Last month, BATMAN
writer Scott Snyder showed us a heartbreaking moment in little Bruce Wayne’s life we’d never seen, when the small, shattered boy who’d lost his whole world convinced himself he’d found the reason behind his life-defining tragedy in a spooky old nursery rhyme. But when he followed the trail to an abandoned mansion, he discovered only silence and dust. After accidentally locking himself in an attic for over a week, he slipped into a coma and would certainly have died if not for Alfred Pennyworth’s determination in finding the child who was lost in more ways than one.
It was sad enough seeing that happen to Bruce as a little boy.
Now imagine seeing the same thing happen to a fully formed, full equipped Batman.
But this time, there’s no one to save him.
That’s the story for BATMAN #5, which finds Batman not only lost in the Court of Owls’ maze but also lost in his own mind (which may very well be the same thing, thanks to the drugs they’ve obviously pumped into him). It’s been eight days since he disappeared, with Snyder and artist Greg Capullo picking all the right moments to show in just a handful of panels how his closest friends and loved ones miss him and fear for his safety. Let’s face it -- they’ve all seen him disappear before. But this time, it’s different. This time, they all know there’s something evil and ancient afoot, and this time they know that maybe, just maybe, Bruce is in over his head, and that his belief in what he’s always perceived Gotham to be could be the very thing that kills him.
And if they think that, they’re not far off the mark.
There’s a killer split panel on page 4 where Batman’s right eye is a razor-sharp white-lensed triangle but his exposed left eye is a buggy, bloodshot mess of insanity. Despite this image, his inner monologue tricks us into thinking he knows how to evade his captors -- until the bright lights illuminate just how berserk with terror he really is. And even though he’s clearly been drugged, the seed of true fear has been planted. Maybe Gotham doesn’t belong to the Bat after all. Maybe it’s belonged to the Owls all along, and maybe Batman’s crusade is smaller and more meaningless than Bruce could ever dare to understand or admit.
The imagery here is striking. The exposed left eye, the stubbly face, and the badly scuffed and torn costume are on full display under the garish white lights that rip the darkness from his arsenal. His utility belt is gone but his mask remains, leading to the bigger epiphany that maybe they didn’t unmask him because he’s so insignificant to them that it doesn’t matter who he is anyway.
The geography of the layouts pulls us deeper into Bruce’s madness, first tipping us on our sides until we’re literally as upside down as he is. The visions are physically and emotionally visceral, culminating in an evisceration that’s probably not literal but wouldn’t be any more terrifying it if were.
Inks by Jonathan Glapion and colors by FCO jerk us back and forth between darkness and light, keeping us as off our guard as Bruce is. Snyder’s been doing a lot of Tweeting about how this issue is his team’s best so far, and the confident capability they all display here makes his words absolutely undeniable.
This is truly next-level stuff, jaw-dropping in its originality and terrifying in its brutality. Just as with Snyder’s DETECTIVE run, leave the lights on as you read it … and maybe you’ll foolishly think you and your heroes are safe.
You’ll be wrong. - John Bierly