“And I’d like to go on record as saying this is the dumbest idea in the history of Gotham City. Now where’s my damn Batmobile? Let’s go have some fun.”
With those lines I completely bought into the idea of Commissioner James Gordon taking over for Batman in a robot Bat-suit. Yeah, I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical when I heard about this change. It’s not that much stranger than the other times Bruce Wayne has been replaced, and writer Scott Snyder has earned enough trust in my book after several years of mostly stellar work on this title. The end result is that Gordon is right. If you can buy into the premise behind this volume then you will have fun (but not a damn Batmobile).
Two months have passed since the events of “Endgame” and Gotham is starting to get back to normal. Save for one big thing. Batman has been missing in action all this time and people are starting to wonder if he’s ever coming back. One company has decided not to wait around for him any longer. Powers International has partnered with the GCPD and developed a robot Bat-suit made out of the most cutting-edge materials and outfitted with state-of-the-art weapons and technology for urban combat. All it needs is a pilot and CEO Geri Powers thinks it should be Gordon.
The story wastes no time putting the former commissioner into his new role as the first issue cuts back and forth between his debut in the suit and showing how he came to accept it in the first place. It’s a smart move by Snyder as it gets us right into the action, this time against an energy being tearing apart Gotham’s Little Havana, and skillfully condenses the plot point of how Gordon made the choice we all knew he was going to make in the first place. Artist Greg Capullo, as always, kills in the action scenes and calmer talking-heads parts. Particularly in the final page which lets us know that Bruce Wayne is still going to be part of the story.
That first issue, and the ones that follow, also do a very good job of establishing Gordon’s heroic bonafides. He may not have Batman’s fighting skills, but shows himself to be just as quick a thinker. After throwing a few punches with the energy creature, Gordon realizes what’s really going on here and uses his deep knowledge of the city to zero in on the bad guy. I can always appreciate a hero that knows how to use his head and we get to see that several times over in the issues that follow. Also important is the fact that even as the drama picks up, Snyder never forgets to have fun with the story. Whether it involves Gordon finding a clever way to use his new Batmobile to take out a bad guy or putting his own spin on the “Batman Disappears While Someone is Talking to Him” trope, you really do get the sense that the former commissioner is enjoying himself in his new role.
Which makes it all the more interesting to see the conflict that stems from his desire to be a Batman that works within the system and subsequent need to work outside of it. When Gordon gets a lead on Mr. Bloom, the new villain who is supplying seeds that grant superpowers to criminals, he can’t actually pursue it because Powers International isn’t actually part of the police force. They’ll call him whenever his muscle is needed to take down a bad guy, but he can’t be part of the actual investigation. So he has to embark on some vigilante-esque investigation in order catch the badguy, just like Batman would. Gordon’s breaking his own rules, but in a way that makes sense and shows just why an outsider like Batman is so essential to the city itself.
But what about the actual Batman, Bruce Wayne? He has a fairly large role in the story as himself, much changed. Completely free of the memories of his life up to this point, Bruce makes a conscious decision to not be the same person after Alfred brings him up to speed on who he used to be (but before the butler can tell him about the whole Batman thing). Now he’s hooked up with former girlfriend Julie Madison and working with her at the Lucius Fox Center for Gotham Youth.
Even if the solicitations didn’t make it abundantly clear that this isn’t a direction for the character which is going to stick, it’s still a nice fit for the character. We get to see a Bruce Wayne who isn’t haunted by the death of his parents and is focused on doing good for the city through the means immediately available to him. Which involve the great visual gag of the man making a children’s playground out of the trophies the Joker stole from the Batcave in the previous volume. He also has good chemistry with Julie as well. Snyder manages the tricky task of getting us to care about all of these developments for the character. Which is important because while it may be obvious to us that none of this will last, it’ll still be missed when it’s gone.
Really, Snyder navigates the trickiness of this new setup with incredible ease and gets me really invested in what’s going to happen next for Gordon and his Bat-suit. Capullo also turns in excellent work, and I particularly liked his re-design of Gordon, and the new ones for the Bat-suit and Mr. Bloom. We find out that Gordon’s a former marine and his new shaved look emphasizes that mindset while giving him a cool take-no-crap demeanor. Capullo’s design for the Bat-suit also has plenty of personality, which is made abundantly clear when it goes into “nimble auto” mode to save his ass at one point. As for Mr. Bloom… he’s creepy as hell, so “mission accomplished” there.
If I have one complaint for this volume, it’s that there’s only five issues collected here. This makes for one of the thinner collections of the Snyder/Capullo run. Granted, the quality of the issues collected here is pretty much worth the cover price even if only four of them advance the story. The fifth one is a high-end fill-in that was plotted by Snyder, scripted by Brian Azzarello and features art from Jock. That’s a high-class creative team for a fill-in, and it still manages to be a decent read as a result. The story takes place not long after the events of “Zero Year” as Batman tries to find out how a teenager wound up dead in the middle of the swamps on Gotham’s outskirts. His investigation has him confronting the Penguin, one of the local gangs, and a dirty cop while finding out exactly how this kid slipped through the cracks. It’s a decent enough mystery that does tie back into the main story, even if the “social conscience” parts of it are a bit on the nose and that final scene winds up forcing a point about Batman’s efforts in community outreach. At least Jock’s artwork is as action-packed as always.
I guess you could say that “Superheavy’s” biggest problem is that it left me wanting more as soon as I was done reading it. The story cuts off on a pretty dramatic cliffhanger and now I’ll have to wait a few months to find out how it turns out. Ideally this should have been a big ten-issue hardcover to collect the entire storyline. Except DC can make a lot more money by splitting it in two because fans like me will still pay for it that way. That stings a bit, but the quality here is high enough for me to grin and bear it for now.