Thanks you Brian Azzarello for being my lifeboat of sanity in the sea of chaos that is Snyder’s current arc.

For those of you who might be unaware, this issue of Batman is an interlude in the ongoing story arc.  While Snyder is credited as co-author of this story, I can’t help but feel that Azzarello is the real head-runner here and handles most of the storytelling.  This is more than just a gut feeling though.  If you are like me, and have read Snyder’s body of Batman work, it’s actually fairly easy to pick out the passages he contributed to and the ones that Azzarello was responsible for.  And it seems to me, a lot more of this is Azzarello’s handy work.

batman44.3       I’d bet money on that being Snyder.

The solicits were quite misleading, calling this issue the origin of Mister Bloom. Sure, he shows up for 2 panels and we find out that he was selling drugs to kids in the Narrows, but other than that, nada…zip…zilch…zero.  If that was your only reason for buying this issue, I could see you being disappointed.  However, this issue offers far more in the way of worthwhile content than I expected going into it.

Reading this story made me feel like I was home again.  It wasn’t about averting city wide destruction or the absurdity of being reanimated from the dead.  It was a simple street level detective story about following leads and questioning suspects.  It was about people, connecting with them, and making a difference on an individual level.  Seeing as how Batman was the product of childhood tragedy, he has always been extra sensitive when it comes to the plight of children.  It was nice to see Azzarello mine this particular aspect of the character again, something I haven’t seen for awhile now.  Azzarello also does a wonderful job at giving a slew of characters that we have never seen before personalities, quirks, and backgrounds that make them believable and relatable.

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This issue also featured Bruce as Batman and James Gordon as a trench coat wearing detective.  It seems ridiculous that I should list this as a positive, considering that it should be a given.  But seeing as how so much of the current run is ass backwards, it’s worth noting when something as simple as Batman and Gordon having a chat over a corpse is done correctly.  From Gordon poking fun at Batman potentially having a new toy, to Batman disappearing before the conversation was over, it all rings so true that one wonders how anyone can get this stuff wrong.  Perhaps that is just me responding positively to the familiar, but I don’t think anyone should discount the tried and true so quickly.  This interaction is fresh and familiar all at once, and that is exactly as it should be.

Another element that I particularly enjoyed about this issue was how timeless it was.  While there are several small bits and pieces that tie it into Snyder’s current arc, you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy this story for what it is.  It is a classic one and done, and I could see it easily slipping into a run from the 80s and the audience being none the wiser.  Well, except for one offhanded remark about Batman scanning the corpse.  That’s right, he scanned the body to discover cause of death…..  Was there something wrong with just examining it?

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The art for this issue is brought to us by Jock.  Jock is the pen name of the British comic artist and writer Mark Simpson.  Jock’s work isn’t typically the kind of comic art I go for, but I think it lent itself incredibly well to this particular story.  When you look at his stuff, it has an older, almost archival quality to it.  As if we are looking at old/found footage from the past, degraded by the hands of time.  Much in the way that Azzarello made the characters feel real, the art also contributes to this feeling of realism.  Throughout the comic, we see newspaper clippings integrated into the pages that help to give the world a more lived in quality.  We aren’t meant to think that this story is nothing but what we see here, but that the world existed before we picked up the book, and it will exist long after we put it down.

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I’m also a huge fan of anyone who draws Batman’s cape unnaturally large.  I realize that it’s completely unrealistic (where does all that fabric disappear to when he is just standing there?) and makes no sense, but it looks great, and I love it.

batman44.2         Here is another shot of Batman, just because.

Batman #44 retails at $4.99, but you are getting 8 additional pages for that extra dollar.  Given that and the quality of the work within, I’d say it’s a fair trade.

Random Thoughts:

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  • Batman coerces information out of Penguin by stringing him up and covering the rope in liquid bird feed.  Once the birds peck at it enough, it will give way and he will plummet to his death, thus he has to give up the info Batman seeks before the rope flays.  It’s a classic Batman move to suspend someone like this while interrogating them.  It also calls to mind the old movie classic of putting a candle under a rope to burn through it or having a pendulum blade cutting at it from above.  To be honest, this seemed like an overly complicated way to go about doing this.  Not to mention, I was then left picturing Batman carrying around a big can of bird feed on his utility belt.
  • Batman uses his cape to fight with someone.  This was both awesome and peculiar at the same time.  Batman’s cape has always had weights sewn into the tips to assist in combat maneuvers, and it was nice to see them again after having not for so long.  On the flip side, he took his cape off to fight with it.  Granted, I have seen him do that as well, it just seemed off for this specific encounter.
  • Batman visits the site of a burned down building.  There is a bird pecking through the debris.  It is implied that this bird was the property of the individual who owned the building.  If the bird was inside when the place burned down, how did it survive?

Interesting Facts:

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  • Just in case you thought this dialogue was a reference to a previous Penguin story, he is just talking about the creation of the Iceberg Lounge.
  • This story also mentions Venom.  Venom is the substance that gives Bane his powers.  Seeing as how this issue takes place during the Dark Knight’s early career before Bane became active, I’m sure some of you found it odd that this chemical made an appearance.  It’s actually not odd at all.  Not only did Venom predate Bane’s appearance in the comics, but the comic in question that first introduced Venom was also set during Batman’s early career.  Batman: Legends of The Dark Knight #16-20 (1991).
  • While Venom made sense, the story also made reference to the serum created by Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat).  In the current continuity, Langstrom was introduced in the present, so it actually doesn’t make all that much sense for a serum he had not invented yet to be used in the past.  But let’s not forget, “DCYou!, story over continuity.”

Not Recommended if…

  • You’re expecting to find Mister Blooms origin story contained within these pages.  It’s not here.

Recommended if…

  • You want to read a classic-feeling Batman story.
  • You’re a fan of Brian Azzarello’s writing.
  • You miss Bruce.
  • You long for a simpler time.

Overall:

This issue features the hero that fans deserve, but not the one DC has been giving us of late.  That’s right!  For the first time in 5 months, we actually get an issue of Batman featuring Batman.  I feel kind of silly shouting that out as a selling point (since he should be in every issue), but given the current state of things, it’s something to treasure since we don’t know how long it will be till we see him again.  Given how happy I am to see Bruce, I’m sure that some of you are wondering how much of that score is merely a knee-jerk reaction to his presence.  Yes, it does factor in, but even if this issue weren’t showing up after such a drought, I’d still give it a good grade.  Brian Azzarello truly does the Dark Knight justice.  When I look at this one-and-done, featuring an array of interesting characters and coupled with a thought-provoking theme, I can’t help but think of some of the classics from the late 70s and early 80s….and smile.

SCORE: 8.5 / 10