Saturday, July 5, 2014

Detective Comics [The Black Mirror] by Scott Synder issue #871

It is with deep pleasure and honor that I write this review for the first installment of the three-issued story arc The Black Mirror by none other than the current Batman writer for New 52, Scott Snyder. Being able to start reading the first of the collected editions from my list of five also means that I have arrived to a certain milestone with my Batman readings since I began this on late April. Did you know that I have diligently read and reviewed eighty-six Batman issues, mostly New 52 material, in just a span of two months? I'm quite proud of this because it took a lot of discipline and a keen sense of momentum and dedication to have come along this far, given that there are still plenty more to read from the old continuity Batman as well. The Black Mirror storyline is one of them and one of the finest at that.

I have made a decision to review the issues that comprised The Black Mirror (issues #871-881) individually and then provide the overall review for the collected edition itself. Does that seem tedious? Perhaps, but not for this Batman geek. Before I begin this review, let's have a short backstory to explain the content of this volume.

The Black Mirror follows the events in Final Crisis in which Batman was presumed dead for a year which meant he had left Gotham City with a gaping hole ever since. Of course, he eventually does return but was more focused on a larger mission: the recruitment of allies for the foundation-building of Batman Incorporated (which has its own volume written by Grant Morrison and is also a part of the four other GNs I'll be reading for this month). So the first Robin Dick Grayson had to take the mantle of the Dark Knight in the absence of his former mentor and friend. That in itself sounds strange already; to read a Detective Comics issue and not have Bruce Wayne as Batman as its major centerpiece. It frankly did not bother me at all. Batman is Batman, regardless of who is underneath the cowl. Besides, here in The Black Mirror is where I discovered Snyder's penchant for turning Gotham City into its own living and breathing character, and not just play the part of a setting. It's notable because it's something that would inspire his The Court of Owls storyline years later for New 52.

This first installment of The Black Mirror was absolutely and remarkably gorgeously illustrated by artist Jock which also strongly complemented Snyder's deft writing. I really like how this story opened. It started with a dashing monologue sequence from Dick Grayson himself which already has a dark atmospheric appeal:

"When I was a boy, my parents kept a big map of the country tacked to the wall of our dressing room. The map had pins stuck in all the places our troupe was going to stop that season. Different towns and cities were marked with different color pins. Blue pins meant small towns... which meant small shows, less dangerous tricks. Red pins meant big cities. So, big shows and more dangerous tricks. All the stops were marked red or blue... except for one -- Gotham City, which was marked by a black pin. According to my father, the black pin meant no holds barred. Pull out all the stops. Bring down the house. It meant put on the biggest, riskiest show of the season. No catch wires. No safety nets. Everyone pushing themselves to the limit. I remember one time I asked my father why. What made Gotham so special? And my father, he looked down at me, and he said... "...some places just have a hunger about them, son. And you either feed them what they want... or you stay far, far away."
From this point on, I already have high expectations for Snyder's direction of the story. There are so many well-known detective elements to this story that should always embody Detective Comics all the time. We get the brooding opening monologue, the gruesome murder, the investigation and uncovering of certain important clues, and the surprising twist that builds up the mystery and action for the next chapters of the story. It's everything I ever loved in a detective story since my first Sherlock Holmes volume, and Batman is written here in a way that reminds me of his roots. He was, after all, based on the shadowy figures of cut-and-dry whodunits, and The Black Mirror is certainly quick to make that distinction.

I know I said that it doesn't matter who is underneath the Batman cowl but it is worth mentioning that Dick Grayson is a different animal all on his own. Commissioner Jim Gordon makes this observation offhandedly which makes me wonder if he could feel that it's not the same man he is working with. It was a simple remark regarding the fact that Dick as Batman actually lingers even as the conversation is about to end with Gordon (and we all know Bruce likes to sneak off while Gordon is still speaking mid-sentence). Small differences like this seem important. It also feels like Dick himself is distancing himself from Gotham. He has circus blood in him after all so he's always mobile without any kind of an attachment to a particular home. Alfred pointed out that though he had been living for almost a year in the Wayne Manor, Dick still hasn't made it his own; that he doesn't "leave traces" that he had been there at all. Perhaps it's also his way of saying he's not ready to let go of Bruce just yet.

Another thing I would like to point out is that I really enjoyed the contrast between him and Bruce as characters. The latter is a child of Gotham, privy to its crime alleys and villains like no other. Meanwhile, Dick seems to still see Gotham as a location he just happened to stop by. He has a sense of obligation to it since he became Batman but he knows it's nothing permanent. And it haunts him; I could see his struggle to care deeply enough but not so much that the city has a grip on him. He knows it firsthand too because he saw how much Gotham changed and influenced Bruce for years. Dick doesn't want that kind of attachment, especially not to a place like Gotham--and yet it still reels him.

Issue #871 starts with the discovery of an underground black-market society club of some sort led by a man who calls himself the Dealer. He auctions priceless items such as certain weapons or creations from Gotham's most heinous monsters. Dick is understandably not pleased, not when people are dying horrendously through the use of the same items. No holds barred indeed, and Dick knows this. It's time to bring down the house on top of this man called the Dealer, sooner rather than later.


* A terrific start. The writing and art are both prestige and captivating.

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