Review: Batman Vol. 9: Bloom hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, December 08, 2016

After over seventy-five years of Batman stories, it's not unreasonable to ask why we still need yet another, and another. The answer is that in the retellings, in the interpretations, as we learn more about Batman and see him from a myriad angles, in the process learn more about ourselves.

There's a wonderful push-and-pull in Scott Snyder's Batman Vol. 9: Bloom, as in one powerful chapter Snyder makes an impassioned argument for the importance of Batman's return, and then just a chapter or so later equally demonstrates why Batman does not matter nearly as much as the people who read about him. As if bringing to close a play, Snyder's got his key players on the stage, and there are issue-long soliloquies that may go on to define for decades some of Batman's most notable allies and foes.

Snyder's penultimate (and in some respects, really his final) Batman volume is a lovely treatise on reality and fiction, sacrifice, and how we make meaning in our lives. In the genre of "Batman resurrection stories," of which there's been a few, it's thrilling and spine-tingling in all the right places, a fine cap to this run.

[Review contains spoilers]

Bloom, the second half of "Superheavy," finds its feet in the second chapter's idle talk of a Gotham card game, Snyder's wonderfully disarming background narration that culminates, all of the sudden, with the Joker sitting down next to Bruce Wayne on a park bench, eerily rendered by Greg Capullo. The rest of the chapter is mostly the Joker's, as Bruce considers taking back up the mantle of the bat and the Joker tries to talk him out of it (the flip side, if you will, of Batman trying to disarm their conflict in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke). Bruce wonders if there's a point to him starting over as Batman, sacrificing his new, good life: "If it doesn't last, if it all just falls apart in the end ... why does it matter?" The Joker, uncharacteristically helpful, offers that "we just make the most of what we have ... even if it goes away, or goes back to something ugly ... maybe that's okay," saying, "We were here, and that's enough." (Being the Joker, he then offers a quick about-face and pantomimes killing himself.)

It is among the most optimistic things I've read in a while, this idea -- presented by Snyder through the Joker, no less -- that effort is the thing, and no good deed is wasted. There's an idea -- going back to Killing Joke again, but also as recently as Snyder's Batman Vol. 7: Endgame -- that Batman's story is always a tragedy, that he must die at some point in his mad crusade. What Snyder offers here puts a happier face on this, that even though Batman's story is one of continual failure (by dint of serial comics, Arkham must always have a revolving door), the heroism inherent in Batman -- and by implication, all of us -- is that he keeps going, that he tries again even if returned to square one.

At the same time, Snyder undercuts this somewhat, and certainly demolishes the fourth wall, when Jim Gordon acknowledges to the audience that Batman isn't real. Instead, Gordon calls Batman "a cautionary tale ... He fights our nightmares to teach us to fight the real terrors by light of day." In the way in which Snyder's Batman, especially late in the run, has become about regular people dealing with modern terror, Gordon's speech perfectly addresses why superhero comics matter and why they don't, simultaneously dismissing Batman even as it shows why he's so important.

Joining the Joker and Gordon is Snyder's Alfred Pennyworth, in an issue that belongs in someday's Greatest Alfred Stories collection. Having been granted a Bruce untouched by the trauma of his parents' deaths, Alfred is near panic-stricken at Bruce's insistence that he become Batman again. The pages are heart-breaking as Alfred begs Bruce to turn back at every turn, the tragedy underscored by Snyder and issue artist Yanick Paquette finally bringing Alfred's arm, mutilated by the Joker, on camera. It's a wild issue, not in the least because Snyder and co-writer James Tynion punctuate it with imagined scenes of an alternate-reality Batman. Bruce tells Alfred there are two ghosts in the Batcave, both his own and the Alfred who used to help Batman fight crime, and when Bruce asks Alfred if Bruce could live with himself if the evil Mr. Bloom killed innocents and Bruce didn't try to stop it, it's clear Bruce reaches both of their old selves when Alfred acquiesces.

