On paper, it's easy to look at "Batman" #12 and imagine where it would go wrong. After eleven months of Batman fighting the Court of Owls, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke take us on a side story re-introducing a character who appeared briefly in an earlier issue of "Batman" and give us her story. Instead of feeling out of place or too different to match the rest of this year of "Batman," though, what we get is a genuinely pleasing detour that gives a strong focus on a character who will presumably be important in the months ahead.
"Batman" #12 tells the story of Harper Row, a young woman who lives with her brother Cullen and works on Gotham's electrical grid. The issue opens in the same place that we saw her a few months ago; deep in the sewers of the city, where the power lines run. Snyder tells the majority of the story with Cloonan, the pair moving through Harper's (and to a lesser extent Cullen's) life, showing us someone who lives in a rundown and poor neighborhood of Gotham. As her life starts intersecting with both Batman and the Wayne Foundation, Snyder lets readers see just what makes her tick and pushes her forward.
It's a traditional method of entry for a new character and it works here, in no small part because Harper's personality is so strong. Harper Row is in the same school of characters like Sasha Bordeaux or Tim Drake, in that right from their first story they demand your attention but also don't take away from the main character of Batman. While she's strong, she also doesn't exist in a world without Batman; he's the main function for her to enter the story, and her interactions and her plans for the future make her a supporting character to keep an eye on. I feel like she's going to fit in just fine.
Cloonan draws the bulk of the issue and her art is great as always. While it's different than Capullo's, bringing her on for this issue is a smart move. "Batman" #12 is told from Harper's perspective rather than Batman's, giving us a deliberate rotation of viewpoint through this artistic shift. Cloonan's storytelling is excellent; the opening scene in the Row's apartment uses a lot of tight close-ups of Harper's and Cullen's faces and torsos, but at no point does it ever feel like talking heads. There's movement, there's emotion being conveyed and Cloonan knows when to pull back a bit and when to zoom in. I also appreciated that while Harper and Cullen clearly look like brother and sister, it's a matter of Cloonan taking the time to have this happen instead of an "everyone looks the same" problem. Even a moment as simple as Harper stealing desserts from the banquet is drawn well; the foods are distinct and different and the over-the-head view looks effortless rather than difficult to pull off.
Instead of there being a separate back-up story this month, it's integrated fully into the issue, with co-writer Tynion and artist Clarke jumping in alongside Snyder for the last seven pages. There's a distinct moment for that shift too, with Harper and Batman meeting again but this time having a direct interaction. In terms of writing, the transition is smooth (I wouldn't have guessed Tynion was present if it wasn't for the credits page). The art is noticeably different than Cloonan's, but at the same time Clarke's art is always a pleasure to see, with its hair-thin lines and carefully detailed appearance. He's not necessarily the artist I'd have chosen for the additional pages -- only because of the distinct artistic shift between Cloonan and Clarke -- but he's still so good that it ultimately works just fine.
"Batman" #12 is a strong wrap-up for the first year of the re-launched title. It's been one of the best "New 52" series for DC Comics, and it's nice to see that strength continuing from one month to the next. As much as I've liked Capullo on board "Batman" the previous 11 months, any time Snyder and Cloonan can work together again is just fine by me.