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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Endgame (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman has been lodged in a constant state of apocalypse.

The duo have framed Batman as a blockbuster comic book, to the point that it seems like Batman stares down the end of all things more often than the rest of the superheroes in Geoff Johns’ Justice League. All of Snyder and Capullo major stories have placed Gotham City on the edge of the abyss, teetering (and even falling) into darkness. It is a sharp contrast to the lower key threats of Snyder’s work on The Black Mirror, very consciously a stylish affectation to reflect the fact that Batman is very much one of the comic book industry’s blockbuster title.

Bringing back the laughs...

Bringing back the laughs…

In The Court of Owls, Gotham finds itself subjected to a long night of terror by an army of undead assassins. In Death of the Family, the Joker carves his way across the city. In Zero Year, the origin of Batman is tied to a disaster on the scale of No Man’s Land. Even outside of his work on the main title, Snyder’s role as “executive producer” of Batman Eternal saw yet another apocalypse visited upon Gotham in a relatively short space of time. It becomes exhausting after a while.

To be fair, it is reasonable to ask whether this is just part of a larger cultural context. Pop culture has always been fascinated with the end of the world, but it seems increasingly fixated on the concept in recent years. The popularity of the zombie genre is just one example, but any list of critically and commercially successful art in the twenty-first century will confront the reader with multiple ends of all things. The Walking Dead, The Road, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jericho, Revolution, Book of Eli, and so on and so forth.

"Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling...?"

“Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling…?”

However, popular culture is not just fascinated with post-apocalyptic horror. Increasingly, media engages with the question of what the end of the world will look like, rather than the question of how we might survive it. Fear the Walking Dead depicts the end of the world that led to its sister series. Chris Carter revived The X-Files so that the final episode could depict the end of the world as foreshadowed across the original nine-season run. With advances in CGI, blockbusters like The Avengers and Man of Steel can render destruction on an impossible scale.

As such, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recurring fascination with the end of all things exists as part of a broader cultural context. Still, the writer and artist seem to position Endgame as the ultimate apocalypse for its two central characters.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Zero Year: Secret City & Dark City (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It takes considerable bravery to craft an origin story for Batman in the wake of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One.

Superhero origins are constantly being tweaked and re-written and re-worked. Superman has had a half-dozen comic book origins (in- and out-of-continuity) since Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC universe. There’s John Byrne’s Man of Steel, Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin, J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One and even Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.

It's only a pale moon...

It’s only a pale moon…

In contrast, Batman has been relatively undisturbed, with only Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One positing an alternate origin story for the Caped Crusader. A large part of that is down to how sacred Year One is. Written by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Year One is considered to be one of the best Batman comics ever published. It recently topped Comic Book Resources’ high-profile fan poll for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

In many cases, an “if it ain’t broke…” mentality applies. Having a universally-beloved comic book story that is easily accessible as the origin story for a particular character is not a bad thing at all. You can hand Year One to anybody and they can read and enjoy it. Although undoubtedly a product of the late eighties, the comic remains relevant and compelling to this day. Indeed, we have not moved so far from the eighties that it’s hard to reconcile a Batman origin grounded in that social context.

Talk about falling so far...

Talk about falling so far…

However, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are the creative team working on the Batman book for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The duo have enjoyed a tremendous run – managing that rare intersection of critical and commercial success in mainstream comics. There are legitimate criticisms to be made, but Snyder and Capullo’s Batman work does hold up as some of the best Batman comics produced in quite some time, and one of true success stories of DC’s “new 52.”

So, if there was ever a time to go back to Batman’s origin, this was it. A well-loved creative team, a significant anniversary, a clear distance between this time and Year One. The risk associated with Zero Year is phenomenal. It is an incredible gambit. Even though the story is not in competition with Year One, comparisons are inevitable. The result is a very satisfying and exciting tribute to an iconic comic book character that doesn’t quite surpass Year One, but is clever enough to be clear that it isn’t trying to.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Death of the Family (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, despite the massive hype that it received and the gigantic crossover that it spawned, Death of the Family is structured as an anti-epic. The triumphant return of the Joker to the world of Batman over a year into the “new 52” instead turns into a deconstruction and criticism (and arguably a rejection) of the character. Sandwiched between Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s much larger and more ambitious epic Batman stories, Death of the Family is a story about how small the Joker really is.

In many respects, Death of the Family reads best as the story of a collapsing relationship, where one partner refuses to deal with the fact that the other has outgrown them.

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – The Court of Owls, Night of the Owls & The City of Owls (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

The “new 52” was a rather polarising experiment.

Claiming to restart their entire universe from scratch after the events of Flashpoint, DC comics claimed the initiative would make comic books more accessible to the masses. Without decades of continuity to block access, new readers would be more likely to try to get into these sorts of comics. The decision to effectively start from scratch has been controversial – arguably compounded by the fact that writers like Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison were allowed to carry their work across the continuity reboot.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

The team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are among the longest serving of the “new 52” creators. The pair have remained on the flagship Batman book for three years, longer than the vast majority of creators recruited to help relaunch the DC universe back in September 2011. There’s a wonderful consistency and enthusiasm to their work, and it seems like the two have a very clear vision of where they want to take Batman, one of the characters with the most complex relationship to the re-launch.

In many ways, The Court of Owls can be read as a meta-commentary on Batman’s position in the wake of Flashpoint, reflecting on the awkward relationship between the potential for novelty and the demand for familiarity.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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X-Force Omnibus by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Rob Liefeld has become something of a polarising force in comic books. The artist was a driving force in the industry in the nineties. Along with creators like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, Liefeld really helped turn comic books into an artist-driven medium during that decade. (Rather pointedly, X-Force #1 credits Liefeld as responsible for “everything but…” the specific tasks dolled out to other contributors.) The artist became a celebrity in his own right. He got his own Levi commercial. He famously sketched while speeding inside a car.

Liefeld has arguably become more a symbol than a creator. His heavily involvement in the second year of DC’s “new 52” reboot really solidified the impression that former Marvel head honcho and current DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras was trying to channel the nineties comic book market. (The fact the line has been heavily emphasising contributions by Jim Lee and Greg Capullo, other nineties superstars, really underscores the notion.)

It’s hard to look at X-Force without seeing it as a hugely symbolic work. This is really one of the comics which defined the nineties – arguably even more than Jim Lee’s X-Men or The Death and Return of Superman. If you wanted a glimpse into the mindset of American mainstream comics in the nineties, X-Force is the perfect glimpse.

Welcome to the nineties!

Welcome to the nineties!

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