Please be warned: spoilers and, for those weary of such, venting too.
Deliriously celebrating the rare goals they score, while blank-mindedly ignoring the deluge of the same pinging in at the other end, the mainstream comics industry continues to obsess about market share while alienating everybody beyond the habituated fanboy consumer. Intrigued by wave after wave of ecstatic reviews and evangelical recommendations, I finally took a punt on Snyder and Capullo's Batman #6, having felt unmoved to sample the title further after its unremarkable debut issue. After all, the com-critics of the blogosphere are untypically united in their reverential recommendations; "A triumph!"; "incredible awesomeness"; "near flawless"; "a real tour de force". What could be less convincing, and therefore more intriguing, than such uncommon unanimity in the Babel of comics reviewing?
Perhaps I might add to the heavenly chorus a few lines of my own, ready to be snipped and added to any poster advertising Batman #6 for all but the month-to-month die-hard reader? "Entirely baffling", "incredibly stupid" and "overwhelmingly macho-humourless" would be my discordant offerings to the choir. With Batman being such an obvious entry-point to New 52 experience, and with The Dark Knight Rises primed for its July release, we might expect that Beneath The Glass would at the very least make sense to the casual reader. Please let me assure my fellow consumers from the adventitious tendency; Batman #6 makes absolutely no sense at all. In that, it's a spectacular own goal, since all but the devoted Bat-adherent are going to find the experience of Snyder and Capullo's work an overwhelmingly excluding one. Even with my 44 years worth of reading Batman under my ever-lengthening belt, I honestly - honestly - don't have the faintest what's going on. Wha'ppen? Though I've no doubt at all that the regular reader understands everything that they're being presented with, the rest of the world's potential Bat-readers will be entirely perplexed even before they're pole-axed by the bleakly blokish hyper-violence of it all.
Beneath The Glass opens with the yamnsomely over-familiar sight of yet another DC headliner with a sword sticking out of the front of him. The New 52 doctrine of shock generates less and less gasps and adrenalin-surges now that it's getting hard to remember all the disemboweled, and yet strangely still prospering, superpeople from the past few months. (There was even a similar fate portrayed in Bat-Wing just six months ago, meaning that somebody in editorial's not even paying attention to the Bat-books, let alone elsewhere.) Not only has that character in Batman's costume received a blade right through the guts, but he's then shown crawling across the ground before being lifted into the air, hurled to the floor again, and, to add wearisome excess to wearisome excess, savagely beaten too. We would, I'd presume, assume that that's it for Bruce Wayne. Given that much of the appeal of Batman has always been that he isn't superhuman, that he can't survive the likes of such a brutal and protracted assault, his death is surely assured. If not, then Batman has degenerated into a character who can not only improbably recover from a broken back, and indeed death, but who quite literally cannot be stopped by any degree of physical injury at all. If there's no remarkable and convincing reason for Batman's survival here, then what we're being presented with is the thick-headed, testicle-tingling cult of the indomitable hero taken to its deplorable extreme.
After several more pages of Wayne being beaten so fearsomely that he's actually kicked right through a wall, we arrive at the page above, in which, it seems, Batman's been transformed into a giant vampire creature. It makes for a typically eye-catching, high-prices-on-the-secondary-market pin-up, but it does leave just a little plot-hole needing to be closed, namely, what is happening here?
Jump anxiously with the suspense of it all to the very next panel and there's no answer to be found. Batman's engaged in some seriously silent-movie-villain, strike-a-pose voguing, but there's no explanation of how he became the world's tallest Bat-Thing. More confusing yet, he appears to have seriously shrunk since the previous page, meaning that either he's gotten smaller while the reader was turning the page, or those Muchkin Owl-fellows grow a touch when they're terrified.
Read on and there's some evidence that this Batman really has been physically transformed. His unnamed - yes, entirely unnamed - adversary states that Batman is "beating (his) "wings", which. given the lack of any such thing does add confusion to confusion, but he also declares that the Dark Knight is "gnashing (his) little fangs". We may care to disagree about whether those great rhino-hide-piercing chompers are "little" or not, but they do seem to have an objective existence in the story.
However, all signs of possibly-giant, possibly be-winged, probably fang-full Batman disappear without explanation or even attention within a few more pages. In the middle of the next chapter of Batman's brawl with Ninja-Owl Man, or whatever he's called, Batman suddenly shifts back into human mode. The pointy teeth, the ferociously broad jaws, the I'm-a-beast affectations; they literally disappear between panels, although our hero's ability to outfight a ferociously able super-baddie isn't in any way held back by either his return to only-human status or his previous and cataclysmic wounds. In fact, Batman, despite losing his apparent super-powers, is now well enough to hurl his opponent through a wall in return for previous assaults rendered, which you'd think even a painful stitch would have prevented. Only with the defeat of his nemesis does Batman, now also suffering from being knocked flat and set alight by an explosion, appear to have been weakened by his obviously not-so-consequential experiences.
Is this Batman a mutant, a vampire, a super-giant, drugged, hallucinating, telepathically-controlled, disordered, a Bat-spirit, or even, perhaps, somebody other than Bruce Wayne? I couldn't tell you the answer, although given his upset at the sight of a photograph of a terrified "Alan Wayne", I presume that it is Master Bruce. But how he could manage to pull off what he's shown to be doing in this story, and why he behaves as he does, is simply never once explained, or even hinted at in passing. Even in terms of comic-book logic, Batman #6 is entirely baffling.
Fanboys will no doubt exclaim that no-one should expect recaps in the last chapter of a long-standing story, but then, how is the curious but uncommitted reader to know Batman #6 contains any such thing? The cover doesn't warn the innocent consumer of what's inside, and there's no text page to either help the reader into the loop or comment to advise them to hunt #5 down first. Instead, what we have here is yet another comicbook produced by a ferociously complacent industry which can't grasp how its product might exclude those casual readers who'd really quite like to understand what they've just invested $2.99 in. In that, Batman #6 doesn't so much express a sense that the trusting occasional reader is of no importance at all, so much as the air of them being entirely unwelcome. Beneath The Glass appears to stand as an expression of a belief, whether conscious or not, that only the insiders, the believers, the folks who've memorized the catechism, are welcome here. Gentlemen of the Bat-Office, the point, I do assure you, has been taken.
The New 52 was supposed to be a welcoming fresh-start of consumer-friendly product in which stories wouldn't be written for the trade, in which narrative clarity and invention was king, and in which each and every single issue would reward the consumer who trusted DC at its word. It seemed to be a gold-standard promise cut with 90% flim-flam even back at the end of the Summer when the line was launched, and nothing's changed for the better since then at all.