The New 52 run on Batman is best known for its big story arcs: Court of Owls, Death of the Family, Zero Year, Endgame, and Superheavy. These five stories (largely) carried the Dark Knight through five years and brought much critical acclaim. Yet, there are a number of smaller, simpler tales that found their way into the run. Some were by Snyder and Capullo, while others made room for different voices. What they all have in common is a narrowed scope, even if they were connected to the larger arcs. Many fans wish smaller stories were the norm, but how did the smallest stories on DC’s biggest book fare? Today, we’ll take a look at Batman, Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift, the volume that at last collects the “filler” from this historic run.
There are quite a few issues collected here, and with two exceptions, each is a standalone. Here are the stories that are included, with links to the original Batman News review in case you want to read some more in-depth analysis:
- “Bright New Yesterday”, from Batman #0, originally published in September 2012; written by Scott Snyder, with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Jonathan Glapion, colors by FCO Plascencia, letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt, and cover art by Capullo and FCO (read the review)
- “Tomorrow”, from Batman #0, originally published in September 2012; written by James Tynion IV, with art by Andy Clarke, colors by FCO Plasencia, letters by Patrick Brosseau, and variant cover art by Andy Clarke (read the review)
- “Resolve”, from Batman #18, originally published in March 2013; written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with pencils by Andy Kubert and Alex Maleev, inks by Sandra Hope and Alex Maleev, colors by Brad Anderson and Nathan Fairbairn, letters by Nick J. Napolitano and Carlos M. Mangual, and cover art by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia (read the review)
- “Nowhere Man”, from Batman #19-20, originally published in April and May 2013; written by Scott Snyder, with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki, colors by FCO Plascencia, letters by Comicraft, and cover art by Capullo and FCO (read the review: part one / part two)
- “Ghost Lights”, from Batman #19-20, originally published in April and May 2013; written by James Tynion IV, with art by Alex Maleev, colors by Brad Anderson and Nathan Fairbairn, letters by Dezi Sienty, and variant cover art by Alex Maleev (read the review: part one / part two)
- “Ages”, from Batman Annual #2, originally published in July 2013; written by Marguerite Bennett, with story by Scott Snyder and Bennet, pencils by Wes Craig, inks by Craig Yeung, Drew Geraci, Wes Craig, Jack Purcell, Sandu Florea, and Marc Deering, colors by Ian Hannin, letters by Dave Sharpe, and cover art by Jock (read the review)
- “The Meek”, from Batman #34, originally published in August 2014; written by Gerry Duggan, with story by Scott Snyder and Duggan, art by Matteo Scalera, colors by Lee Loughridge, letters by Steve Wands, and cover art by Scalera and Moreno Dinisio (read the review)
- “Gotham Eternal”, from Batman #28, originally published in February 2014; written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with pencils by Dustin Nguyen, inks by Derek Fridolfs, colors by John Kalisz, letters by Sal Cipriano, and cover art by Nguyen (read the review)
Bright New Yesterday
“Bright New Yesterday” is a completely different experience when read after Zero Year. On its own, it’s a pretty basic two-beat suspense story. Considered with what would come after Death of the Family, it’s actually a foreboding prequel to some of the Red Hood Gang’s more brutal antics in Secret City. The artwork is the high quality you would expect from Capullo, although there’s a noticeable jump if you’re reading these volumes in number order: this story came out when Jonathan Glapion was still inking Batman, and his style is not nearly as smooth as Danny Miki’s. It isn’t worse, per se, but I do prefer Miki. This story probably should have been collected in the fourth volume, as its relevance to Secret City would have made it a more important piece in that context.
I like this one quite a bit more than the last one. These both appeared in Batman #0, and both are concerned with the start of Batman’s career, but this one is not directly hooked into Zero Year in the way that “Bright New Yesterday” is. It’s a simple story, but it’s neat seeing future allies respond to Batman’s appearance on the scene, and particularly fun to see Gordon’s naïveté about Babs’s potential involvement in the future.
