Batman #51. Scott Snyder- Writer, Greg Capullo- Pencils, Danny Miki- Inks, FCO Plascencia- Colors.
Ask yourself, “If you could only tell one Batman story, what would it be?”
One-and-done stories are a rarity these days. Often, instead of trying to tell a traditional hero vs villain in 22 pages the creative team tries to say something timeless about the character, almost as if it’s the only chance to say anything about the character. Not so much a one-and-done story, but a one-shot at the character approach! Certainly, this is not Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s only shot at a Batman story. In fact, it caps a 50+ issue run over the last 4 ½ years. However, “Gotham Is,” the title of the story in Batman #51 features many elements of a timeless Batman story that gets at the heart of the character. It also touches bits and pieces of that run that set it firmly as the capstone the the modern definitive take on Batman.
These timeless stories often transition creative shifts. This is true in the case of Batman #51 as well. Not surprisingly, this issue harkens back to another Bat-tale that transitioned creative direction- Pre-Crisis to Post-Crisis. Way back in Detective Comics # 567 cover dated October 1986, Harlan Ellison the renowned Science Fiction author, penned a very similar story- “A Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!” Drawn by the inimitable Gene Colan, the story featured Batman on a night of patrolling and seeing no action. It was a night that Gotham didn’t need him. Gotham was at its best. Batman #51 tells another story of Gotham on its best behavior.
There’s a bit of misdirection in this story as the narration is somewhat distant and elusive for the first half of the issue. But, from page one it does set up that this issue is about Batman and his relationship to Gotham City. As Bruce prepares to go out on patrol, he and Alfred indirectly address the nature of Batman in a conversation centering on the restoration of Alfred’s severed hand. It’s fairly telling as in deals with Batman’s honesty. Not in an overt way, but in a back handed way. Does Batman lie? Sometimes, Alfred hates Batman.
He’s not out long before there is a rumble and the entire city goes dark. The electricity has gone out all over Gotham. Alfred begins looking into it and Batman heads for Police Headquarters as Gordon already has the Bat-signal shining in the sky (running on generators of course!). This scene could be any interaction between the two, but this particular meeting allows Gordon relate to Batman personally as he reminisces briefly on his time as the armored Dark Knight and at the same time brainstorm with Batman on all the possible reasons behind the power outage. Neither he nor Batman nor Alfred believe it is anything innocuous, not in Gotham.
They realize this could be the first step in major attack on Gotham, and by pulling the plug on the power, all of Arkham’s inmates could get free. It’s Batman’s first stop. Upon arrival, Batman sees that the new security protocols have worked. Batman is not needed at Arkham Asylum tonight. Next up, Alfred figures out that whatever caused the outage came from underground. With a little disguise, Batman joins some Owls on a fact finding mission- Is this the beginning of the Mantling? Whatever the Mantling is, this isn’t it and the Owls are turned away. Batman’s not needed here either. Next, it’s the Iceberg Lounge as Penguin and Black Mask are conniving something. Black Mask is ready to strike, but the Penguin dissuades him. Again, Batman is not needed here tonight.
Alfred continues to place the epicenter of the event and coincidentally, Batman happens to be almost on top of it. He sees a shadow in a corner of a room and he’s sure he’s found it. Much to his surprise, it’s a journalist working on his column for the Gotham Gazette. The column- “Gotham Is…” features readers reactions to that prompt. And the journalist tells the story about how the responses have changed over the past 5 years. The used to be dark and seemingly hopeless. And in the past few years, they changed. They’ve gotten lighter, happier and hopeful. And at this point, it’s clear that the narration is the column that the journalist has been writing. Batman’s not needed here either.
And shortly, as Batman leaves the journalist to finish Alfred finally cracks it. The event was the result of a natural occurrence. Ever vigilant, Batman finds a rooftop location to watch over the city just in case. Batman’s not needed tonight either. Sometimes, Gotham can take care of itself.
This issue hits a lot of notes. It takes it’s cues from Snyder and Capullo’s run by touching on some of the big moments- Alfred’s dismemberment, the Court of Owls and Gordon’s time in the Bat-suit. On a deeper level it succinctly lays out Batman’s relationship to his closest colleagues and to the city itself. Snyder does a wonderful job of distilling the relationships down to a few scenes.
This is quite a cerebral and introspective. If you are not ready for that kind of story, then you may be taken by surprise.
This is someone’s one chance at telling a Batman story. It is the best of both worlds- a goodbye to Gotham for this creative team and a satisfying examination of what is essential about Batman. It’s Batman and Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon and Alfred. It’s all the possibilities for danger. As the journalist indicates, the city is changing. Batman is making a difference. He’s changing what was into what can be. And in that change, sometimes the city itself can make a difference, and when it looks darkest, sometimes Batman is not needed. This could also be someone’s first Batman story, and in that Snyder and Capullo communicate what a new reader needs to know about Batman. And if you can, track down Detective Comics #567 while you’re at it.