Comics are a great place to experiment. In the latest issue of "Batman," Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo prove this, bringing readers something like nothing else you've seen. Batman is locked in a labyrinth of the creation of the Court of Owls and, as he struggles through, the pages literally twist around and turn over. This is not a gimmick -- these pages reflect the narrative, making this harrowing read something even more uncomfortable and troubling.
A week has passed since the end of last issue, and Batman has been hiding in the dark the whole time. Surviving on only handfuls of water and grim determination, Bruce is clearly losing his mind as the Court of Owls seem to have trapped and then forgotten about him. The story plays out like a locked room mystery, the tension ramping up as Bruce's thoughts take on a strange tone as danger presents itself in everything around him. Watching the master detective slowly run out of answers becomes a sad and disgusting theater of the macabre. We begin to feel like voyeurs, questioning our complicity in this dance of death.
The biggest hook of this issue is the way Snyder and Capullo turn the pages sideways and then upside-down. This is a clear, visual representation of Bruce's state of mind and the trick works perfectly. Craning your neck a little, becoming just a touch uncomfortable in your consumption of this brutal tale, is a physical manifestation of how you feel on the inside as you read about Batman's predicament. Once Bruce's world and mind is turned upside-down, the book follows suit. The topsy-turvy din of breathless anticipation for the worst culminates in a crescendo of a single note, the silence and stillness of which holds a strange gravity that will stop you turning the page. This moment hangs in perfect balance because of the build and the break. Don't concern yourself with what comes next -- just enjoy this moment because it's why we read comics.
Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion and FCO bring their best game, playing perfectly off of Snyder's script. The first page in the labyrinth has a tone and rhythm to it reminiscent of "Batman: The Animated Series," and from there, we start to feel discontent like we haven't experienced since "Batman: The Cult." The art team creates some stellar moments, like Batman looking into a mirror only to see a haunting, partial reflection, or walking over a model Gotham, his cape flowing with the sort of amazing physics which can only exist in comics. As his cape shreds and his face contorts, Batman's one eye tells you everything you need to know but don't want to hear as the issue drags you down. If pressed, the only weak point of the issue is in the framing sequence, which doesn't carry anywhere near as much weight as the underground deluge, but it's not enough of an issue to detract from the overall reading experience.
"Batman" #5 is the best issue of the series to date. It is also Scott Snyder's best script ever, on many levels, and Capullo/Glapion surpass their exemplary work on the previous four issues. Batman is a crazed lunatic, Gotham is not a nice place to live and we all have to face our fears before we die. These are the truths of Batman, and Snyder and Capullo deliver them in a manner you will never ever forget. This short tale of a captured crusader slowly descending into the madness that should have consumed him years ago is a ferocious tale that disturbs with what it chooses not to do. This foray into the different is a bold experiment in telling a story in a way no other medium could manage, and everyone involved should be complemented on the bravado to try it and the skill to pull it off damn-near perfectly.