Snyder’s attempt at a requiem for Damian Wayne (who died in Batman, Incorporated around the time this was published), “Resolve” looks at Batman’s grief through the eyes of Harper Roe.
To be honest, this is my favorite Harper story. Some of her dialogue feels a bit overdramatic, but those portions are heavily outweighed by a powerful lecture she delivers to the man himself. I also think she works here because she’s still just a highly-flawed young person trying to protect her brother. Having seen the other side, where most of us agree that Harper was undeservedly fast-tracked to legitimate hero status, I appreciate this version all the more.
Kubert delivers a substantial number of ugly Harper faces, but he also turns in a fair bit of awesome Batman work. Maleev’s pages are excellent all the way through, but I think it was wise to give him the non-action portion of this story. Kubert’s brutal character work fits the first half perfectly, and the tonal shift once Maleev takes over is a very effective device that accentuates Bruce’s softening heart.
A sweet remembrance of Damian frames this two-part Clayface story. I like the action well enough, and Capullo does some really neat things with Mr. Karlo’s special abilities, but this one is mostly sizzle. That doesn’t make it bad, necessarily, but it does limit my capacity for repeat reading. Come for the artwork and the mourning father, but don’t expect to stick around very long.
I probably shouldn’t expect too much from backups, but it’s hard to give “Ghost Lights” a pass, because it’s laid out as one full story in line with the others in this collection. Maleev’s artwork is shadowy and spooky, which works for the subject matter, but what we have here is a pretty generic ghost/monster story. The ties to Damian’s death feel like afterthoughts, and Superman’s involvement is wasted. Again—this was originally written as two backups, and they read okay without the pressure of having to carry themselves. But in this context, with the spotlight shining, “Ghost Lights” is average at best.
I can’t recall reading many great annuals. They promise lots of extra pages for a little extra money, but the artwork is usually below standard, and the stories seldom live up to the potential of a longer, sandboxed context. “Ages” isn’t the worst annual I’ve read, but I don’t find it particularly good, either. For starters, Batman’s explanation of how his enemies would escape is riddled with error. And after the issue’s main villain gets loose, things just descend into a boring rehash of Batman’s same-old psychological hauntings. The artwork is bland and the colors sterile, and while reading this once is okay, I can’t imagine giving it another chance.
Highly-stylized artwork from Scalera and an interesting-enough one-off villain make “The Meek” a good read over and again. It’s nice to see Batman on someone’s trail, following the evidence, even if the trail is short and things are wrapped up quickly. There’s a bit of a silly disguise situation near the end, but it doesn’t diminish the overall success of this story.
Eh. While it’s nice to see Dustin Nguyen drawing Selina again, this story has very little to offer. It doesn’t stand very well on its own, and with its wider context captured in the Eternal trades, a person reading through volumes of Batman will never get any resolution. This story is also guilty of some of that Harper Roe fast-tracking that I bemoaned earlier. Even if we buy that her training with the family is enough to give her the physical capabilities that she now possesses, it still seems incredibly strange that Bats would take her along on a mission this soon (especially given how surprised he was by her increase in skill).
Compared to some of the other New 52 Batman volumes, the variant cover gallery here is pretty small. It does have the absolutely amazing Rafael Albuquerque cover for Batman #34 (a cover I am quite pleased to have in my collection), but there’s nothing particularly special or plentiful here. I suppose that isn’t surprising in a “leftovers” trade, but it still seems out-of-form.
Value: sale price
None of these stories is especially memorable, but most of them are at least readable. You can get this used for under eleven bucks at Amazon, and even that feels a little bit steep. If you can find a copy at a con or a second-hand store, that may be your best value.
The collector in me wants this volume because it fills in the gaps left by the more desirable trades in this series, but Graveyard Shift doesn’t have quite the same level of appeal as its siblings. The stories are okay, and many even worth multiple reads, so scoop it up at the right price; but if you’re reading through the New 52 Batman, you could easily skip this one and not miss a thing.