With "Zero Year" having wound down last month, it's time for "Batman" to return to the present day. It's also time to give Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo a bit of a break, so this month Snyder is joined by co-plotter and writer Gerry Duggan and artist Matteo Scalera for a story that takes the idea of the typical serial killer and turns it quietly on its head.
So often, stories with killers in comics are big, over-the-top, and splashy. The world of "Batman" is full of them; even the nastier ones like Mr. Zsasz still have a gimmick, some sort of calling card that they use to announce their presence and make a mark. And that, in some ways, is what Duggan and Snyder seem to be reacting against. Duggan's upcoming "Arkham Manor" series has promised to be a creepier, scary comic and based on "Batman" #34, I can see the genesis of that idea.
"Batman" #34 at its core is a fairly simple concept; even as the events of "Batman Eternal" continue to ripple throughout the city, Batman takes some time away for them to try and solve the identity of a new serial killer. The end result is a mixture of detective work, clever technology, and flipping the tables on the bad guy. The story itself is fine, and Duggan serves up the beats that he and Snyder came up with in a solid paced manner.
What pushes "Batman" #34 up to an above-average ranking, though, is the execution of these ideas. Duggan and Scalera have given us a dank, dirty Gotham where the anonymous is just as dangerous as the costumed killer. Forget the guy who makes you think that your greatest fears have come to life; what about the person who will kill you in the darkness and dump your body in Potter's Field? And in our modern world, where everyone's fighting for their 15 seconds of fame with a series of ever-increasing talking heads and deafening volume, there's something incredibly uneasy about the killer who revels in leaving no trace behind, who wants nothing more than to kill and then quietly slide into the shadows. Batman's solution on what to do with him is simultaneously brilliant and ruthless, and it nails that final moment of the comic.
I do think that part of the success of "Batman" #34 has to go to Scalera, whose art style isn't quite like anything else in the Bat-family at the moment. His stepping in this month is a great choice, one that mirrors the story that Duggan and Snyder came up with. Scalera plays a lot with shadow in this comic, even in moments of broad daylight. When the killer is working at Potter's Field on pages 4-5, look at how little we actually see of him. At time he and his surroundings are almost nothing more than silhouettes; the tree at the top of page 4 mirroring the dark, almost invisible form of the killer standing among all the graves. With his hat tucked down and dressed in shapeless clothes, he blends so perfectly into the background that Scalera's visuals nail the hidden nature of this incredibly creepy man.
The staging of the comic is also good, too. Scalera likes to flip the perspective around a lot on these pages, letting us see from one angle and then the other. When the killer is spying on Dr. Thompkins, for example, first we're watching over the killer's shoulder as he peers at her through the venetian blinds; then in the next panel we're inside looking out, getting to see his face. It not only establishes the setup, but the one-two punch of the reveal is stronger than if we'd just started with his face.
"Batman" #34 makes me hopeful for "Arkham Manor" later this year; Duggan's got some good ideas, and I like this way for him to get introduced to the "Batman" family of readers. Regardless of the new series, though, this issue works well. It's a nice way to give Snyder and Capullo a bit of a break, and I don't think readers will be disappointed with this guest creative team.