Thursday, July 10, 2014

Detective Comics [The Black Mirror] by Scott Synder issue #881

Sometimes when I write reviews for the last issue of a story arc in a Batman comic book, I don't feel so sure about the best way I can convey my journey with the previous issues leading to the conclusion. But I must say, Scott Snyder's The Black Mirror series has been an invigorating reading experience. This story falls on the old continuity of DC so it's nice to be able to take a break from the slightly uneven New 52 Batman titles. Though there are comparisons to be made here and his writing for the new Batman series, particularly for the Court of Owls saga, The Black Mirror manages to stand on its own as Snyder's freshman effort to characterize Gotham City as its own living and breathing creature as oppose to just a static setting piece for the Dark Knight's adventures. It's very enjoyable to read passages in every issue where I could tell Snyder applied some careful consideration and insight on how to best depict Gotham to us readers; to bring both color and darkness to this city that would enable it to come to life across the pages.

This finale issue entitled The Face in the Glass was, in general, a satisfactory ending for a deliberately murky and infectiously depressing story that centered around the horrors within men who welcome it and among the men who seek to extinguish it. For the former, we have the criminal element of Gotham City and the main star of the show, James Gordon Jr., son to Gotham's finest Commissioner. My favorite issues Lost Boys and Skeleton Key are all about him because those are the stories that really captured my attention and kept it in place. Now two artists worked on The Black Mirror: we have Jock for the Batman-centered issues and Francesco Francavilla for the father-and-son Gordon issues.

 For the finale, we got a bit of both. Francavilla lays down the foundation first with his signature use of limited color palette once again, this time applying more shades of red to make this issue visually intense as we read through. Jock wraps it up neatly in the final four to five pages where an honest conversation between Dick Grayson and Jim Gordon offers an optimistic message...right until we get to the last panel that would suggest otherwise.

One could say that The Face in the Glass is the climax and the resolution divided between two artists with vastly different styles and approached when it comes to illustrating Snyder's content on page. We see their art side by side for reference for this finale issue and I must say that they're both amazing artists and I really couldn't say I prefer one over the other because both of them used their medium effectively to suit the needs of the narrative. This could extend to the duality symbolism of Snyder's story in general. The Black Mirror does speak about reflection and deception. These elements are present in each issue. There's the Gotham that we know and the Gotham that we bury. There's Batman who under and without the mask. There's Jim's allegiance to his life of lawful service and his devotion as a father to a monster of a son. And the more obvious comparisons between Dick Grayson and James Jr. is something Snyder did not shy away from lavishly describing in this villain speech by the latter. 

Said speech also highlighted another Gotham-centered set of descriptions:

"My mother's comment that night, all those years ago, sitting there on the bed with my father; her assertion that Gotham is a city of nightmares because she was right. Gotham is a city of nightmares but not in the way you think it is, Dick, not in some simple, scary bogeyman way. No, it's a city of nightmares in the truest sense. Because what is a nightmare if it isn't a warning? A dream so scary it makes you think, makes you change your ways. A vision of yourself in your weakest...You see, this place is special, Dick. It's a city of nightmares. And I'm yours. I am the face you see in the glass...Gotham made me to challenge you, my father and Barbara...I am Gotham's son."

James Jr. never seizes to creep the fuck out of me, yes. But there is something very pitiful about him too, but I won't go into detail because I think you should read the pages pertaining to his realizations about his psychosis because that was when I actually started to sincerely feel sorry for him and others like him. I shouldn't be afraid of this sort of men at all. They're...beyond saving and that's pretty sad. I also felt bad for Jim Gordon himself who, in spite of his goodness and public service, is, shall we say, burdened with a family relative who is as dysfunctional as he could get. It only goes to show how life can be so random and that chaos is undiscriminating. 

There are great character moments in this issue again particularly the scenes with Barbara and James Jr. But the one that struck me the most is the moment when Dick Grayson as Batman finally shows up to apprehend James Jr. before he kills his sister. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER He found Barbara on the floor with one of the two knives still lodged in her thighs (a cruel joke by James Jr. to make sure that removing either of them would make her bleed out). Dick then held her against him and it reminded me of the scene in issue #873 where Dick had a nightmare where his legs were cut off and Barbara was about to stab him. It was a meaningful echo of the said nightmare which fits what James Jr. said about Gotham being a city of nightmares, exposing you in your weakest and what you are most afraid of. For Dick, it's the loss of his own legs, being an acrobat and all, and the possible estrangement with Barbara whom he had always loved and cared about. It's such a subtle mirror effect of two events juxtaposed quite brilliantly. I almost missed it until I started thinking about the scenes more and make the necessary connections and interpretations.

Another one I liked is SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER when James Jr. escapes from Dick and ends up being shot by Jim Gordon while they're standing on a bridge which I assume was the same bridge where an infant James Jr. fell and was rescued by Batman years ago. James Jr. falls off the ledge again but his father caught him just in time. It was such a heartbreaking scene especially when Jim says that he won't let James go this time. It's a symbolic gesture of how much this father wants to cling onto the belief, to hope against hope, that there is still a chance to claim his son's soul back from the blackest pits of the damned city that is Gotham.

This was a splendid issue to end the saga as a whole though it's not something I would consider perfect and outstanding across the charts (that distinction still belongs to Lost Boys and Skeleton Key, to be honest). But I can honestly say that I consider The Black Mirror to be one of my favorite Batman graphic novels of all time.

I'll be posting my general review of the trade paperback first thing tomorrow.


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