Oh boy. I’ll start with a confession. This is a creative team that managed to terrify me with their excellent creator-owned series Wytches. So when I learned that Scott Snyder and Jock would be teaming up for their 6-part The Batman Who Laughs miniseries, I got really excited because I think the title character has the potential to be one of the scariest creatures in the DC Universe. Just think about it: a being who is essentially Bruce Wayne but just has a touch of that Joker madness. A genius who has contingency plans for his contingency plans and all of Batman’s skills, and is also completely unpredictable like Joker. How do you fight someone like that? Truly, Snyder has created a monster, and now he and Jock are unleashing that monster in his own series. But—in the interest of keeping some suspense—does the end result meet my high expectations? Well, fellow comic fans, let’s have a look.
What I always like about Snyder’s writing is his narration. There’s just something about his voice that just sounds pleasant to me. He has the ability to draw me as a reader into the worlds that he’s creating together with his artists, and I forget about the real world around me for a while. At his worst, Snyder writes damn fine prose. At his best, he makes me want to work on my own fiction. Now, Snyder opens this comic with a narration that I think is very elegant in its simplicity. It has poetic qualities to it, but it never seems overwritten or pretentious: it’s just right for me. For example, the opening line is, “What is your happiest memory?” Right from the start it sparks that question in my own mind as the comic is prompting me to think about my own happiest memory. What’s more, the narration continues to induce feelings of nostalgia and happiness. It is heart-warming, except it’s also incredibly sad when you realize what events followed these early happy moments in Bruce’s life. It’s a great emotional way to open the story that sets up a theme that I suspect will continue to develop as the series continues.
However, as much as I love Snyder’s narrative voice, there are also moments where it feels somewhat contradictory to Jock’s visuals. What I mean by this specifically is that this comic features a few big, fast-paced action sequences. While there are certainly panels that have a minimum of text so that the focus is mainly on the visuals, there are also moments where Snyder’s narration—though beautifully written—upsets the flow of the sequential art. For example, there is a moment where Batman is riding a motorcycle, and he leaps off of it and sails through the air, and he is about to throw a few batarangs at some crooks that are standing on top of a truck that’s speeding across a bridge. This is a moment that in my opinion should go by quickly, yet Snyder’s relatively large narration boxes slow my eyes down and rather than being a flowing sequence, the visuals feel more static because of it. Granted, the information that these narration boxes contain is relevant, but I’m just wondering if there isn’t a more efficient way to get this information across, without slowing down the action.
But, moving on, for me there’s a lot more to like than dislike here. About halfway through there’s a plot twist that surprised me. The way this twist is presented gives me just enough information to start thinking about what it could mean, but not enough information to really deduce the truth until its inevitable revelation. This creates suspense and mystery, and it also changes the tone of the comic. Where it opens like an over-the-top, action-driven Batman comic, it shifts to a more eerie and intimate horror narrative. Before I say more about the story structure itself or Snyder’s writing, this is a perfect moment for me to tell you guys what I think of Jock’s work in this issue, because this is in direct relation to that plot twist.
As I said in my introduction, I’m a big fan of Snyder and Jock’s Wytches. That book is an intimate, claustrophobic tale that’s best read late at night with only a single lamp on. It’s great psychological horror as well as body horror that really managed to scare me. In my opinion, Jock’s style lends itself really well for that type of story-telling. To see him draw a big action-packed opening to the comic is fun and the quality is certainly there, but in my opinion his characters and visuals are perhaps a bit too static to make those crazy action scenes fully come to life. I personally think his real strengths and talent can be seen in his art that follows the plot twist. Here we see a Bruce Wayne that’s looking at a dead body that looks an awful lot like himself. He is examining the body in the Gotham morgue. There’s a light shining down on the body, but everything outside the lamplight is shrouded in ink-black shadows. It’s a truly unnerving and uncanny sequence, especially when you really stop to consider the psychological aspects behind it.
Furthermore, while there is still more action to come after the Morgue scene, the tone never shifts back to the upbeat superheroics that we saw in the earlier pages. Instead, Jock’s visuals are more akin to a bloody slasher movie set in the dark and narrow corridors of Arkham Asylum. His heavy blacks, the terrified looks on people’s faces, the maniacal grin on BMWL’s face as he enters the scene with a bloody scythe and a chain in each hand—this is nightmare fuel and, as a horror fan, I love it. I hope that the creative team will maintain this eerie tone for the rest of the series as opposed to the big action, because this stuff is gripping and relentless, and just the kind of stuff that I was hoping to see.
To go back to Snyder’s writing, there are a couple more things that I appreciate that I want to point out. I especially enjoy that we have an intelligent Batman who is also a detective besides a fighter. I like that Bruce is wearing a disguise as he investigates the body in the morgue. I also like Bruce and Alfred’s banter: while the comic in general is very dark and moody, their banter provides for well-timed humor, but also manages to keep the story grounded. What I mean by that is that we get very human reactions from Bruce and Alfred, which helps to relate to the fantastical elements of the story. And because it’s relatable, Snyder successfully manages to turn up the fear factor.
- You are a fan of The Batman Who Laughs
- You are into psychological horror and/or body horror
- You like Batman best when he has to solve a mystery
- You are ready for one helluva cliffhanger
Overall: This is a great opening to a Batman story. It has heart, it has action, it has horror both psychological and physical. It sets up a few intriguing themes that will likely be further developed as the series goes on. I think this story works best when you try to imagine what it’s like to experience what Bruce is experiencing. And while you’re at it, be sure to check out that Capullo variant. Enthusiastically recommended!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.