Scott Snyder had written a large number of stunning scripts before he was given Batman, some of them even containing a different Dark Knight in the case of that Detective Comics run, but his name was mostly made within the confines of a single genre of comic: horror. Severed, American Vampire and Swamp Thing to name a few are all books known for the creepy, creative ways in which the characters spill blood and yet the brilliant first year of his run on this biggest of books was almost free of the stuff, dark but not disturbing. Issue Thirteen changes this almost instantly, kicking off the second year with one of the scariest – in terms of both suspense and squeems – Batman books ever written. The only reason that I say ‘one of’ is because I know that he has sent of several more in this arc, this single run is sure to make up most of the top ten.
You know that this issue is part of a big event from the first time that you set eyes on it, the default cover is a die-cut. As a new collector this didn’t mean much to me but I’ve been assured that it’s a big deal, more important though is the fact that it both looks awesome and has something important to say about the story contained within. Not only does it sell well the old idea of the comic’s two central characters’ sharing a destiny – duality – but it brings to literal life the strange story of the villain’s lost face; a pop-up ‘previously on’.
To read into it a little further it also suggests that this coming arc is going to put the Joker ahead of Bats ( a sign of the inverted world that Snyder apocalyptically depicts in the intro), that he will be the focus, that this is the Joker’s arc. It would be easy to roll your eyes at the idea of this being important given the prevalence of the character throughout continuity, but unlike a lot of young writers Snyder has restrained himself thus far; telling stories with new rogues rather than the big name villains. So when he brings out the galleries gruesome Mona Lisa it must be for a good reason.
Unfortunately I’ve got no idea what that reason is at this stage – Snyder is a long form storyteller and thus it could be forever until we find out – but that’s not to say that this single issue is in any way unsatisfying. #13 is the chilling cold open of the film, the first victim whose demise comes before the credits, it is there to set the tone and god what a tone. The issue begins with a bloody and blood-chilling action sequence that Capullo cleverly constructs out of mostly black panels; making good use out of the notion that what we can imagine is so much scarier than what we can see. This alone is a satisfying read, I was ready to put the book down and the news on to help settle my nerves but then I saw that I was only four pages in.
From there the book continues to barrel into the dark depths of the story with a number of brilliant confrontations, each one bringing Batman closer and closer to the character of the Joker: he starts off completely covered by shadow – with only a hand and foot shown in panel – then we see him in silhouette, his features given some definition, after some freaky clown frowns we see the infamous Red Hood in action but only after all this do we see the face in question ( provided that we don’t count the cover).
The masters of cinema all say that you should save the close-up for the film’s biggest emotional moments, that only then should we see the whites of the actor’s eyes; this is a structure that Snyder sticks to, saving the reveal of the real Joker until the final splash. It’s said to catalyze the emotions, to increase the cathartic potential; personally though all I have to say about that final splash is some damn things you can’t unsee. One thing that you damn well should see though is this issue: Snyder and Capullo ( with the help of the always talented Jock and James Tynion in the seedy back up story) are creating a classic here, that much is clear. Batman #13 is the beginning of the comic event of the year.