Again, there's a genre of these "Bat-resurrection" stories of which Batman Vol. 9: Bloom is but one, but I defy any right-thinking Bat-fan not to have gotten a little chill when Bruce Wayne first goes running off toward danger, his face masked by the night in Batman style. Scott Snyder knows what he writes and how to please. The social commentary in this volume does not hit as hard, coming as it does from the mouth of a villain, though this one even veers political if you want to read it that way. Snyder also calls back to Jock's issue from Batman Vol. 8: Superheavy in this volume's mystery and the revelation of Mr. Bloom's identity (and We Are Robin's Duke Thomas has the makings of an excellent sidekick here). The inclusion of Snyder and Sean Murphy's New 52 Detective Comics #27 short story makes sense given Bloom's conclusion, though I might've preferred Snyder's Batman #51 here and "Twenty-Seven" saved for amongst the other "Elseworlds" stories in Batman Vol. 10: Epilogue.

As the second volume of Snyder's "Superheavy" two-parter, if not also the clincher for Batman Vol. 7: Endgame or the fourth and fifth volume Zero Year, Bloom satisfies to be sure.
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6 comments:

  1. That Alfred storyline was one of those special moments where you actually want it to go against what is right. Sometimes you read a Batman story and take Alfred for granted, but this really showed how much hardship he's gone trough seeing Bruce suffer trough all his ordeals. I think anyone who read it wont forget it any time soon.

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    1. Totally agreed. I don't know how much further you've read, but I felt a moment was missed to call back to this in Batman #51, "The List" -- see my eventual review of Batman Vol. 10: Epilogue for more on that. Also it bugs me a bit that Tom King's Batman isn't calling Alfred "Penny-One" any more; it seemed a little silly when Scott Snyder started it but it's grown on me, and now it seems lesser that it's no longer done.

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    2. I read issue #51 and #52 (a friend of mine who had the issues told me I had to read them), I still have to buy Vol. 10 though. I must point out that issue #52 is "The list" and issue #51 is called "Gotham is". I haven't read anything after that, maybe the "Penny-One" handle was changed because having the same one for to long might give others clues?

      The following part contains a few spoilers:
      I think it was good to see Alfred in his older role at the start of issue #51. His comments to lighten Bruce his mood, it shows how much strength he has to sacrifice himself completely for Bruce his choices. It was also good to see that his previous ordeals weren't brushed aside when he struggles to mention the Joker.

      Issue #52 the list is perfect on it's own I feel. It gives a view into young Bruce his mind, but also how Alfred is a big part of what keeps Bruce and thus Batman in balance.

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    3. You're right; I transposed the names of issues #51 and #52. Getting into spoilers, I thought #52 did a disservice by talking about how Bruce is still trying to make his parents proud without acknowledging, just a volume earlier, how for all intents and purposes Alfred's really been Bruce's father for years. The explanation is simple, that this was Tynion writing it instead of Snyder, but I thought they missed an opportunity to call back to that great Alfred issue in Bloom.

      As for "Penny-One," I'm sure it's just another writer thing, Snyder vs. King, but it felt like a step back for Alfred, in a less advanced role (even as he has a surprising, almost ridiculous part later in the Tom King book).

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  2. This is a wonderful review, if only because I became used to reading less-impressed reviews of this arc when it was coming out. I felt that it did become exhausting toward the end, but I loved the Bruce Wayne aspect of this and the previous volume, and really found myself hoping against fate and wanting Bruce to have a normal life.

    It was such a joy to see how much effort Snyder made to really returning to threads he wove earlier in the run. His entire run really feels like a whole, and while that could have been said for the end of Endgame, I think by the end of it he really did give his definition of Batman and Gotham, and I find that pretty impressive.

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    1. Yes, inasmuch as I tend to dismiss the first couple of Snyder volumes, it does hearken back to that initial question of Bruce Wayne's connection with Gotham. I'm too familiar with these books right now to really be invested in re-reading from the beginning, but surely it's warranted at some point.

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