Monday, January 30, 2012

Batman #5: Sequential Storytelling at its Best

There is more than one way to tell a story. You could write a short story or a novel. You could adapt it for television or film. You could create a web series. Or, if you have any artistic ability, or know someone who does, you could turn it into a comic book. 

Comics have their own set of advantages as a medium. For starters, from a creative standpoint, a comic is often times the best method to express your artistic vision with the least amount of interference from third parties. While it's true that every book, with the exception of those being self-published, requires approval from an editor, generally the final product is the purest representation of the writer and artist's work. In addition, unlike, for example, television and film, comics allow you to create without having to worry about a budget. You don't have to think, "How much would this cost?" "Can we do this with real actors or will it require CG?" "How long will this take to shoot?" You are limited only by the breadth of your imagination. However the advantage that I consider to be the most important of all is a comic book's ability to make the reader an active participant in the story.

When reading a comic book, we have a profound effect on the story. You hold the book in your hand, following along at your own pace. Perhaps you'll speed through it, or maybe you'll take time to savor each individual panel. As readers we add inflection to the character's voices, we do the camera work, and we also flesh out the story by creating a running narrative in our minds to explain what happens between the panels and off-page. All of these things help make reading a comic a unique experience that differs from reader to reader.

Greg Capullo
More often than not we take these advantages for granted. However, in very rare instances, a comic is released that is written and drawn in such a way that it makes you step back and appreciate the wonders of the medium. Batman #5 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is such an issue. Typically when I finish a comic I reflect on the story. I think about what I liked, what I didn't like, and so forth. When I put Batman #5 down my mind was focused on one thing....craft. Greg Capullo's art, and, more specifically, his layouts and storytelling, was some of the best I've ever seen. I can't remember the last time I felt such a shared experience with the character on the page, and it was because Capullo understood how effective this medium can be in making the reader a part of the story.

Without giving away too much of the series' plot, I will just say that the end of issue #4 found Batman locked away in a maze called The Labyrinth. When issue #5 opens, we learn Batman has been in the maze for just over a week and no one knows where he is. He has no food. He has nothing to drink other than water that has been drugged. He's in a bad way. One of Batman's strengths has always been his mental and physical preparation. It's next to impossible to outsmart the Dark Knight, and, much like MacGyver before him, he can escape almost any trap. But the latest villains to hit Gotham, The Court of Owls, have somehow found a way to break him. The maze is creepy as hell, containing a room filled with photos of men who came before him, men who checked in but likely never checked out. Bruce is looking at his future and it's not very bright. Slowly but surely Batman is spiraling into madness and we are right there with him.

Capullo put together an issue that pulls the reader into this spiral. The book begins with a typical layout, but quickly the perspective changes, and as you follow Batman through the maze you find yourself having to rotate the book 90 degrees. You read some more and then you have to rotate again. Now your upside down. Then it rotates back. It's dizzying. It requires you to be physically engaged. At times the panels are slightly out of focus, mimicking Batman's blurred vision from fatigue and hunger. The deeper Batman ventures in to the maze, the more he believes he has it figured out, and just when he thinks he cracked it he finds himself back at square one. At first you think "Did DC screw up and reprint pages?" You're confused. A little disoriented. Just like Batman. As if being stuck in a maze for 8 day with nothing to consumed but drugged water wasn't bad enough, unbeknownst to him, Batman is being stalked by an assassin. A killer who is toying with him. A killer he doesn't even know is there.

I've written about Scott Snyder and his work on Batman on this site before, so needless to say his writing is still outstanding. But much like Snyder mentioned on Twitter, Capullo was single-handedly responsible for the issue's layout and visual approach. It seems that a lot of readers are surprised at how amazing his art has been, but they shouldn't be. The man has been killing it for years on books like X-Force and Spawn. Batman is just a continuation of his awesomeness. If you want to see comic book storytelling at its best, you need to pick up Batman #5. I wouldn't be surprised if it winds up being considered the best single issue of the year.

And one more thing. I don't know how many of you have made the move to digital comics, but this is an issue that works best as a paper copy. You need to hold it. To manipulate it. A few comments online mentioned that this book was a nightmare to read on their laptops or mobile devices. I don't know how true that is, but I truly believe paper is the way to go on this one. Regardless of the medium you choose, this book deserves special recognition. Snyder and Capullo are putting together the best book of the DC reboot and they are just getting warmed up.

1 comment:

ice princess said...

This issue of Batman left my palate dry and begging for me. The story is really good and the art is beautifully crafted. It is difficult not to mention my favorite part without giving the story away so I will keep it to myself. I quote, "A world without Batman would be a dark night."

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