Personally, I’m happy to see Dick Grayson continue to fight crime under the guise of Batman, and this issue makes him quite batty, both figuratively and literally. The previous issue put Grayson in quite the predicament with hordes of twisted Gothamites bearing down on him in the fury to possess a piece of Gotham. During it all, a gas is released that dulls Grayson’s ability to deal with his situation, which is where this issue opens.
The psychodrama in this issue is triggered by that gas, and it allows writer Scott Snyder to reach back through the annals of Gotham’s history to dredge up Dr. Death and Scarecrow, in much the same way Etienne Guibourg – the Dealer – specializes in the auctioning of artifacts from Gotham’s greatest loons.
Serving as the first of presumed many, the Dealer is a fabulous counter to Dick Grayson’s Batman, as the Dealer takes Batman’s foes, synthesizes them and increases their menace in the embodiment of one foe crafted specifically to vex Richard Grayson. The Dealer takes everything that has come before and makes it his own, forcing Grayson to face a new darkness that is reflective of the greater evil in society today.
The Dealer’s obsession becomes downright creepy as he uses his focus on Batman to present the opposite sides of the same coin cliche. The cliche is not in the writing, but in the villain’s character, as he tries to convince Batman they need one another to survive. Snyder doesn’t default to prescriptive formulas, and quickly pulls the Dealer past this point, making him every bit the shadowy underbelly of Gotham to reflect Grayson’s once-bright optimism. The metaphor is molested by the fact that Grayson isn’t Batman in the true sense. At least not yet. This face-off wouldn’t have had the same twisted madness to it – nor would the Dealer have come across as being quite as loony – had Grayson been in his Nightwing outfit or Bruce Wayne been under the cowl.
Snyder has made this three-part arc a story about discovery. Grayson is discovering aspects of Gotham that he cannot undiscover. In doing so, he is also discovering that the evil within Gotham is a reflection of what is brought to face it, not unlike the Force tree in “Empire Strikes Back.” Snyder puts a nice twist on the concept, and has fun with the many foes of Batman without putting all of the psychos on parade.
Jock’s art is stunning, moody, and perfect for the darker side of Gotham. Jock’s shadowy work brings suspense to the page that is uncommon on the racks today, and that suspense is welcome in a book that should feature the feats of mind as well as body from Batman. Jock’s work may not be filled with insane amounts of detail, choosing to promote the shadows, but I would not have a Batman book any other way. This is not a bright, happy story, and Jock helps make sure of that. Baron’s colors help Jock’s work to pop off the page. Without Baron’s colors, the story would be considerably darker, the moodiness of the issue less intense. Baron doesn’t hold back, using strong reds and greens, yellows and oranges to remind us that this is, indeed, a comic, but when paired with Jock’s drawings, those colors gain new life.
This three-issue tale gave me reason to reflect back to my most tangible childhood recollection of “Detective Comics,” over 400 issues prior to this one, with Batman and Dr. Phosphorus socking it out on some girders above a vat of molten liquid on a classic Jim Aparo cover. This issue, to me, is as tight a direct descendant from that book as there could possibly be. I’m not saying Snyder is the equal to Steve Englehart, nor am I saying Jock is the next Jim Aparo or Walt Simonson, but those three predecessors can be darn proud of the work their present-day counterparts are producing. Snyder, Jock, Baron, and Fletcher are doing a great job making this title a must-read for me.