The popularity of DC’s Dark Knight has never been higher in recent years. Between Ben Affleck’s performance in Batman v Superman (one of the bright spots of that film) and Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise. This volume of Batman in DC’s New 52 lineup ranks among the best Batman runs ever. Here’s an arc-by-arc breakdown of what makes Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run so great.
The Court of Owls/Night of the Owls:
Batman’s always had a deep connection to Gotham City. This bond is what drives The Court of Owls storyline. Bruce Wayne returns to the cowl after Dick Grayson’s turn in Grant Morrison’s long, winding run (which ran in tandem with the New 52 core series, events in Morrison’s run bleed into Snyder’s run). Way back when Bruce was a kid, the Court of Owls were an urban legend/secret organization that controlled Gotham for centuries.
Dismissing them as a myth, Batman quickly realizes that he may not know his city as well as he does. Issue #5 is a massive standout. Batman, deep in the heart of the Court of Owls’ hideout, is pushed to his limits and the rest of the issue flips the story sideways and upside-down. I was stunned as I was turning the book like a steering wheel.
The best thing about this story and this run as whole is how accessible it is. It doesn’t need you to know everything about the lore for you to enjoy it. The Night of the Owls arc also brings the rest of the Bat-family including Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, Batwing, Red Hood and Catwoman, each tie-in title enriches the story by showing different perspectives at different times during one long night in Gotham. An explosive start to the series.
Death of the Family
The Court of Owls story felt like a summer action blockbuster. The Death of the Family arc is a straight-up psychological thriller. It features the Joker returning after a year-long absence and he’s not taking any prisoners. The Joker made his presence known to Gotham which prompts the Dark Knight to stop his longtime foe. Instead of going after Batman, Joker decides to go after everyone in Batman’s orbit, especially the Bat-family. The title is a nod to another Batman story “A Death in the Family” where Joker kills then-Robin, Jason Todd (now known as the Red Hood). Greg Capullo makes the Joker look every bit as terrifying as the character himself. Joker’s stapled-face with his iconic smile gave me goosebumps. I had no clue what he was gonna do next, the tension is non-stop. It will have thinking how Batman and company will get through this nightmare. This story will grab you by the balls.
When I heard about Zero Year, there was a lot of trepidation and concern because Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman Year One is the definitive origin story. Scott and Greg effectively buried all the fans’ fears with Zero Year, a retelling of Batman’s origin in the New 52 and a love letter of all things Batman. Bruce Wayne in this arc isn’t the cool, calm billionaire genius that’s familiar to fans. This is a Bruce that’s brazen, bullheaded and angry. Batman Year One is a major influence but Zero Year does divert from being a carbon copy. It is, in many ways, the anti-Year One. Snyder made it a point to stretch his origin across the eleven issues. It’s a decompressed arc as opposed to Year One’s four issues. Miller and Mazzucchelli drench the hero in shadows and it grounded the character in realism to an extent. Greg Capullo does the opposite as he bathes the art in yellows, pinks and warm colors. It gives the book a distinct look. Gotham during this story is a constant vegetative state. It echoes The Last of Us of how vegetative Gotham City looks.
Snyder’s love of Batman is all over Zero Year. It features plenty of nods to Batman’s debut appearance (seen above), The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, too. Plus, each part of this story features short back-up stories that follows Bruce between the ages of 19-24 as he travelled the world honing his mind and body prior to his return to Gotham. Zero Year succeeds on giving readers a different Bruce Wayne. It doesn’t try to replace Year One, so whatever concerns you may have toward this will wash away once you read it. It’s a new beginning that embraces the past but it paves the way to the future and it’s also serves as a greatest hits. Terrific story.
(52 weekly issues later….)
If Death of the Family was the set-up. Endgame is the punchline. The first issue of this arc has Batman take on the entire Justice League in a Tower of Babel-style showdown, it was all window dressing to set the stage for the Joker’s return! It’s billed as the ultimate showdown between Batman and his greatest enemy. Joker unleashes a deadly virus that will bring Gotham to it’s knees. This arc is deeply connected to Death of the Family and Zero Year which featured a possible origin for Joker. If those stories were acts 1 and 2. Everyone remembers the third act the most and this confrontation will change both Batman and Joker forever. It’s a thrilling cap to Snyder’s Joker story.
The events of Endgame left Gotham without a Batman to protect it. So the GCPD had to fill the void. Commissioner Gordon has been recruited to fill Bruce Wayne’s shoes to protect Gotham. We also see Bruce resurface in Gotham, but this is a different man, he’s…happy. Even with Bruce on the sidelines, this arc proves that it can move forward. Gordon earns his stripes as the new Dark Knight, we see a Bruce Wayne that’s finally at peace, but I can guarantee that it’ll be short-lived.
While DC’s New 52 lineup wasn’t an overall success. Every series in that lineup had creative team shake-ups. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman became the one, good constant of the New 52. It’s simply the best.