With the "Zero Year" storyline just a couple of months away, it's nice that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are presenting the first half of a two-part story in "Batman" #19; as much as a big epic storyline is fun to read, getting something a little smaller-scale can also prove to be thoroughly satisfying as this issue proves.
The set-up for "Batman" #19 is crisp and easy to grasp, as a hostage-taker at the Gotham National Bank turns out to be none other than Bruce Wayne himself. Snyder and Capullo set up the situation quickly and with just the right amount of surprise and drama, before plunging us back six days in time to show us how it got to this particular point.
Snyder has found a good pace for this story; there's the initial surprise, and then the follow-up doesn't reveal how it all came together right off the bat either. Readers move along with Batman step-by-step, watching him piece it together as what seems like an unconnected event helps tie the entire story together. It's a strong progression and in some ways reminds me of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's work on the classic "Batman: The Animated Series" television show. This is the sort of story readers can jump into without having read any earlier issues and enjoy it a great deal, even as those who've been avid readers might get a little more out of it. That's an ideal story structure in my book.
Even though last month's issue was the official "Requiem" issue in regards to the death of Robin, I also think that Snyder handles the aftermath of that death much better in "Batman" #19. The weight of that moment seems to hang more heavily on Batman, and the cross-connection between Robin's death and this associate of Bruce's helps tie it all together in a satisfying (if downbeat) way. While it's present, it doesn't overly dwell on it either; it's a combination of a launching point and a bit of stage-setting for Batman's general frame of mind. Add in that it also provides an interesting early theory to the reader for what's going on at the Gotham National Bank, and I'd say it all comes together perfectly.
Capullo's art is good here. It's the little moments that ultimately struck me; the truck full of flowers with the Reaper standing over them, the quizzical look of Batman's assistant as he sniffs one of them, the worried look from Alfred as Batman walks away from him in the Batcave. That's not to take away from the big splashy moments, especially the one that closes out this issue, but I think Capullo's the sort of artist who is known for the latter but is getting increasingly better with the former.
The backup story this month by James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev is an odd one, if only because it tonally doesn't quite fit with the main feature. It's a good story, though; one that's dark and creepy and lets Batman and Superman poke around in the world of the supernatural, something we don't get that often. Maleev's a smart choice in getting someone to draw a story about a ghost light/will o' the wisp, because he's got a very moody art style that lends itself to dark and creepy spaces. Tynion runs with that idea well, too; starting small and then gradually building the suspense until the cliffhanger to close out the issue. It's a good use of small spaces, both within the story as well as the smaller page count.
"Batman" #19 is probably one of my favorite issues of this series to date; I like the smaller scale and the using of familiar faces while adding their own extra pieces of plot. I'm looking forward to the upcoming "Zero Year" (which eagle-eyed readers will catch a reference to here, meaning it's more than just a story title about when it takes place), but when it's over I'd love to see Snyder and Capullo turn out some more smaller stories like this one. They're good at the epics, but I think this is a reminder that they're good with a smaller scale, too.