For all intents and purposes this is the grand finale to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on “Batman.” Yes, there’s still another volume with their names on it arriving in december, but in addition to collecting their final issue together it’s also called “Epilogue.” Which kind of hits the nail on the head. “Bloom” then represents the end of what was certainly the most popular and arguably the most creatively successful run of the “New 52.” If anyone was expecting Snyder and Capullo to whiff on delivering a satisfying finale, then you’re going to come away disappointed. Even if the ultimate outcome of the story is obvious from before you start reading this volume.
When we left off in the previous volume, the mysterious Mr. Bloom had taken Gotham’s elite hostage at a party held by the Powers Corporation to mark the formal unveiling of former commissioner Jim Gordon as the new robo-suited Batman. Though the bad guy looks like he’s holding all the cards, some quick thinking from Batman and his support team saves the day in the end. Now, while they prepare to take the fight to Bloom himself, former Batman Bruce Wayne is dealing with his own set of issues. While he loves his life as a social worker and has just proposed to his girlfriend Julie Madison, he still feels like there’s something missing from his life. Something that no one is willing to talk about to his face. Even the pale man with the weak smile he meets in the park by the pond before everything goes to hell.
Even if it wasn’t for the fact that these issues came out months ago, and that “Rebirth” was all about re-establishing the status quo, I can’t imagine anyone picking up this volume and not expecting to see Bruce Wayne back as Batman by the end of it. Unless this run of “Batman” is your first exposure to the character and the medium in general. In which case, let me say “Welcome to Comics! This kind of thing happens A LOT, so it’s best to get used to it now.”
Snyder is a smart enough writer to know that his audience has a general idea of how this story is going to play out. As I noted in my review of the previous volume, that’s why he spends so much time in detailing Bruce’s current life. Even if he’s not being Batman, he’s at rest and happy, with a job he enjoys and a woman he loves. The drama being mined here isn’t from the question of whether or not he’ll pick up the mantle again, but what Bruce is going to lose when he does.
While Bruce’s relationship with Julie may be the biggest part of that particular equation, Snyder also uses the current status quo to take the narrative in some unexpected directions. We get to see Duke Thomas, current not-Robin, pursue his own investigation into Bloom’s antics only to have Bruce show up to pull his rear out of the fire when things go wrong. Rather than be grateful for the rescue, Duke calls out his savior for hiding behind his current happiness. That’s because even though he’s no longer the character he was, Bruce still can’t stop being Batman in his own way. Which means that this time it’s up to a Robin to force his would-be mentor to get his ass in gear.
Then there’s that conversation Bruce has with the “pale man with the weak smile” in the park. It’s never explicitly stated who this person is, but that’s because I don’t think there’s really any need to. He’s someone whose life was also changed in the aftermath of Joker’s Endgame virus attack on Gotham. Though he thought he couldn’t go on, and even bought a gun with the intent to end it all, the man eventually found a new job in a butcher shop and his own kind of peace. So when this man meets Bruce -- who is currently struggling with the knowledge about what to do about his past life -- he implores the man to not go back to being who he was before.
Though this guy’s main argument is that he likes the Bruce Wayne who is all about dealing personally with smaller problems, and can therefore help the polluted pond in the park, that’s just the clever surface he’s putting up. Read a little deeper, and the scene becomes an incredibly creepy warning to Bruce about what’s going to happen if he becomes Batman again. The caped crusader may have gone away after his last confrontation with the Joker. Yet he also took some horrors along with him when that happened. If he returns to save the city from Mr. Boom, then he’ll wind up bringing these back as well.
Then Bruce starts talking about whether or not this all matters if it’s only going to revert back to the way things were before. That’s when it becomes clear that Snyder is really writing about superhero comics in general here. He’s got a point, to be sure. I said at the top that we all knew Bruce was going to become Batman again by the end of the volume. So what’s the point in reading it if we’re fully aware of the outcome? Well, because even if there’s an inherent predictability to all superhero stories, there’s still entertainment to be had in seeing the formula done well and what interesting things creators can come up with while working within it. Things like this conversation Bruce has in the park. Alfred’s reluctance to help the man he raised return to his former life after being given a happy ending. Bruce’s worthwhile romance with Julie. The fact that Julie’s on-the-nose connection to Joe Chill goes from “Seriously?” to actually having some thematic significance at the end. Oh, and all the stuff with Gordon as the new Batman.
Yeah, he’s back to being just a commissioner by the end of things, but his time as Batman was different and fun. Gordon brought his own quick-thinking style to the role, and even if it wasn’t meant to last, he’s rewarded with a big damn hero moment and a speech that really sums up the essence of the character in the end. Making the character into Batman was still a risk, even if it was planned to be temporary from the start. It still resulted in a hell of a story that shows the character in a new light and reminds you why he’s so essential to the “Batman” mythos.
Capullo also demonstrates his remarkable artistic versatility once again with this volume. That he makes Bruce’s return as Batman a fist-pumping sequence of bravura superhero action should surprise no one. The final stretch of the volume is a mix of over-the-top fights between Bloom’s mutated henchman, Batman taking on the villain in his own repurposed giant bat-suit, and the ticking bomb of the strange star that threatens to destroy Gotham. It’s grade-A material for an artist versed in the genre and Capullo is able to sell it every bit as well as you’d expect.
What’s more impressive are the smaller moments that the artist invests with surprising emotional weight. There’s the casual bathroom conversation where Bruce proposes to Julie that has its own playfully flirty tone. The scene where Duke calls out Bruce’s current life choice is made even more hard-hitting through the use of potent (if familiar) visual metaphor. Then you’ve got that whole conversation by the pond with its air of sustained menace, as Capullo sets the scene and has the characters act in a way that leaves you with the feeling that things could go very wrong for both of them in a minute. When it was announced that this artist, who first gained popularity during the 90’s and spent a good portion of his career drawing “Spawn,” was going to be drawing “Batman” I had my own set of (low) expectations. That said, seeing Capullo’s work on this series over the years shattered them long ago and continues to drive home the fact that it was small of me to judge him by the general standards of his past work.
Now it’s just about over. Snyder has his “Batman” victory lap underway with “All-Star,” Capullo is teaming up with Mark Millar for the Image title “Reborn,” and “Batman” has a new creative team in the form of writer Tom King and artists David Finch and Mikel Janin. A high bar was set with this run, and it remains to be seen if King, Finch, and Janin, will come up with anything as daring as what Snyder and Capullo have done here. They took risks and wound up making worthwhile additions to the legend of “Batman” in the process. Maybe I’m overstating things a bit with that, but their run was still tremendously entertaining. However, I’ll know that I’m right if we see Gordon in his robo-batsuit again sometime down the line.