This article was originally published at DC Infinite on August 13, 2014.
Batman #34 is a palate cleanser after the three part, twelve issue event “Zero Year.” Not only is it a single issue that stands by itself, but it features the guest creative team of Gerry Duggan (words), Matteo Scalera (pictures), and Lee Loughridge (colors). Scott Snyder is co-credited with the story, but Gerry Duggan receives full credit for the script. The result is not only a departure in form, but in tone. Duggan, Scalera, and Loughridge tell a Batman story that, while fitting into Snyder and Cappullo’s greater narrative, focuses on his role as a detective and battle against more mundane crimes.
Scalera is a big change from Capullo. Scalera excels at constructing horror and science fiction narratives with deep, moody shadows. He focuses on drawing out a horror aesthetic from Gotham City and succeeds admirably. The debilitated appearance of Gotham sets the tone for this issue’s dreadful events. While certainly atmospheric, his scenes are not exaggerated. The villain of this story is completely believable, even if the hero is not. Loughridge’s colors compliment his work well here, bringing out the dark and earthen tones associated with the rundown neighborhoods and haunts in this issue.
The dark, horror-influenced art from Scalera and Loughridge is a perfect fit for Duggan and Snyder’s story. The villain of this piece, The Meek, may not have the dramatic flair of The Joker or the power of Mr. Freeze, but he is every bit as scary because he’s not unique to the superhero genre. Although not a particularly interesting character, he is a serial killer with little flair or motivation, he is not meant to be. Duggan writes him to set a certain mood and to clarify what the Batman seeks to fight. I don’t think anyone will complain if The Meek never appears again, but without him the intense mood of Batman #34 would be impossible to create.
Although the comic reflects a change in tone and style, it does not recast the world in which it exists. Batman is still characterized the same way and his high-tech gadgets do not disappear in order to account for a more mundane antagonist. Instead, Duggan works to make his detective tale fit within the current serialized story. He also uses this opportunity to explore a new aspect of the New 52 Batman, focusing on how the distraction of big events have left much of Gotham vulnerable.
The comic works very well as a standalone Batman adventure, focusing on new aspects of both Batman and Gotham City, while staying true to the world Snyder and Capullo have constructed. Yet there’s one sequence that significantly detracts from the reading experience. Almost mid-way through the comic, there is a two-page splash of Batman swinging through Gotham. In it he narrates the new status quo established in Batman Eternal alongside panels showing the major characters from that series. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. The page serves only to advertise another Batman series and jerks readers out of the story. None of the information related plays any role in the story at hand. It’s a hamfisted attempt to inform readers about another story that vandalizes the story being told. If it were not for Scalera’s gorgeous spread of Batman and Gotham City, it might be best to ignore these two pages altogether.
Batman #34 serves as a great return to the current timeline. It not only presents a well told, self-contained story, but may introduce Batman readers to three great comics talents as well. Whenever the regular Batman team decides it is time to move on, editors would be wise to consider the fine work here when seeking a new creative team.