Seeing the creative team behind this issue was like learning what the roster of the Traveling Wilburys consisted of: head of the Bat-family Scott Snyder. Renowned writer Brian Azzarello. Snyder's 'Wytches' cohort Jock. Master of Mood colorist Lee Loughridge. Serious talent on a seriously good book.
All of these gentlemen teamed up for a flashback issue that connects some of the dots to current new Bat-villain Bloom, and it all starts with a dead body in a marsh.
Batman and Commissioner Gordon find a young man dead in the middle of the marshes, shot four times and dropped from an excessive height. There's no thoughts of revenge - Batman just wants to catch who did this.
The best part about this story is that it zigs and zags in such creative ways that it plays with the emotions of the reader: it's almost like an episode of Law & Order where each trail brings up a clue that nearly convinces the audience that yes, THAT's the person who did it! And yet each new clue takes the investigation in a new direction.
The dialogue is quick, short, and succinct. Batman doesn't mince words, and why should he? He has to solve a young man's murder so he's able to resume his duties as Gotham's dark protector, and he doesn't have time to pity fools; he puts the Penguin in a clever position to squeal. He comes at the Four Fives like a ghoul to scare up an answer. And, in one of the most poignant parts of the book, he confronts a GCPD officer about an unnecessary reaction to a young black man in a hoodie.
Snyder and Azzarello don't pull any punches with the police angle, drumming up bad memories of Trayvon Martin. Again, the dialogue is rife with tension, and just when you think the case is about closed, it continues down a dark and troubling path...which leads to Batman's twofold failures.
Among the myriad of betrayals the late Peter Duggio faces in this story, the ones provided by both Bruce Wayne and Batman hurt him the most. Wayne, Gotham's Golden Boy and philanthropist for the downtrodden, can't single out Duggio to solve the problems he faces with this father's store during a press conference. The ideal Batman presents becomes Duggio's undoing in the end (which I won't spoil for you). Those two failures leave both Batman and the reader with a hollow feeling at the end of the issue, and there's nothing that anyone can do to fix the past.
Jock really presents a wonderful interpretation of Batman in this issue: grim, brooding, and pissed off. When he's not obscured by shadows, Batman looks perpetually irritated in this issue, his face in a constant grimace. And there's never any let up - the case is driving him, and, again, every new discovery presents a path leading in a different direction. Jock's action scenes also work wonderfully, presenting fluid and realistic combat that grounds Batman and his opponents. Additionally, the expressions of fear, anger, disappointment, and bravado are rendered perfectly.
Also, and I don't know who to thank for this, but juxtaposing the scenes of Batman in action with newspaper clippings was a truly inspired work of art.
Loughridge also does a spectacular job providing dark and dreary colors that fit the mood to a T. Everything seems to be cast in shades of black and grey, giving both the Dark Knight and Gotham itself a gloomy mood that neither can shake.
This issue is something to behold - if you don't like the current Gordon-driven Batstory, then this issue harkens back to the Caped Crusader you prefer. If you do like the current narrative, this issue is a clue to a puzzle Snyder and Capullo are laying out. And if you like creators coming together at the top of their games to work on one of the most popular characters in literary fiction, then geez, what are you waiting for?
THE LOWDOWN: I'm giving this issue 9 out of 10 pelvic thrusts - from the art to the writing to the story to just about damn near everything, this issued delivered the goods and more. If you aren't willing to buy the book (SHAME ALL OVER YOUR FAMILY), then for heaven's sake find a way to sic your beady eyes on this baby.