Scott Snyder's third issue of Batman falls into the same trap that afflicts many long-form superhero stories: that of the transitional chapter that pulls a lot of weight in terms of setting up story elements that are going to become more important later on, but struggles to be truly compelling as a single issue in its own right.
That said, considering there's little in the way of action here, Snyder manages to make the parts of the book that are exciting count. An early action scene mixes the brutal, uncompromising take on Batman with that of the more thoughtful planner that we don't always see as frequently in combat sequences, resulting in a delicious payoff that results in a group of metal-masked thugs being incapacitated by a passing train that Bruce has turned into a magnet.
This sense of imagination and careful planning extends into other areas of the book, too. I don't know how much input Snyder has into the artwork, but I enjoyed the creepiness of Capullo's designs for the agents of the "Court of Owls" — both the retro versions featured in the ancient photos and the modern-day incarnation.
Equally, there are some imaginative storytelling choices that help to liven up even the more leaden, exposition-heavy dialogue scenes. For example, this panel adds an extra dimension to an otherwise static exchange between Bruce and Alfred by allowing us to experience the conversation through the eyes of Batman's cowl, which is sitting on a nearby table:
Unfortunately, the same problem as I had with Capullo's art in the first two issues persists — the visual similarity between Bruce and another key character, Lincoln March — and if anything, they seem even more similar here than in previous issues.
However, Capullo more than makes up for it with his visual storytelling elsewhere. In particular, a couple of text-light pages in which Batman flexes his detective muscles are conveyed perfectly adequately by the art alone.
(Anyone who's currently playing through Arkham City probably won't be able to help but imagine Bruce switching to "Detective Mode" during this sequence.)
Despite some occasional sections that sag a little, the issue manages to pull off an exciting and dramatic conclusion, ratcheting up the tension via some fast-cut switching between different perspectives and locales, and providing a nail-biting cliffhanger worthy of the 1960s TV series. Let's see if the next issue can deliver on the dramatic premises so diligently set up by this one.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could — occasionally — be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.