It would be easy to claim that Scott Snyder- best known in comics right now for his work on “American Vampire”- has turned “Detective Comics” into a horror title, but that wouldn’t be an entirely accurate claim. Rather, Snyder is doing what some other writers have done with the character and the title in the past, drenching the title in darkness and bringing a genuine sense of danger to the book.
In some ways, Snyder and Jock’s take on “Detective Comics” is the closest to the look and feel of the “Batman” films directed by Christopher Nolan. Gotham City is a dangerous place to live, and Batman here continues to use any and all assets at his disposal to try and fight them. It’s still recognizably set firmly in the DC Universe, though. Snyder cleverly picks places within Gotham that suit his story, from a building heavily damaged during the earthquake that ripped through the “Batman” titles in the late ’90s, to the dark alleys and rooftops of the city. Even Oracle’s new above-the-city headquarters from “Birds of Prey” fits this overall atmosphere, feeling isolated and sterile while still recognizably a location used elsewhere.
It’s that mining of “Batman” history that Snyder uses to his advantage when plotting “The Black Mirror,” using bits and pieces of character history as artifacts scattered throughout the story. The links to the past are unobtrusive, a nod to readers who know some of the past villains and moments that they’re connecting with, but at the same time don’t require a new reader to be at all familiar with them to still understand the story. It’s a well-crafted balancing act, never distracting from the nasty situation that Snyder’s placed Batman, and when the chapter hits its climax you can leave with even a momentary feeling that this is a moment that Batman’s going to not get out of very easily.
Not hurting matters is having Jock draw the main story. His art has continued to grow and refine itself by leaps and bounds over the years, and his work here is easily my favorite to date. I love the angular, harsh look that Jock gives so many of the characters in “Detective Comics,” a grim outlook for a grim setting. There’s a lot of energy in his figures; Batman diving out of Oracle’s new location might make you feel like the wind is whistling past you, and the scenes in the auction house are creepy and slightly claustrophobic. The auction house scenes in particular are noteworthy for not only the spread of characters, but also the building itself, feeling grand and decayed all at once. David Baron does his part too; how else can you end up with a sky the color of industrial sludge that instantly feels real?
My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that the new chapter of the second feature doesn’t have quite the same punch as the first. Labeled as part 2 of 3, it’s clearly a bridge towards the conclusion, and it gets a lot of important information out of the way. But with that (admittedly needed) exposition taking up most of the chapter, it’s a moment that will read much better in a collected form instead of as a stand-alone chapter. I was originally disappointed to hear that the second features were going away, but with the Francesco Francavilla illustrated chapters now shifting to their own full issue every few months, I now think that’s the best thing possible. Snyder gets to write full stories within the issue for Francavilla (whose art is beautiful) to draw, we don’t have to worry about chapters feeling slightly shorter than expected, and Jock gets a month off every now and then so he can keep up the good work as well.
With the departure of the Batwoman feature from “Detective Comics” I was fully prepared to write the title off for 2010. Thanks to Snyder, Jock, and Francavilla, the book’s returned to a place of glory. From start to finish, this is an excellent comic, and so long as they’re around, I’ll cheerfully keep reading.