Not to cause a scandal or alarm anyone in any way, but I wasn’t blown away by the conclusion to “Dark City.” Yep, I’m the guy. I’m the guy who is going to be giving this one a “good but not great” review. In fact, now that “Dark City” is over I can say that I’m pretty let down by this 4-parter overall and think it was the weakest arc from this creative team so far, especially as a follow-up to “Secret City” which featured some of my favorite moments in Snyder and Capullo’s entire run

My big problem with “Secret City” was that it was unfocused until the end. Everything depended on this issue tying together Tokyo Moon, boneitis, Riddler, the GCPD, the flashbacks to the Wayne murder, and Gordon all while finally making use of that black-out and hurricane– ya know, the one that we had a multi-title event about 4 months ago. That means that if you want to get the most out of issue #29 you’re going to have to put in the extra effort to read the whole thing all over again starting with issue #25. But did Snyder manage to stick the landing with issue #29 and have all these different elements fit together? A little bit. It’s shaky. With the narrative hinging on this over-sized final chapter (it’ll set you back $5 bucks) speech bubbles grow in size, become exposition-heavy and we get yet another overlong villainous monologue. Writer Scott Snyder has a thing for giving villains long monologues that take place in extreme situations where there’s no way Batman could possibly hear what is being said. The only question is: which would be louder, the inside of a jet engine (City of Owls) or a hurricane (Secret City)? Ya know what makes Joker A-list? He knew to take Batman outside the city, to a nice quiet bridge where ever single word of his monologue could be made clear as crystal (Death of the Family).

Spoiler
While Doctor Death’s Tokyo Moon story draws some interesting connections for Bruce Wayne it felt incredibly forced as if Snyder was trying so hard to cram a message into all of this that he was overshadowing the story and destroying all of the fight scene’s momentum. Doctor Death’s origin should have been sprinkled throughout “Dark City” not unloaded on us here at the last. Honestly, with Riddler elsewhere at this book’s finale I think it was pretty clear who wasn’t going to be back for “Savage City.” Listening to Doctor Death drone on and on about his life story was made all the more tiresome because it was so obvious he would be dead in the turn of another page or two.

Despite our main villain getting too talkative (again, lower your expectations about seeing The Riddler) the book does excel at delivering really big action. How big? Giant bat-blimp big. Capullo gives this new vehicle a jaw-dropping entrance, but when you think about it it’s probably one of the worst forms of transportation the Batman has ever had. Batman even explains what makes this blimp different from the rest and why it’s actually quite cool, but that doesn’t change the fact that by flying the thing he shoots Bruce Wayne to the top of the Batman Suspects List (Wayne just donated a fleet of dirigibles to the city, he’s just asking to draw attention to himself again) or, well, it’s a spoiler

Spoiler
Oh hey! As I was saying, Batman goes on and on about all of the nifty advances his blimp has and why it’s actually not lame at all, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Bat-Dirigible only survives for about 4 more pages
. The really exciting action, though, doesn’t start until Batman gets off the blimp. With Greg Capullo’s experience working on Spawn, it’s no secret that the man draws a mean monster and if you’ve read any issue of Batman before you know his fight sequences are some of the most dynamic and thrilling sequences around. Then to make things even more interesting, Snyder cuts from Batman’s adventure to Gordon’s (something that should really be done WAY more often in Batman comics. These two should be approaching the same case from different angles all the time. It’s great) and, most impressively, we have several wordless pages juxtaposing the violent upheaval of Gotham with flashbacks to the dramatic destruction of Bruce Wayne’s own life all those years ago in Crime Alley.

