to think of it as anything other than that. Similarly, another group of people in this issue get a real big hint at Bruce Wayne's darker side, but this is once more swept under the rug in a somewhat believable way. However, though Batman has a good excuse showing that he is not Bruce Wayne, this excuse should have been immediately undermined by Batman's visceral reaction to Clayface's taunting a few seconds later.
This isn't a huge problem for the story, but it kind of annoyed me. It's one of those things that you are going to read, and maybe it will bug you, but you are going to say, “Hey, this happens in the same universe where Superman can hide his identity from people who have known him for years with just by wearing pair of eyeglasses. If that holds water, why should this be a problem?” However, little things like this bug me.
It seems especially annoying that Lucius has never figured it out. Part of this probably stems from the fact that Morgan Freeman so quickly put it together in The Dark Knight trilogy, and it just feels like Lucius should have figured it out by now. Also, Fox designs all Batman's gear. Wouldn't it be super easy to put a bug in the Batmobile, find out where it goes, or listen in on the conversation inside the cab. Maybe Lucius Fox is just a much better person than me, but I'm pretty sure my curiosity would get the best of me if I were in his position.
Anyway, the lack of intelligence of the supporting cast is not a huge hangup in this issue, but it was one of those things that deserved a little rant.
This Ain't Your Daddy's Clayface
I suspect there will be some division in the opinions of Bat fans over this new version of Clayface. Essentially, Karlo's abilities have been upgraded in every possible way. He can now shape himself to someone's DNA patterns simply by touching them. He has developed immunities to many of the attacks that stopped him previously. He even seems to have a lot more latitude in his ability to shift his mass and size.
I'm not sure any of these changes were necessary, but I can see why this decision was made. In my view, Clayface was a threatening enough character already and did not need any adjustment, but of recent, Batman has always had exactly the right tool in his utility belt to dispense Clayface quickly, and as long as Bruce just needs to throw a cryogenic bomb to take Clayface out of the game, then that makes him a significantly less threatening opponent.
It seems to me that this is a case of solving the wrong problem though. Clayface would still be a significant threat physically if Bruce did not always have exactly the right tool for the job at hand. Now, Clayface is nearly unstoppable, and I'm not sure that this really a better way to go for the character.
The Heart and the Art
I actually greatly enjoyed this issue, yet all I have taken the time to do thus far is nitpick it. However, there are plenty of great things to be seen here.
The dialogue is fantastic as always. For my money, Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV could both write Bat books with absolutely no action and just focus on character interactions, and I would still buy it because they both seem to have character voices down extremely well. Whether in a plot moment or an action scene, there was not a remotely dull panel to be found, and that is quite an accomplishment which Snyder manages on a regular basis. The characterization of Bruce Wayne also deserves some specific praise. Bruce, not Batman, gets a lot of screen time in this issue, yet he does not sound like Batman nor does he sound like the stereotypical dumb playboy that often makes up Bruce's characterization. As a guy who is funding a vigilante organization, it really does not make much sense for Bruce to present a cover as a completely shallow playboy, and here, he seems to have some intelligence and grit as Bruce while still having an air of privilege. It's a nice take for the character.
Damian also continues to play an important role in this story, and there are a couple of scenes which will sting a little for all those with a soft spot for either Bruce or Damian. Alfred also gets his moment in the spotlight during one of these moments.
Of course, you cannot read an issue of Batman without giving Greg Capullo his due. Obviously, things just flat out look great, but there are also subtle creative flourishes. Clayface makes heads come off of him which looks cool and menacing especially when Bruce sees himself for the first time. There is a brief chase scene which manages to actually convey momentum which is sometimes difficult to capture in comics. The angles which Capullo uses to frame the panels are impressive. Capullo has a very cinematic eye, and if you'll pay close attention, you'll notice constantly shifting perspectives and some creative angles such as overhead shots or panels framed from the perspective of a medicine cabinet. Capullo does great work.
1. Clayface is able to get really huge in this issue, and that level of shape changing is too extreme for my taste. Also, all Clayface has to do to defeat Bruce is touch him. I think Clayface is too overpowered, but I suppose he could easily be devolved in future appearances.
2. I really enjoyed seeing Bruce and Lucius brainstorm to escape their deathtrap. It is moments like this that show the intelligence of The Dark Knight even if it was yet more tech that saved the day.
3. Batman Beyond makes an appearance in this issue. However, he charges through a steel wall while carrying Lucius which would have ripped Lucius to shreds. Messy.
4. Cost effectiveness is a reason not to mass produce a piece of tech but not a reason to destroy a prototype.
5. The backup feature was pretty good but not quite as good as I had hoped. It ended fairly predictably though it did have some heart.
6, Again, I really like Alex Maleev's (former artist for Daredevil and current artist of Batman and End of Days) work on the backup art.
(Spoilers until Conclusion)
7. I didn't really care for the visual design of the suit Batman used to confront Clayface.
8. In one panel, Clayface crunches in Batman's protective helmet which actually made me cringe and gasp. That's a painful looking blow.
9. It was a pretty big gamble for Bruce to assume Clayface could no longer remember Karlo's DNA sequence.
Despite all my nitpicks and complaints, this issue still delivered on the most important element; it was fun. All Batman fans, as long as they are willing to see some changes to Clayface's abilities, will enjoy.