Batman Vol. 6: The Graveyard Shift, even if the execution is necessarily somewhat hit or miss.
These are the issues that fit between the otherwise back-to-back epic events that have made up Scott Snyder's Batman run. Once upon a time, DC Comics would not have collected these at all, to the extent that they solicited a collection of the "Batman: Road to No Man's Land" issues some fifteen years after their original publication, and we still lack a collection of all of Greg Rucka's Detective Comics run. To be a trade-waiter doesn't mean that one only wants to read some issues or only the events; DC understood this, for instance, by the time we got the largely complete original collections of Geoff Johns's JSA.
In this book of "non-event" stories, therefore, some of them are integral -- Snyder's two-part "Nowhere Man," the clear gem of the book -- and some of them not so much, like Snyder and Marguerite Bennett's Batman Annual #2. Still, I'd rather have the option of reading all of these in a collection than not, and I hope that the Graveyard Shift model is something that continues in DC's collections schema.
[Review contains spoilers]
After making their mark on Joker and the Riddler, "Nowhere Man" -- from Batman #19 and #20 -- is Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's take on Clayface. It is a wonderfully paranoid double-faced tale of body-swapping; Snyder did not so much recreate Clayface here as he's done with the other villains, but rather he's mainly just told a Clayface story in the classic vein. With strong roles played by both Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox, "Nowhere Man" could easily have been a Batman: The Animated Series episode, high praise indeed. And "Nowhere Man" even has Bruce Wayne dancing around the revelation of his superheroic identity, which feels like a throwback to a Silver Age-y kind of time.
What's striking here is how complete this caper story feels in only two issues, as strong if not stronger than some of Snyder and Capullo's "event" stories. By the start of Convergence, what will be six events in seven volumes is a lot of events, and I wonder if the mainstream comics atmosphere of event after event isn't doing this creative team a disservice. For me, Snyder's most bone-chilling work remains Batman: The Black Mirror, which -- though it came to a rather eventful conclusion -- was essentially just a collection of independent issues. Were the culture in which Snyder and Capullo find their work not so intent on stories with line-wide effect, maybe more like Black Mirror and "Nowhere Man" would emerge.
As it is, most of Graveyard Shift is still, in one form or another, given over to Bat-events -- Zero Year on one side and Batman Eternal on the other. These, too, are strong stories. Snyder and Capullo's Zero Year prologue (Batman #0) highlights the strongest part of Zero Year, the Red Hood, and also features a tense "ticking clock" sequence with Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, a nice counterpoint to their later "Nowhere Man" interaction; James Tynion's story of three young Robins is also well-done. The "Gotham Eternal" issue (from Batman #28) is more interesting than much of the first volume of Eternal itself, especially how new mob boss Selina Kyle is able to bring Batman to his knees. This issue and the included Batman #18 ("Requiem" tie-in) help fill in some gaps from other books as to Batman's partnership with Harper Row, though I still felt I'd missed a step somewhere when it seemed Harper knew Batman's identity.
Less strong were Tynion's "Ghost Lights" (also from #19-20) and Snyder and Bennett and Snyder and Gerry Duggan's "Cages" and "The Meek" (from the Annual #2 and Batman #34, respectively). "Ghost Lights" is a Superman/Batman team-up in Batman's "regular" title, which used to be a rare and therefore notable event; we've had precious little World's Finest material in the New 52, so it's welcome, but Superman and Batman in a room fighting a demon felt small for teaming these two big heroes. "Cages" reads a bit slow, with a villain whom the story gives lots of attention when I didn't personally find her that interesting. I liked that characters from "Cages" appeared in "The Meek," but I was confused at the outset what the New 52 Leslie Thompkins knows or doesn't about Batman, and that shaded my enjoyment; I did like the idea of Batman hunting a "regular" serial killer a la the classic Jim Starlin Batman stories.
In total, Batman Vol. 6: The Graveyard Shift is like picking up a grab bag of Batman comics -- some long, some short; some tied into continuity, some "just because." They are "main" stories by the series creative team, and "filler" stories by guests. What is strong here buoys what isn't, and I have a sense with a more patient re-reading I might have a higher opinion of the "lesser" stories as well. What Graveyard Shift stands for in terms of collection strategies deserves your support, however; the book is a win for completists, if nothing else.
[Includes original and variant covers]