Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are seen by many to be a definitive modern-day creative team for Batman, having come in during “The New 52” era with a lot of hyper-specific idea for the character, his personal mythos, and the wider world of Gotham City. During their tenure they introduced The Court of Owls – led by Owlman – and reintroduced the Riddler and Joker as the two defining antagonists for Bruce Wayne. Later on they also put Jim Gordon in a robot suit and made him fight a plant man for ten issues, but we’ll get to that later.
The first issue of their run is obsessed with setting the status quo. For Batman, for Arkham Asylum, and for Gotham itself. Very quickly the book determines several of those questions that always linger whenever Batman moves into a new run – for example, it immediately establishes just who is in Arkham right now. All the classic Batman villains (with one exception) seem to currently be locked up, including Two-Face, Riddler, Killer Croc, Professor Pyg, Black Mask and Clayface. It’s a canny scene for a series which largely ignores the rogues gallery, and establishes for us that there are only two options for any chaos that might get caused in subsequent issues: it’ll either be the Joker or it’ll be someone new.
We also get quickly introduced to the supporting characters, who are played here as being a family. Damian is obviously literal family to Bruce, but there’s also Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, all of whom are drawn to look incredibly similar to one another. They appear to form a support structure and let us know that this is a Batman who works with support and back-up. His first mission of the run is to infiltrate Arkham, but he doesn’t do it alone. Modern-day Batman is annoyingly depicted as never taking advice or help from anyone, but here we’re shown that it’s important for him to have people around him.
So it’s nice to know where we are when things start. Gordon is Commissioner, the Bat-Family are intact and active, and most of the villains we know have been locked into Arkham and are firmly out of the way. That leaves everything ready and in place for something new to kick in and hopefully give us something new – which is indicated by the running narration which talks about a feature in the local paper, the Gotham Gazette. The feature is called “Gotham Is” and asks readers to submit an essay which completes the sentence.
As Batman fights through the start of the issue and then advocates his way through the middle section (which sees Bruce suggesting a string of developments throughout Gotham City which are intended to improve public life), he narrates some of the options which have been chosen in the past. By doing so, you essentially get to read a series of short thesis statements from Scott Snyder, as he sums up various other approaches to the series which have been taken over the years. “Gotham is a monster” or “Gotham is hopeless”, or whatever it may be. But as this issue closes we get to hear the latest pitch, which obviously comes straight from Snyder himself: “Gotham is a mystery”.
And that’s the key part of this issue, and presumably will be for the run as a whole. Batman is a detective, and the latter half of this issue sets him up with a mystery to solve. We already know that his villains are all locked up, which means something new is involved here. Whatever is coming for Batman, it’s something we’ve not seen before, and it’s rare for a Batman series to start by creating a new crisis for the character. Normally it ends up being a Riddler plot, or a scheme by the Penguin, or usually some overly convoluted Joker wheeze. But here we are definitively told that this is something new.
It’s always entertaining to see Batman crack into a convoluted case, and throughout the issue we see him upping his game considerably. This Batman has a lot of technology at his disposal, including some intricate disguises which allow him to disguise Nightwing as The Joker. That particularly decision gets ironically reflected back at him at the end of the issue, when it turns out that Nightwing is the main suspect for the latest murder Batman has to solve, but it also continues the idea that what’s coming up in this run is something unexpected and different.
The issue isn’t particularly subtle about anything, though. By so clearly tipping its hand and suggesting that we should be on the lookout for something new, the issue makes it fairly obvious to readers that they should be keeping an eye on the one new character introduced here, in the form of Mayoral Candidate Lincoln March. March gets a small and vague introduction, but he’s clearly someone we’re meant to keep an eye on. He also looks just like Bruce Wayne, and Greg Capullo is too specific an artist for that to be a coincidence. Capullo’s approach is always to go big and extravagant whenever given the opportunity – whether it be the graphic crime scene Batman investigates, the ambitious plans Bruce has got Gotham, or the look of the classic rogues. So his approach to Lincoln March bears note.
Essentially, the opening issue of Capullo and Snyder’s Batman offers something steady for readers. The scene is set, the status quo is heavily put in place, and readers are given the sense that something is going wrong regardless. That’s a fairly effective way to start a series, all things considered. The trick is seeing what comes next.
Batman #1: Knife Trick
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencilled by Greg Capullo
Inked by Jonathan Glapion
Coloured by ACO
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt