Despite the recent deluge of "Zero Year" tie-in announcements, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo keep "Batman" #23 dialed in tightly on Bruce Wayne, his ongoing quest for what is right and continued confrontation with the Red Hood gang. Alongside Bruce, readers experience the deepening paternal bond from Alfred Pennyworth. Snyder treats the readers as impartial observers, revealing formative moments of the Riddler in the continued schemes of Edward Nygma and Bruce's uncle, Philip Kane.
I can see where some might perceive "Batman" #23 as being very wordy, but this stage of Batman's origin needs the text as decisions are made and bonds are forged between the future Batman, his allies and his future foes. In some spots, word balloons do expand to fill available space like weeds in a garden, but those balloons are filled with critical dialog. To even that out, Snyder steps over to the side more than not, allowing his artistic collaborator to drive the narrative just as much. There are seven pages in this issue that let Capullo tell the story through his drawings, completely unimpeded by word balloon or caption box.
Capullo's detailed animation-influenced figures move through the panels and pages as though they were rooms and buildings. It's not hard to imagine the characters sharing a chuckle "off-camera," like actors in the wings of a stage during a stellar performance. Capullo isn't beholden to figures to tell his portion of the story, though. Equally adept at letting shadows (enhanced through the inks of Danny Miki) convey emotion and scope, Capullo uses inanimate objects like locks and windows to cast the mood of the story. Garish retro-flavored, bright colors from FCO Plascencia contrast nicely against the rich shadows that weigh down the pages.
James Tynion IV joins Scott Snyder to regale readers with more of Bruce's training in the backup tale titled "The Pit." Artist Rafael Albuquerque and colorist Dave McCaig deliver ethereal images that are as gritty as the battle they depict. Not unlike their work in "American Vampire," the artists mesh nicely to provide visuals that are beautifully blended. The story itself illustrates the resolve of Bruce when faced with challenges both physical and mental.
Snyder's deliberate thoroughness in constructing the decisions Bruce Wayne makes on the road to becoming Batman (combined with the upcoming mountain of tie-ins) basically ensures that every moment of Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman life is about to be keenly detailed. While enjoyable, "Batman" #23 is akin to the first act of "Batman Begins" -- both stories are action-oriented slivers of the tale, but finely detailed and absolutely critical to the development of the character to come. The anticipation of that character, however, makes it all seem expository since the spotlight is entirely on Bruce. Readers know Bruce Wayne will be Batman and wait for that "first" appearance, but there is still a lot of solid story right here before Bruce even thinks about donning a cowl. Kudos to Snyder and Capullo for making this story interesting and exciting, but also for laying groundwork for what will, inevitably, be a masterful collected tale resplendent in all acts of the ascension of Batman.