Having just read the first three volumes of Scott Snyder's "New 52" BATMAN series, and thinking it was merely OK, Snyder's pre-New 52 epic, BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR is causing me to think that maybe the majority of the problems that I had with Snyder's BATMAN run are because of my dislike for "The New 52" in general, and less about Snyder's work as a Writer. Because BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR is pretty damned spectacular.
First off, the book suffers from a distinct lack of Damian Wayne, but that didn't bother me as much as I expected it to. Collecting DETECTIVE COMICS #'s 871- 881, THE BLACK MIRROR is a huge honkin' book, and it focuses entirely on Dick Grayson, who is filling the cowl as Batman while Bruce Wayne is busy getting Batman, Inc. off the ground. The book is comprised of short arcs, all of which ultimately tie together in the end, however loosely.
The plot that simmers in the background for the bulk of the book, before rising to the forefront, is the return of James Gordon, Jr., Commissioner Gordon's possibly psychotic son. This subplot started off as a series of back-up strips in DETECTIVE COMICS, which were illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, and they're remarkably effective at setting the table for what comes later. The bulk of the book is illustrated by Jock, whose work reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz. Jock's work is serviceable, if a bit scratchy, but his storytelling needs work...there was a huge splash page reveal that was slightly hampered by the fact that I had no idea what Jock was trying to show us.
I've always liked Dick Grayson, and Snyder uses him to wonderful effect here. He's not Bruce Wayne, nor should he be depicted as acting as such. Dick's Batman is lighter and more carefree, and he even cracks a joke once in a while. I especially enjoyed the relationship he shares with Commissioner Gordon. Gordon and his men clearly know they're dealing with someone different, and the fact that they prefer this new Batman is quite funny.
One issue that I had is the fact the Gordon seems to know that it's Dick Grayson behind the mask, and that kind of thing always drives me nuts, especially since someone else also deduces Batman's true identity towards the end of the book, and that kind of slippery slope has always bothered me. If you know who Batman (Dick Grayson) is, then it's not a leap to figure out who the original Batman is, and from there, the whole Bat-Family. That's part of the unwritten contract that we have as readers....I'll accept what the writer tells me, to a point, and I won't ask the obvious questions, like "How does no one in Gotham realize that Bruce Wayne, who is constantly taking in young boys, is Batman and these kids are Robin?" My Wife makes fun of comics by asking me "Seriously, how can no one tell that Clark Kent and Superman are the same guy, just because Clark Kent wears glasses?" I reply: "Because, that's why. If we ask too many questions, it'll all unravel. We just have to take some things at face value." In other words, don't show Gordon basically winking at Dick Grayson here, and then show him scratching his head as he wonders "Who IS that masked man...?" in another comic. But "The New 52" has made all of that irrelevant, I suppose.
Aside from that minor gripe, BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR is as close to a perfect BATMAN story as I've read in years, and I was mighty impressed by it. Too bad that this was Batty's last pre-New 52 outing.