Without a doubt, Batman: The Black Mirror was one of my favorite story arcs this year. There are many great Batman stories being told but this arc stood out from the rest. Despite owning each individual issue, I knew halfway through the arc that it would be one I would have to own in hardcover.
This final run of DETECTIVE COMICS before DC relaunched the DC Universe with 'The New 52' was a surprise on many levels. Besides the surprise of how good the stories were, it is responsible for establishing many important things.
The first deals with Dick Grayson finally showing he was worthy to wear the cowl of Batman. When Bruce Wayne was thought to have died, there was a question of who, if anyone, should step in and take his place as the Dark Knight. The logical choice was Dick, even though he didn't feel it was what he was meant to do.
In his early stories dressed as Batman, it never felt right. It was difficult to accept Dick as Batman. We saw him jumping around more (because of his acrobatic fighting style) and even cracking a smile on several occasions. I always felt this was because he was caught up in the thrill of actually being Batman.
It was Scott Snyder's depiction of Dick as Batman that made it believable. You could get the sense that Dick finally got over the fun of it and evolved into becoming Batman. His actions and behavior became a little darker as he moved and spoke the way Bruce would. It helped that we had an extremely dark story that Dick was immersed in. Dick was finally growing into the type of hero that Gotham City required.
The second major thing this arc showed us was how great of a writer Scott Snyder was. This literally caught me off guard. I have to admit I wasn't aware of Snyder's writing prior but immediately became a fan and raved about DETECTIVE COMICS each month on our podcast when a new issue was released.
Snyder has the ability to fully tell a story on many different levels. There is always a hidden layer of darkness beneath an already dark surface. We've seen stories where we know that 'anything goes' but with Snyder, that truly was the case.
Snyder also did the unthinkable in some ways. He introduced some concepts and character development that didn't seem as if they should be allowed. It's the way he did it that made it remarkable. Because there still might be those that haven't read the arc, I won't go into specifics and spoil things but doing things like bringing back the crowbar that Joker used to killed Jason Todd, re-introducing James Gordon Jr in a completely unexpected fashion or even giving us a different take on the Joker are just some of what makes this book stand out.
Great stories are complimented even further when they are accompanied by great art. I'm not normally a fan of collected stories having multiple artists but both Jock and Francesco Francavilla made a superb story even better. With their different styles, each added a copious amount of detail and fully captured the mood and vibe Snyder's script called for. Francavilla's art normally gives me a feeling of happiness but seeing the way he drew James Jr and the colors mixed in gave such a disturbing feeling, even if he was innocently smiling. One of my favorite scenes is when Commissioner Gordon was in the diner asking, "What did you do?!?"
Surprisingly, this isn't your typical Batman story. Many might expect Batman fighting the wondrous villains in his rogues gallery but this was an adventure on a more cerebral level filled with suspense and drama that would chill you to the bones. I always liked Dick Grayson as a character but it was Snyder that made me love him as Batman. The only complaint I have is you're left with a feeling at the end that the door has been opened to an incredible new world and Dick has been given a new door to go through. A tiny bit of that feels lost after the 'New 52' began.
There is also a slight difference in the quality of the presentation. The art manages to look even better on the pages in this hardcover. I noticed some panels having a tiny difference in color. For as dark of a story this is, it's still surprising how colorful it can be at times as well.
There are some special features included. It's not just a straight forward collection of issues you might (and should) already own. Included are cover sketches by both Jock and Francavilla, unused cover sketches, Francavilla's mini-comic that got him the job with Mike Marts, early character designs for James Gordon Jr., page layout developments and the first draft script for Skeleton Cases Part One from DETECTIVE COMICS #871 that was the introduction of James Jr.
The Black Mirror is my favorite Batman story of the year. This is a story you'll want to read over and over in order to try to analyze all the intricate details Snyder manages to sneak in. Jock and Francavilla's art is also something you'll want to just sit and stare at. Looking at the way they lay out the pages and the character designs is almost like taking an art lesson. When stories are collected, some times they skip the hardcover treatment and go straight to trade paperback. This story clearly deserves the hardcover treatment and also deserves to be included in your personal collection.