Sunday, March 21, 2010

Comic Book Review: Batman #697

Book Information
Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel

The Identity of Black Mask is finally unveiled in this penultimate issue.  What will this revelation mean for Batman and his future as Gotham City’s caped avenger?  With so many of Arkham’s former and present employees turning all loony toony, can Batman continue his quest to keep Gotham safe without loosing himself?

My Thoughts
What makes Batman the best conflicted and dark hero in comics to date?  Is it his terrifying bat-like image, his muscular persona, the sharp and piercing white eyes, the villains he fights, his tormented past, or the relentless vigilance that Batman brings to the moonlit streets of Gotham?  I certainly have asked this question on numerous occasions coming to no finite conclusion, until now.  I’m sure all of the said features help make Batman such a gothic character, but these are not what holds his interest for me…it’s Tony Daniel.

Daniel just might have declared himself comic’s best gothic writer, portraying images (through his art and writing) not only within the darkness of Gotham city and its people, but within the characters surrounding the story.  The best imagery of this concept was greatly displayed when Batman revealed who the reaper was, Dr. Gruener.  Daniel shows off his artistry and literary mastery with Dr. Gruener’s decaying and rotting face, almost skull like.  Likewise with Black Mask’s henchwoman, Fright, as she plays possum until the right moment where she unleashes her inner demon, burrowing the toxins deep into Batman’s mind.  But the “darkness within” theme is displayed no better than with the revelation of the Black Mask.

As I’m sure those who are knowledgeable of such nerdy trivia, Arkham Asylum is almost a breeding ground for the insane.  First Hugo Strange, then Harley Quin and Jonathon Crane, and now our very own Jeremiah Arkham has joined the “I was once a sane employee of Arkham Asylum, now I’m a raging and murdering bastard” club.  (I’m sure sooner or later; someone will make a Facebook group with a similar title.)  The start of the book shows Arkham struggling with the evil inside of him and later pleading for death as Batman brings Jeremiah down amidst the burning building.  Jeremiah longed for death only to be free of the darkness looming inside of him.

Alongside this theme of “comic noir” that permeates throughout this book is with Gotham City itself.  In the end, Batman recaps, via inner monologue, all the events that have led up to now.  His conclusion is that this is a city tearing itself apart, fighting against the evil contained within it.  The Penguin is still in power and growing so every month, Valcone and his business still thrives despite the wrench thrown in by Batman, and many more, all with a desire to control what is not rightfully theirs.  The only individual who has maintained control of himself is Dick Grayson.  But the city of Gotham truly is the darkest and most evil city in comic book folklore, and Tony Daniel shows this brilliantly through his writing and artwork.  And with the Riddler making his come back, things certainly are going to get worse before they get better.

Almost since the beginning of his reign as Batman, Dick Grayson has maintained control of himself and dealt maturely with the death of Bruce Wayne.  I would argue that, at this point, he is a better Batman than Bruce Wayne ever was.  Grayson has just as much of a battered past as Wayne, but he is handling it maturely and humanely.  I can still see how conflicted and torn up he is by his parents and mentors death, but Dick seems to have found a way to approach his inner demons and become the Batman Gotham has needed for a long time.

You can argue all you want about how disappointed you are with the identity of Black Mask, but you cannot deny that this issue honed in on a deeper theme than I’ve ever seen within the Batman title.  This was undeniably one of the best issues of Batman since Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Next Issue Coming April 14, 2010
Only two months until BATMAN #700! As the landmark issue nears, Dick Grayson's life as The Dark Knight heats up in a big way. With Black Mask out of the way for good, the Falcone crime family attempts to fill that void – with no regard for the safety of Gotham City's citizens! And what's going on with the Riddler?

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