Batman #30 was a somewhat disjointed comic due to the time jump and amount of exposition fit into its opening pages. Whatever problems the start of “Savage City” may have suffered from are completely absent in Batman #31, though. From the very first page to the final panel, it is a comic that knows exactly what it wants to accomplish and does so very quickly.
Gotham City has been transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland over the course of 27 days, and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo make the most of its unique landscape. They focus on elements of survival with an eye toward operatic scale. The result is a thrilling adventure tale that places familiar characters in brand new scenarios. Batman #31 is a perfectly paced comic. It understands what it wants to accomplish and how much time each plot point and character beat requires. Snyder provides just enough time to explain Batman’s plan before moving ahead with the action. Batman #31 starts like a steam-powered motorcycle leaping into a coliseum and doesn’t slow down
Although the general tone of the New 52 is overly serious, this situation creates moments for play and fun. For the second issue in a row, Batman prominently features a death trap. In fact, it features a death trap with three levels. It’s a joy to see Batman confront each new threat the Riddler throws his way and conquer them through three widely different methods. The result is a comic that may be closer in tone to Batman ‘66 than a more modern story like “Hush”. It’s also a lot more fun to read.
It seems Capullo is trying to top himself every issue by creating ever more exhilarating visuals. In Batman #30, Gordon and Batman are forced to escape a series of collapsing towers that roll towards them like dominoes. That sequence is incredibly compelling, but is topped by the two threats that confront Batman in the Riddler’s pit. Capullo effectively frames his panels to capture the momentum of these sequences, pointing the reader’s eye up at Batman during moments of surprise, but placing him on eye level during the climax allowing the reader to experience the moment from Batman’s perspective. Capullo is also deftly aware of how much detail to include. He allows one panel to exist with only Batman and his foe locked in battle, because the feat of combat is so astonishing, that a well detailed background would only attempt (and fail) to distract from the focus. The only moment in which the story pushes far enough to break suspension of disbelief is when Gordon leaps from a tower to land in a flooded subway entrance. Readers may accept that a man can fight two lions and win, but this one panel seems beyond belief.
FCO Plascencia’s colors help elevate this issue as well. The diverse variety of colors help to provide clear visual indicators of where characters are and who they are. Lucius Fox is defined by earthen tones that convey him as a thoughtful and kind man, while the Riddler’s bright pastel colors denote his manic nature. Deep blues and purples illuminate the interior of the tower Gordon infiltrates, while much brighter hues are exposed by the light of day. Plascencia communicates place and character so well in his palette that its effect will not be overtly noticed by many readers.
The story set in Bruce’s past remains a mystery that will likely not be revealed until the finale of “Savage City”, just like the two previous arcs in “Zero Year”. However, it’s thematic connection with the story at hand is already becoming clear: it has to do with answering difficult questions. Bruce is currently attempting to solve various riddles in Gotham City, the most obvious being the location of The Riddler. In the past, he is confronted with a question that is painful to answer. It causes him to lash out at the world around him, rather than seeking to understand it. This goes back to the questions Bruce faces in the present. The largest question before him is not “Where is the Riddler?”, but “Who is Batman?”. All of “Zero Year” has been about Bruce attempting to define his new place in the world, and he has not figured it out as of yet. So far, he has failed Gotham and left it a wasteland ruled by his newest villain. The key to ending Riddler’s Zero Year is to discover answers, no matter how painful. Unlike many of the mystery boxes used in Hollywood blockbusters, this story is already showing how it connects to the ideas behind this story. Its connection to “Savage City” is not incidental and is already paying off upon second and third readings of the issue.
At its heart, Batman #31 is an adventure story. It features death traps, vicious wildlife, a power mad dictator, and feats of derring do. It is bright, fun, and absolutely thrilling. This is Batman at his absolute best.