Review: Batman Vol. 6: The Graveyard Shift hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 04, 2015

I applaud the publication of 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]
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12 comments:

  1. As someone who has picked up volumes 1 to 5, but only read up to 3 so far, would you recommend getting 6 and then reading the issues in sequence?

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    1. I think the way DC chose to collect these stories actually works: you can read the Zero Year story with no interruptions in volumes 4 and 5, and then go back to the present day (issue #0 excepted) with volume 6.

      Reading these issues in publication order makes no difference, except for the fact that issue #0 works better as a Zero Year teaser than as a look back on it, and that #28 (a flashforward issue that is set during the last third of Batman Eternal ) will be even more jarring that it's supposed to be because it will interrupt the flow of Zero Year.

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    2. shag said it better than I could. Probably just reading Vols. 1-6 in order doesn't hurt; agreed you could pull out issue #0 and read it early, but I wouldn't otherwise interrupt the flow of Zero Year. I'd only suggest you might want to read Batman Eternal Vol. 1 between Batman Vol 5. and 6 (though indeed Batman #28 is supposed to spoil aspects of Eternal); also parts of Detective Comics Vol. 4: The Wrath will make more sense if you've read Batman Vol. 6 (specifically issue #18) beforehand.

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  2. It's cool that they released this. The only way it could have been better is if they included the Futures End issue and Snyder's story from Detective 27. I know the latter is from a different series, but it doesn't seem completely crazy to include since they used Capullo's cover from that issue as the cover of this collection.

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    1. Interesting suggestions all around. I guess I don't mind so much their excluding the Detective #27 story since it's collected in a Detective book. Remains to be seen, however, where the Futures End issue will end up; it's not in the Endgame trade, I don't think.

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    2. It's not listed for it, and it also really doesn't have a place there either. That's why I thought it would be nice to collect all the random Snyder stories so far in this collection. But speaking of Endgame, I think they should include the 3rd Annual. Yes, I know Snyder didn't write it, and it's not completely a real tie-in to Endgame. But it was good, creepy Joker story that could easily be added in the back since it was only a 6 issue arc.

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    3. Not to worry; the annual is in the tie-in Joker: Endgame collection.

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    4. Ah, good catch. I forgot that was a thing. Much better in that than the main book.

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  3. In your reviews, maybe you could start listing the contents of each book, for those of us who (rightfully so) don't trust DC's solicits as far as we can throw them?

    Anyway, yeah, I really think they should've included Marguerite Bennett's Batman: Joker's Daughter one-shot. It features appearances by Eric Border, Anchoress, Dollmaker, and sets up Eternal/Endgame as well as anything else. Thematically it would've fit quite well, just after Batman Annual #2 (which Bennett did the vast majority of heavy lifting on; it is well-documented in interviews that when Snyder "co-writes" something, his involvement is usually minuscule.)

    Plus, I can literally think of no other place this issue could be collected in.

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    1. >> maybe you could start listing the contents of each book

      I understand this would be useful but I can't guarantee I'll remember every time. You're always welcome to ask in the comments or on the Facebook page if you want to know about a specific book.

      >> Anyway, yeah, I really think they should've included Marguerite Bennett's Batman: Joker's Daughter one-shot

      I understand now you mean the Batman: Joker's Daughter one-shot that came out around the Lois Lane one-shot, but initially I thought you were talking about the Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Joker's Daughter issue by Ann Nocenti, which is in Catwoman Vol. 4: Gotham Underground. Confusing! As a catch-all trade, yeah, maybe that should have been collected here, and I'll be disappointed if it's collected nowhere -- maybe the first New Suicide Squad trade is another good place for it.

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  4. why is this out but the paper back comes out in October?

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    1. Except in rare instances, the hardcover of a book usually comes out some months before the paperback; the paperback usually arrives around the time of the hardcover of the next volume.

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