So how does one follow up a massive storyline like The Court Of Owls and still not let any details spill about an upcoming arc involving the return of the Joker? If you’re comic scribe Scott Snyder, you enlist the help of writer James Tynion IV, allow artist Becky Cloonan to step in for Greg Capullo and give us a quiet one-shot. Batman #12 is just a cooler, an issue to allow readers to step back from all the intense emotions surrounding Court Of Owls before we plunge head on into the faceless Joker.
This is not a Batman-centered issue. Instead, we’re reintroduced to Harper Row, the girl who helped Batman make his sewer escape during Court Of Owls, and her brother Cullen. They’re two young kids left alone by an abusive father who exist day-to-day within the Narrows. Harper is a tomboy, a street kid who picked up enough handyman tricks to land a job repairing the old and worn Gotham electrical system. Harper is smart and tough, her brother is sensitive and gay, a fact that gets him routinely beaten by neighborhood thugs. Harper wants to fight back, Cullen wants to try and forget it happens.
After one particularly brutal beating, the thugs shave the word “Fag” into Cullen’s hair. Harper cuts the same thing into her own hair and attempts a confrontation with the street toughs. Things go awry, and just when it looks like the two kids are going to sliced up by their tormentors, the Dark Knight swoops down and kicks the crap out of the attackers. Now the neighborhood knows Batman is watching out for Harper and Cullen, and thusly they don’t get hassled. Harper becomes obsessed with Batman and, through a series of way too convoluted circumstances, discovers that Batman has a secret power grid running just beneath the city. From there, the story goes on to show Harper helping Batman, but ultimately being told by the Dark Knight that her days as his little helper are over.
Snyder keeps the dialog light and the mood upbeat. Harper is a likeable heroine, if a little one-dimensional. Her brother is typical defenseless younger brother who loves his big sister and wants only the best for her. Cullen is the most clichéd thing about the story. I think it would have been much more interesting to see Cullen as the fighter, standing up against his attackers side-by-side with his sister. The motives and ignorance of the street thugs wouldn’t change, nor would the crux of the story – it would have just changed the sibling dynamic. My opinion of whether this is a timely and topical issue, or if it’s just a pat and easy after-school special look at bullying, will come with Harper Row.
Her part in the Court Of Owls was not sizable, but Snyder took pains to make sure we knew she had been involved with Batman in the past. Now we get an entire issue dedicated to giving us her story. Couple that with the rumors that Damian Wayne may fall, and suddenly I’m thinking we could be looking at the next Robin? If that’s the case, or if Harper Row continues to be a recurring character who develops along with her brother, then I’ll call it topical. Until then, it’s just a little too easy for me.
Becky Cloonan (Demo, East Coast Rising, etc) is the real shake up here. After months of Greg Capullo’s noir pencils, Cloonan’s light and open style is a drastic change. Her characters are more cartoonish, a combination of Dragonball Z and Ghost World. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of art, mainly because it lacks any dramatic gravitas. In short, it’s just really boring. Some give Cloonan credit for her backgrounds, to which I remain mystified. Usually, they’re just slabs of color or small lines to give limited definition to what the characters are surrounded by.
Don’t get me wrong, Cloonan can draw. It just doesn’t thrill me, and I find it doesn’t work for Batman. Even worse are Andy Clarke’s back-end pages. While Cloonan has her stumbles, she at least can express movement. Clarke’s work just sits there, a harrowing mess of cross-stitching that is best served in kids books like Harold and The Purple Crayon. Regardless of my nitpicks, Batman #12 is a nice breather from the epic struggles the Dark Knight has recently undergone, and the sudden interest in Harper Row piques my interest in her future.
(4 Story, 3 Art) pgs 1-21 (Snyder/Cloonan)
(6/10) (4 Story, 2 Art) pgs 22-28 (Tynion/Clarke)