It’s your old pal Will Romine here. I managed to get hold of Batman #19 before it hits your LCS. In this review, I couldn’t talk about the issue without talking about the issue. Therefore, if you don’t want to see the foreign parts, don’t look under the skirt. By now, you know the drill. I’m going to wax philosophical, give you some analysis, and then shamelessly ask you to follow me @notacomplainer.
And away we go…
Since the beginning of time, we’ve been able to explore our physical surroundings fairly freely. Each step forwards does not prevent us from taking a step backwards, laterally, or in any other direction we please. Our conveyances for spatial travel have only gotten faster and more efficient, but the basic idea remains the same. Had a fun time in Paris? Physics offers no rules that say you can’t go back again. Unfortunately, we are mere three-dimensional beings.
As denizens of the third dimension, we are confined to one set reality. While you can go back to Paris the location, you can’t relive your Parisian honeymoon, or see an alternate Paris where WWII never happened. We are limited to the set of circumstances and exigencies that we call the present. We can’t go back, we can’t see what could have happened, we can only travel to the future at the rate of one second per second.
Thus, everything has an opportunity cost. Every choice we make precludes most other actions in that moment. If you go to work from 9-5, then you’ll never know what might have happened had you stayed home, or gone to the park, or wrote that review of Batman #19 for BleedingCool.
The closest thing we have to this form of having your cake and eating it too is storytelling. Stories allow is to explore a set of possibilities without changing our present circumstances and without heading down that path ourselves. As a child, I learned early on the value of persistance not from a lifetime of tireless goal setting, but from a Little Engine that Could. I learned to be forthright not from a lifetime of lying out my ass, but from a Boy Who Cried Wolf. These stories allowed me to explore the path not taken without taking it myself. I identified with these main characters and learned from them the type of life I would lead if I made similar choices.
All stories have one thing in common: they are told at least once. A good story is repeated. The great stories draw from the old and inspire new ones. They utilize tropes and archetypes like Coltrane: mixing the familiar into something new and innovative. Just like Buck Rogers begat Han Solo, who in turn begat Mal Reynolds, all great stories draw from what came before. In this way, a reader has a frame of reference and can project themselves into the story and enjoy an adventure without precluding the option of not going on the adventure.
This is a concept that Scott Snyder recognizes and applies. Night of the Owls and Death of the Family treated certain characters not as simple Bat-accessories, but as heirs to Aesop and Chaucer. At Wondercon, I overheard Snyder and a fan discussing the Riddler’s significance in Gotham. Rather than being simply an OCD Matthew Lesko, the Riddler is the latest iteration of a long line of quizmasters. Riddles, he said, have long been a way to challenge a hero and determine whether they are worthy to continue on their journey. (See: The Hobbit, The Merchant of Venice, and Ulysses to name a few)
Batman #19 employs this technique more blatantly, but ultimately more effectively, than before. The villain du jour is Clayface. Snyder could have told the usual Clayface tale. We’ve all seen shapeshifters in comics and they’ve all used their powers in more or less the same way. Instead, Snyder applied the path of all of his narrative forebearers and tells a story that hasn’t been explored in the 60+ years of this character, yet has been a touchpoint of many pre-Batman iterations of Clayface.
Overall, this is a great, fun read. It’s nice to have some lighter fare after the one-two punch of DOTF and a dead Robin. What I like most about this issue is that it has a Batman for everyone. If you like a brooding Batman, you’ll find it. A wise cracking Batman? As you please, sir! A cerebral Batman? Indeed! This issue is the Country Buffet of Bats. The best part? You don’t have to visit the cardiologist afterwards!
I also learned one important, game changing thing from this issue. If you absolutely need to know, follow me @notacomplainer.