Wednesday, February 29, 2012


In the world of comic books, ask someone if they prefer DC or Marvel and the answer can tell you a lot about a person. I’m a DC fan myself. Even though I enjoy Batman, I’ve always been more of a fan of Superman myself (and Green Lantern). The DC and Marvel universe have similarities, but they are very different worlds. The writers and execs for each company would do well to remember this. What often happens is that sales for comics slide (across the board) and the execs at DC start to panic and then they hire people to start copying Marvel or they completely reboot the universe (like what happened last year with the New 52). Personally, the stories I find most interesting from the DC world are the ones that stay within the established rules of the DC universe, but that tell new stories within those confines. THE BLACK MIRROR is a storyline that pretends to be one of those stories, but when examined at a deeper level it reveals itself to be just another mimicking stuff that happens in the Marvel universe.

THE BLACK MIRROR collects Detective Comics issues 871-881. These stories were written by Scott Snyder, the guy responsible for the new comic book horror series, AMERICAN VAMPIRE. The stories are set after the events BATMAN R.I.P. and BLACKEST NIGHT. Batman has returned from his trip through time. However, he decides that it’s time to set up a global organization. So, while he’s off traveling around the world to set up Batman Incorporated, he leaves Dick Grayson (the first Robin and Nightwing) behind in Gotham as Batman. What happens is one of the most bizarre and unusual cases that either Grayson or Commissioner Gordon have ever faced.

THE BLACK MIRROR is a fascinating story full of loops and twists connected to the premise that Gotham City is itself an evil place that somehow corrupts anyone who lives there. However, though the overall story is interesting, it’s an extremely violent story with really unbelievable situations even for a comic book. For instance, how does a giant man-eating killer whale appear in the middle of a bank lobby within a couple hours without anyone knowing? I mean that really seems like a stretch. Of course, how does Commissioner Gordon get that animal transported to Wayne Labs so Dick Grayson can perform an autopsy? None of that is really ever explained. There’s also the idea that somehow villains weapons have been sold on the black market for decades and Batman has never heard of this before. Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, but he’s never heard of this underground weapons dealer before? Really?

As briefly mentioned before, the story is extremely violent. In one segment a woman is found almost dead, bleeding in a shower. This is shown in graphic detail. In another scene a man is shown with his limbs cut off, part of his tongue removed, and an eyeball poked out. Some people might be impressed by all this blood and gore, but personally I found it a bit too much, even for a Batman comic. It reminded me more of all the over-the-top violent stories DC started putting out in the late 1980s and early 1990s because new execs at the company didn’t think DC characters were relevant anymore. One of the pinnacles of all of this was the one shot story, THE KILLING JOKE, a great story, but one which was never intended to be a part of DC canon. THE BLACK MIRROR is full of moments like that.

The story follows a post-Crisis history, which left me a bit confused. When I was a kid, Barbara Gordon was the actual daughter of Jim Gordon. Now I find out, she’s his adoptive daughter (I wasn’t aware that this had changed during the whole Crisis debacle). In addition, Jim Gordon has one biological son, James Gordon, Jr., born with his second wife. I realize that this stuff has been part of the DC canon for about twenty-five years now, but it comes as a bit of a shock. Also, I found it confusing for a story that prides itself as being rooted in Batman history how it ignores much of that history. For instance, there’s a moment in the story when a character comments how he knows this Batman (Dick Grayson) isn’t the real Batman because this Batman smiles and the real Batman doesn’t smile. Well, that’s just not true. Bob Kane always drew Batman smiling (go back and re-read the original Detective Comics and you’ll see that). It was later writers, especially those in the mid-1980s and early 1990s (here’s that period again), that stopped drawing Batman with a smile.

Besides all that, the other thing I didn’t like about THE BLACK MIRROR was the creation of a new villain. Aren’t there already enough villains in the world, particularly Gotham City to keep Batman busy? Why is it necessary to go and create another one? And (SPOILER ALERT), why is it necessary to take an innocent character who hasn’t been seen in decades and turn them into a villain? I get tired of Joker stories all the time, too, but Batman has a massive rogues gallery. Why create a completely new villain when one of the lesser-known villains from the rogues gallery would have been more impressive?

Overall, THE BLACK MIRROR is a good Batman story that’s not told very well. It’s destined to become a Batman “classic”. However, with the elements reminiscent of the late 1980s and 1990s DC comics, that’s not saying much. This could be the start of a great new Batman or it could be the beginning of what might turn into the Batman version of AT EARTH’S END.

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