The flashbacks to Bruce’s last night with his parents are very well done and were (besides the scenes with Gordon) my favorite aspect of the comic by far. This is likely due to the fact that the destruction of Gotham doesn’t captivate me much since it happens so often in The New 52 and never seems to have any repercussions afterward– the whole place was flooded just a year ago during the Throne of Atlantis saga so even this disaster doesn’t seem all that original. Also, the Riddler’s plan of wiping out the city seems out of character for him– well, at least out of character for his very first act of villainy. His schtick has always been to make everyone know that he’s the smartest guy in the room and nobody can know that if they’re all dead. Riddler’s always had a willingness to kill if it meant he’d get away (I talk about Riddler’s first appearance in the review of Batman: The TV Stories), but it’s never been to this great of an extent. I don’t think he needs to slaughter thousands to be considered a formidable foe, taking this path seems to be the easy way to make him appear to be a threat.

Riddler

But as I was saying, the interactions with Bruce and his mother and father are charming and Snyder gives Thomas and Martha some personality for a change. There’s real life in these brief scenes with some natural dialogue to boot. It’s a nice breath of fresh air for those of us who have seen the flashback to their murder a thousand times and despite Zero Year being spread out over far too many books, I think that if you just look at the scenes with the Wayne’s alone that Snyder did a good job of making them feel like real, decent people and not just plot devices. (However, I do wish that Martha had had a few more scenes but at least she got more attention than she did in Batman Begins)

As for the artwork on this issue, well, if I was judging the book on its artwork alone it would get an 10/10. Capullo, Miki, and FCO killed it. From the destruction of Gotham to the oh, so, important moment in Crime Alley, everything looks breathtaking (seriously, you’ll have to look at how ugly the real world is around you just to recall how to breathe). The use of red lightning was especially cool. I also liked how the colors drained out and the world turned deathly pale as soon as Doctor Death entered. In fact, flipping back through the fight scene it looks as if color only rallies its way back into the panel as Batman takes the advantage in the fight. I really don’t know what more to say about Capullo’s work other than to advise you not to flip past the pages of destruction too quickly. Take special note of the detail of all the struggling Gothamites and bits of debris crashing, floating, and blowing up here and there. If you wondered why the art team needed an extra month (things were broken up by the “Spoiler Issue” Batman #28 that flashed forward to Batman: Eternal) to finish this one you can simply let your copy fall open to any page and marvel. It might be the best-looking issue of Batman yet, but then again, how many times have I said that now?

Photos via Hero Complex

Recommended If…

  • Greg Capullo is your #1 artist. He outdoes himself with this one. With tons of destructive action and a grotesque bone-monster, the book lands right in Capullo’s sweet-spot (also issue #29 will definitely go down as one of my favorite covers from this year) and FCO’s colors are at their very best
  • You love Zero Year’s little call-backs to major Batman stories, especially those by Frank Miller
  • You don’t have your heart set on seeing the Riddler. Despite all the extra pages, Edward Nygma hardly features here and it’s Doctor Death who gets the most attention and the most lines…my God does he have a lot of lines
  • Monologues. You love villain monologues
  • It’s been a while since you’ve seen Batman really go mano-a-mano with an enemy that’s a serious physical threat
  • You want to see how the Wayne murder went down in the New 52
  • Come on, you either bought it already or will buy it no matter what I say, so I’ll just stop here

Overall

Capullo, Miki, and FCO exceeded expectations with the artwork and expectations were exceedingly high. However, the story of Batman’s first major failure was a bit of a disappointment for me as much of it felt like we were going through the motions of trying to tie together all the loose ends from previous issues and catch-up with the flash-forward from issue #21. It simply took too long for “Dark City” to find a rhythm and so the first half of the book is spent reminding us what exactly the threat is and then the final confrontation is so bogged down with villainous monologue that I found myself growing impatient. The story’s strongest aspect for me is definitely the flashback to the Wayne murder while everything else wavered between gripping excitement and tedium. I sincerely hope that “Savage City” ends Zero Year with a bang (and a greater sense of purpose) because “Dark City” (while it had its moments) didn’t come anywhere close to being as good as “Secret City” in my eyes.

SCORE: 7/10