Batman #20

"Batman" #20 features the last installment of Scott Snyder's and Greg Capullo's present-day Batman adventures before this title delves into "Year Zero" next month. As such, it addresses Bruce Wayne's current state of mind, his relationship with Jim Gordon and even provides deeper explanation and example of Clayface's newly enhanced abilities.

If Capullo's strongly detailed, animated style is well-suited to anything, it is perfect for huge, exaggerated, grotesque characters. The artist honed this skill while drawing "Spawn," and it certainly has come in handy for the Batman stories he has co-created with Snyder. While I've been itching to see Capullo tackle Kirk Langstrom, Capullo gives readers the next best thing in the form of Basil Karlo -- Clayface. Clearly taking direction from the design originated on "Batman: the Animated Series," Capullo pushes the hulking muck monster imagery further by adding layers of oozy mud and sharklike rows of teeth in the behemoth's maw.

"Batman" #20 open in the hallowed halls of Wayne Enterprises' R&D lab, where you would expect Batman to find a failsafe, but Bruce Wayne simply fails at remaining safe. Snyder sets the perilous confrontation between Clayface and Bruce Wayne on a new level, leaving the reader to guess if Clayface truly got the best of Batman or if Batman let it happen, being a master planner and all. This naturally leads to an admission of guilt from Clayface, but not before connecting Wayne to his main product developer, Lucius Fox, which also leads to a wink and a nod for fans of "Batman Beyond."

Tynion and Maleev's backup story wraps up the two-parter of Superman and Batman fighting a will o' the wisp, but barely does anything more than that. The duo are as amicable as they've been in almost three decades, but Superman is little more than a convenient plot device here to show that even mystical creatures are no match for the mind of Batman. Maleev's art is solid and straightforward, nothing exceptionally ornate, but certainly enjoyable.

As "Batman" heads towards "Year Zero," this issue gives a nice chance to join Snyder and Capullo as they say farewell, not goodbye, to today's Batman. The second of a two-part story, "Batman" #20 reads like a breath of fresh air, albeit one tinged with loss and lament as Bruce Wayne still has a long way to go to recover from the cruel hand fate has dealt him recently. I'm looking forward to the next story, but I will certainly have no problems looking back to this one to remind myself just how fun the comic book matchup between Batman and Clayface can be.

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