Few comics these days leave me speechless while most do still inspire the medium far beyond its humble beginnings as children’s funny books. But none so epically gut-wrenching; uncomfortable; and unbelievably hard to put down as Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics entitled The Black Mirror.
It began with a crime mystery of mob bosses and kidnappings with a dead whale in the middle of a bank and a gang in the middle of a junkyard full of cars. Swiftly and soundly it progressed into what I’m sure is one of the most riveting mystery stories I’ve ever read. It’s dark and suspenseful with Detective James Gordon’s sociopathic son, James Jr., returning to the grim world of Gotham City a changed man. Years of drugs and therapy have cured him of his problems and his sanity no longer in question. Or is it? The dialogue between them is caustic and dreadful with tension the likes you’ve never seen. As a reader the edge of your seat is an understatement while Commissioner Gordon keeps his cautious eye on the boy who could have been his son.
The gripping tale twists and swerves with all eyes pointing to James Jr. finding in himself a devilish serial killer bent on revenge. Dismemberment and awkward situations position him as an equal rival to Batman’s Joker—who shows himself to be in withdrawal over the fact that Dick Grayson is batman. The Batman Joker knew is gone and the new one just isn’t the same. And there it is—the true beauty of this concept. For the past year Dick Grayson has struggled to find his own footing in the steps of his mentor as the savior of Gotham city. In this brief series of nasty tales we finally find a defining trait that combines the two. The psychotic antics and terrifying violent acts of the Joker have manifested themselves in a personal way for Dick as he confronts the younger brother of his long-time lover Barbara Gordon. This is Dick’s greatest challenge and even the Joker knows it.
The tension builds to a boil until Barbara is fighting for her life and every child in Gotham is at stake. The ending is creepy to a degree that I cannot express in words. It gives you warm feelings of hope for those that watch over Gotham City, but takes it away instantly in the final panel when the focus turns toward the city itself. This is one for the books, fellow readers. If you love a good detective story and are intrigued by the minds of serial killers, then this one is for you.
And the true stars are the artists. Jock, whose lines and unbelievably innovative paneling make this book really pop, is first on the list. His darker, sketchier style creates an atmosphere for Gotham like never before. He places his detail where it counts and though some may question his stylistic approach to the human figure, I found it an edgier, more modern approach to something so easily washed over with architectural blurs and dark shadows. His Batman is constantly cloaked in an array of bats–often darting off of the panel before the dialogue is finished, which is very reminiscent of the Batman Animated Series. But let’s not forget the incredibly talented artist Francesco Francavilla who started this escapade into darkness with a simple pallet of few eerie colors and beautifully rendered forms. His line work is impeccable and his consistency refreshing. His expressions dominated and his intuitive camera shots and angles made him a stand-out artist to really watch and learn from. I cannot wait to see what he does next! This was a clever initiative to have Francavilla draw the parts with James Jr. and his father, while Jock handles Dick Grayson. By the time these two artists reach the finale their work becomes one and the story flies off the page like a knife through your heart.
In short this series is going to be a trade to collect for anyone who loves a suspenseful mystery, a gruesome horror story, or just a wonderfully drawn epic with your favorite crime fighter. Snyder made his mark on the Dark Knight and the genre as a whole in a way that will not be forgotten for many years to come.