Much of “Batman” #3 is a competent comic that pushes forward through necessary yet unengaging scenes. There’s the requisite fight scene where Batman shows his superior brains and brawn, the “talking things out” scene with Alfred where exposition is delivered in as subtle a manner as exposition can be and a moment with prospective mayor Lincoln March that continues to present him as the empty shirt you expect from a politician. It’s not a bad comic by any means, bolstered by solid writing and art that shows enough visual flair and inventiveness to gloss over sketchy line work and faces that tend to blur together. Yet, it seems lifeless, trudging forward so it can get to the final pages where the story finally shows some original thought and delivers a clever twist.
Writer Scott Snyder, to his credit, is following the Batman formula to a degree, with this issue simply representing the most formulaic part of the story: a mysterious threat has revealed itself by trying to kill Bruce Wayne, and Batman follows up using a healthy mix of beatings, detective work and coincidental happenings. What can be done to spice things up and make Batman beating down a gang of thugs before intimidating a man for information yet again? Adding some metal face masks is Snyder’s solution, along with some backstory on the gang, adding a little color to Greg Capullo’s drawings of Batman making these supposedly hard, scary, professional thugs look like rank amateurs.
That scene is one of the few places where Capullo’s art shines. He draws movement well, and his layouts for those pages are designed to drive you forward with the action. Every panel shows movement of some kind, with Batman continually shifting between a brutal physical force and an elusive shadowy figure. Capullo manages to successfully combine different interpretations of the character in a single page seamlessly, and that’s impressive.
When the issue returns to the Batcave and a discussion between Alfred and Batman, both the writing and art begin to lose energy. Snyder balances the various demands of the scene, attempting to make sure the necessary exposition isn’t too noticeable amongst the bits of dialogue that reveal the characters. Except he doesn’t seem to have anything to reveal about the characters. This is a stock Bruce/Alfred conversation, and Capullo’s depiction of man boy Bruce with his one facial expression doesn’t help.
The book reaches its nadir when Bruce visits injured mayoral candidate Lincoln March in the hospital. The exposition raises a notch as the twins (or so they’re drawn) talk about the possible threat to both of their lives. March has been a grating presence in the book since its relaunch, and this scene does little to make him more likable. He’s a cipher of plot necessities; an effective tool for moving the plot forward or adding tension to Batman’s search for the Court of Owls, but not a fully realized character by any means.
I’ve spoken of the “third issue slump” before and how it seems that comic series’ third chapters tend to be the weakest, when the teases of the villain have grown weary and it’s too early to fully reveal what’s going on, leaving only necessary plot moments devoid of life and energy. Unfortunately, that’s what “Batman” #3 amounts to. It handles many of those necessary plot points competently, but doesn’t make them memorable or turn them into anything more than scenes to get through. The issue does end on a clever revelation regarding the Court of Owls, with Snyder managing to tie together several threads of the story inventively, showing promise for the future of the story. Otherwise, it’s Batman does things you’ve seen a thousand times before, and that’s fine, I guess.