This is Scott Snyder’s first foray into the DCU. A pretty high-profile project, but it’s deserved. American Vampire is excellent. Like American Vampire‘s first arc, there are two, interconnecting stories here. Unlike American Vampire, Snyder is writing both of them, and instead of Rafael Albuquerque’s one-man-band routine, Snyder is joined by Jock and Francesco Francavilla.
The first story is “The Black Mirror” drawn by Jock. Snyder’s said in interviews that his idea is that Gotham is a funhouse mirror, reflecting nightmarish images of whoever’s wearing the cape and cowl. This is an idea Grant Morrison played with in Batman and Robin, with Dick’s first foes being the “Circus of Strange”. It’s refreshing to see that, while some writers may resist having “Batman Incorporated” stamped on the cover of their book, Snyder actually embraces and builds on Morrison’s ideas. The result is very successful, even in this opening issue.
Snyder’s made this definitively a Dick Grayson Batman book. Nearly ever page has a thematic reference to Dick, be it in the dialogue or in Jock’s visuals. You’ll find plenty more of the circus, police, and even literal birds within these pages. Snyder has a firm grip on Dick’s character, which tremendously punctuates the plot. This being Detective Comics, it’s a murder mystery, of course. And, true to the interviews, it involves some familiar Bruce Wayne villains used in different ways to torture poor Dick.
Jock as an interior artist is reminiscent of an earlier, less-polished version of Sean Phillips. Where Jock excels are his beautiful covers, which benefit from his dynamic approach to laying out a page. That merit does come through in his interiors. There’s a beautiful two-page spread layered with images of the bat signal in the night sky, Gordon and Dick conversing, and, yes, a literal bird in the foreground. There’s another page where, instead of just drawing a panel of someone gruesomely dying, Jock has the guy’s head grossly protruding from his panel onto the page. David Baron is the colorist. His colors are too bland at times, but vibrant and sharp when they need to be, like the aforementioned two-page spread.
Snyder’s second story involves Commissioner Gordon. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say this’ll tie a thread from Jim’s past that desperately needs tying. Hopefully you know Francesco Francavilla from Jason Aaron’s Scalped. If you don’t, you will soon. This guy’s a star about to go red giant. Oh, yeah! His style here will look like an appropriately darker Cliff Chiang, but it still has that bold, beautiful look. Francavilla colors himself here, and again, he goes iconic and dark. He often uses a primary color as a monocolor for a room, or an entire page. In fact, there’s hardly a color here besides yellow, red, and blue. The result is gorgeous and unique.
Synder starts strong here, and he’s fortunate enough to be working with some talented artists again. If you’re looking for a damn good Dick Grayson Batman book, this is it.