Brad Barnes reviews BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR tpb!


Scott Snyder, writer
Jock and Francesco Francavilla, artists
304 pages
Reviewed by Brad Barnes
Originally published as single issues in Detective Comics 871-881
THE BLACK MIRROR was published while Bruce Wayne had gone missing in the DC Universe and Dick Grayson was substituting as Batman in Gotham City.  Scott Snyder (AMERICAN VAMPIRE, SWAMP THING) has found a new wrinkle to some of the most venerable characters in the DCU.  Batman and Commissioner Gordon (both created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger) debuted in 1939, Robin and The Joker (both created by Jerry Robinson) in 1940, Barbara Gordon (created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino) in 1967, Detective Harvey Bullock (created by Archie Goodwin) in 1973: not a spring chicken in the bunch!  Snyder not only captures their distinguished history, he also puts them through their paces in a particularly gruesome way.
James Gordon Jr. has been flitting about the DCU for the last 40 years, as a Manchurian spy in a few Batgirl stories in BATMAN FAMILY, kidnapped as a child by The Joker in BATMAN: YEAR ONE (by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli), as an abused son during Commissioner Gordon’s crumbling marriage in NIGHT CRIES (by Archie Goodwin and Scott Hampton), but he has not been fully-defined until now.  Snyder rectifies this oversight with a vengeance!
A child of divorce, traumatized by his encounter with The Joker, resenting his father, knowing from the outset that Batman is Bruce Wayne, growing up with Dick Grayson, seeing that his step sister become Batgirl: all of this has twisted James Jr. into a black mirror of his cop dad.  A player on the other side, deliberate in his methods, leaving no fingerprints.
This is not the snarling, scarred, colorful villainy which has populated Batman’s rogues gallery from the start: James Jr. appears with the quiet menace of a R’as Al Ghul and even takes a job at Leslie Thompkin’s medical clinic.  Why does this make us nervous?
James Jr. tells his father that he’s on medication, that he’s all better now, that he’s no longer a threat.  Why don’t we believe him?
Even as Dick Grayson battles against the clear dangers of The Dealer, who has obtained Man-Bat’s formula for himself, or against Tiger Shark; who manages to get a few bites in; Snyder keeps pulling back the curtain on James Jr. as well, and every glimpse we get of him is terrible, indeed.  This is the color and the shape of an arch enemy for Dick Grayson, and who knew that he was in need of one?  Scott Snyder did!  He knows what scares you.
Francesco Francavilla (ZORRO) does the art for most of the James Jr. storyline, and his innovative panel arrangements supply the menace while his benign facial depictions keep us in a state of uncertainty.  Francavilla makes us see why it is impossible for Commissioner Gordon to pull the trigger on his evil son: James Jr. is not giving his dad enough reason or any evidence to act upon.
You can trust me, dad.  I’m harmless, dad.  You don’t have to worry about me, dad.
Bwah-hah-hah!  Do you really believe that, dad?  Are you actually that stupid, old man?
Then, Snyder pulls out the obvious card: The Joker.  The Joker is always good for a few rude shocks, and he does not disappoint.  The Joker is a brilliant adversary and capturing him is properly difficult.  The high-contrast art by Jock (THE LOSERS, GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE) is jagged, brutal and persuasive.  But Snyder has another card up his sleeve, a threat greater than The Joker.  How is that possible?  Snyder has not spent all of this time with James Jr. to surrender the final act to some pasty-faced, scarlet-lipped, green-haired clown.  The Joker might be bigger box office, but this show belongs to James Jr.!
The definitive Joker story is THE KILLING JOKE (by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland), which was almost 25 years ago.  What if, let’s say, Commissioner Gordon had thrown James Jr. into Arkham Asylum for a few nights to teach him a lesson, and he wound up in a cell next to The Joker?  What if James Jr. told The Joker about Barbara, his dad, and the best way to humiliate the both of them?  Suddenly, the greatest unmotivated crime in the history of the DCU is given a solid reason.  Scott Snyder is a very clever boy, yes, he is!
Barbara has never been more “Batgirl” than she is, here, never more stellar than when she crawls on her belly; in her own blood; to defend her life against this step-brother from hell.  You want horror?  Here it is.  You want suspense delivered by a true master?  Here you go.
Snyder is not afraid to offer answers to big story lines like this one, an admirable quality only masters of the game understand!
Who knew that the best Batman story of the last decade would star Dick Grayson?  Scott Snyder knew!  He wrote it.  You should read it.  That settles it!

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1 Comment to “Brad Barnes reviews BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR tpb!”

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  1. Matt says:

    Did I miss something? Joker in YEAR ONE?

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