Batman #44 isn't the issue you might have been expecting. For months now, we've seen Jim Gordon in a mech-suit operating as government-funded Batman, battling it out with over-the-top supervillains created by the mysterious Dr. Bloom.
That all takes a backseat this issue for a tale that takes Batman back to the character's detective roots and mixes it together with some social commentary for a powerful effect.
Scott Snyder takes readers back in time to shortly after his Zero Year event. Batman is still learning the ropes of protecting Gotham City, even as more and more supervillains rise to power. He discovers a young African American teen by the name Peter Duggio dead on the outskirts of town and becomes determined to find those responsible.
Missing from this issue is series regular Greg Capullo, but legendary artist Jock steps in and doesn't miss a beat. The whole issue, mostly colored in melancholy grays and dark browns, is one sad story after another, as Batman's investigation unfolds and he learns the truth about the events that lead to Duggio's death. He starts with the Penguin and works his way down to the street gangs. He learns how Duggio was a teen down on his luck with his back against the wall, with nobody willing to offer a hand and help.
So, Duggio took matters into his own hands, with tragic results. While this is a flashback issue, it does tie into the events of the last several issues, showing that Dr. Bloom has been operating in Gotham for quite some time, preying on Gotham's downtrodden.
It's a powerful issue because Snyder very obviously has something to say. With topics like the shooting of Michael Brown, police violence against African Americans and systematic poverty in many African American communities still hot (and touchy) subjects in the news, Snyder takes them all and wraps them into a Batman story that invokes some genuine emotion from the reader.
The results speak for themselves. Snyder manages to speak his mind without ever seeming preachy by having Batman think back on various newspaper clippings to add context. Batman, after all, must be informed about the communities he looks to protect, so he knows all about the poverty stricken areas of Gotham, their overwhelmingly African American populations and the police violence that is often unjustifiably used upon them.
This might not have been the Batman story we were expecting, but it's the Batman story we deserve. Beautifully drawn, smartly written and as timely as a story can be, Batman #44 is one of Snyder's most potent Dark Knight tales yet.
More Comic Book Reviews: