Monday, July 7, 2014

Detective Comics [The Black Mirror] by Scott Synder issue #874

This has got to be the creepiest and most disturbing Batman issue I have read in a while. For this next installment, Scott Snyder now collaborates with artist Francesco Francavilla and the color palette he uses is remarkably darker than usual. The minimal use of bright colors (or even a lack thereof) captures the underlying tone of this story as well. Entitled The Skeleton Cases, the central character this time is Commissioner Jim Gordon who goes about his nocturnal duties as usual until one phone call shakes up things. This isn't going to be a spoiler-free review because there are some things that I want to discuss that would really expound on the story too much. So if you have any plans to read the issue yourself, don't read further. If not, then let's get on with it.

First, as always, I want to address the illustrations and visual feel of this issue. Francavilla only uses dark colors all throughout, and prominently shades of purple, orange, black and gray (with a few blues here and there). The effect is something quite gorgeous because the art is able to highlight the terror and suspense that surround the pages in the story. I'm liking it a lot even if most of the time we have to look at the characters with shadows around their faces since such a color palette provides little illumination, which only makes the expressions in their faces more striking (if not almost evasive as well). The Skeleton Cases has three parts in symphony for this issue and they increase the level of suspense and dread as the narrative unfolds.

As for the story, it starts rather simple enough. Someone has released the birds from the aviary and when they looked at the surveillance footage, a familiar face in the crowd immediately jumps out--and it's no other than James Jr., the Commissioner's prodigal son. The turning point for this issue is his unexpected return to Gotham, and Barbara definitely has more to say about that and she doesn't care to sugarcoat it in front of her father. What has gotten them so shaken up like this? Well, James Jr. is not exactly an epitome of goodness unlike the two members of the Gordon family, and his appearance in Gotham is already a bad sign. Anyone who has read Year One knows that Gordon's baby whom Batman rescues from the mob as it falls down a bridge was no other than James Jr. No one could have possibly known how he would turn out.

Basically, James Jr. explains it himself as he sits down in the cafe to have an earnest conversation with his father during the second arc: he's a psychopath. It's ironic and poignant all the same, considering this is Jim Gordon's offspring (one whom Batman even rescues as a helpless infant) and who would have thought he would stray so far from the tree in such a horrendous way? It's really heartbreaking for a man like Gordon to have a son who is everything he is supposed to be fighting against. However, it seems like there is a silver lining. James Jr. is taking some experimental medication that aims to affect his amygdala positively so he will develop empathy. It sounds like a hopeful scenario but I am very mistrustful of James Jr. already at this point. But a part of me, of course, wants to believe otherwise for Jimbo's sake. To be the parent of a monster is something that I wouldn't wish on someone of Jim Gordon's integrity and character.

The third arc of The Skeleton Cases takes us back to Dick Grayson as Batman as he is accompanied by Red Robin (Tim Drake) while they bust a group of criminals who turned out to be selling and trading off endangered species of animals. I already feel that there's a connection about this with the aviary with the lose birds from the earlier pages--and I think James Jr. is at the heart of it all. The issue ends with a very foreboding tone, leaving readers with a sense of bewilderment and overpowering curiosity as how this will personally change Jim Gordon if his son has something to do with the storm that's about to come. Barbara Gordon will be equally important for any further developments, considering her outright and quite justifiable distaste for her brother is something I'm interested to see play out in the next issues.


* Slick, engrossing and as dark as it gets, The Black Mirror saga promises something thrilling and game-changing to happen from here on out. With Scott Snyder's trademark writing seal, this will prove to be quite explosive!

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