Friday, December 11, 2015

Review: Batman #44


[This review originally appeared on Patreon.]

STORY: Scott Snyder
WRITERS: Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello
ART: Jock
COLORS: Lee Loughridge
LETTERS: Deron Bennett
VARIANT COVERS: Tony Daniel with Tomeau Morey (Green Lantern 75th Anniversary Cover)
40pp, Color, $4.99 U.S. (November 2015)

Rated “T” for “Teen”

Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

“A Simple Case”

Once upon a time, American network television sitcoms occasionally offered up episodes that focused on timely and/or relevant events, issues, and topics (sex, teen pregnancy, gun violence, abortion, etc.).  Such series installments came to be known as the “very special episode.”

There are a certain episodes that come to mind when I think of the “very special episode.”  In “Diff'erent Strokes” (which personified the special episode), a bicycle shop owner grooms Gary Coleman's “Arnold Jackson” and Arnold's friend “Dudley Jackson” (Shavar Ross) for sexual assault.  In “Family Ties,” Michael J. Fox's “Alex P. Keaton” loses his virginity to a woman who promptly dumps him, even though Alex had fallen in love with her after the encounter.  In “Good Times,” Jimmie Walker's “JJ” was engaged to a young woman who uses hallucinogenic drugs (angel dust?) that leads to to her jumping through a bathroom widow to her death.

Writers Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello and artist Jock, with the assistance of colorist Lee Loughridge and letterer Deron Bennett offer up what could be considered a “very special issue” of Batman.  The story revolves around the police shooting of an unarmed young black man.

Batman #44 (“A Simple Case”) opens in the Gotham Marshes, near the old city limit.  Fifteen-year-old Peter Duggio, a resident of the Narrows, is found dead.  It looks as if he were dropped straight from the sky.  At first, Batman suspects a supervillain, one of his “rogues gallery.”  Then, it seems that Peter, an unarmed young black man, was shot by veteran Gotham City Police Department officer, Ned Howler.  However, Peter's death is far more complicated, with the teen boy's demise being the center of a web of deceit and lies.  And Bruce Wayne may be in that web.

I first heard about Batman #44 when it became a buzzed-about comic book story for a few days.  It generated only a little fake controversy.  The truth is that “A Simple Case” is not so much about a White cop shooting an unarmed Black kid, as it is about the entire, rotten, corrupted thing that a big city can become.  Peter Duggio's death is the result of criminals, corrupted public officials, law enforcement, and system-wide failure, especially on the part of institutions.

Snyder and Azzarello seem to be say that individuals can make a difference because each person can offer his of her singular focus.  On the other hand, institutions, agencies, organizations, etc. are made of multiple individuals and often cannot provide a singular focus where it is needed – in this case of needing singular focus, Peter Duggio.

The art by Jock is half graphical storytelling and half illustration.  Snyder and Azzarello's story seems separate from Jock's art, but that does not take away from the story.  Sometimes, Jock's art comes across as illustrations for an essay or piece of journalistic writing.  Jock's art becomes comic book storytelling in those moments when Snyder and Azzarello focus on character drama and character interaction.  Lee Loughridge's colors are moody, but also accentuate Batman's quest, giving it a sense of immediacy.  The colors suggest that this story is a dark and moody thriller, but at times, Loughridge understands that the story needs a sense of hope.

Batman #44 is a nice change of pace for the series.  Best of all, it is nice that the creative team offered more than something that is simply of the moment.  Peter Duggio's story is timeless because it depicts problems that just won't go away.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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