This is going to be an issue of BATMAN that will catch many off guard. Besides the obvious absence of Greg Capullo's art and the addition of Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke, we have a BATMAN story that doesn't feature a whole lot of Batman. After the insane (and great) roller coaster ride of the first eleven issues, it can almost be said that Scott Snyder is taking a gamble here. Snyder has shown that he doesn't just write big action stories or twisted and dark tales. There has been times where you can feel the emotions of the characters build up, especially in the final pages of last month's issue. This is a comic that's about the story of the characters involved.
This is an issue I've been waiting for since BATMAN #1. You'll recall the scene where Bruce is giving a speech and we see a mysterious female character present in the same sequence of panels with Jim Gordon, Lincoln March and Leslie Thompkins. Immediately I felt there had to be something about this character. She had to be someone. Snyder teased she'd have a role later. In issue #7 we saw Harper Row in her regular everyday appearance. When issue #10 came out, Snyder revealed that the two were, in fact the same character (you can see more on all this here). The big question is how could this girl go from being all glammed up to more punk appearance she had just a few issues later? This issue explains it all.
Essentially this issue is about finding out who Harper Row is. We meet her and her brother and see that Gotham isn't the glamorous city that we often see Bruce Wayne making appearances at. As with pretty much every city, there is a rougher area. Getting to see life in Gotham from the perspective of the average citizen is a great treat. It's not something we see often and those rare glimpses make Batman's world feel a little more real.
I found myself immediately drawn to Harper's character. She's tough and smart. More importantly, she stands for something. Despite the hardships she's gone through, she still believes in doing the right thing and to her, family is an important factor.
Becky Cloonan's art fits the vibe of the story perfectly. This isn't a Greg Capullo story. Yes we know that guy can draw the hell out of an issue but this story feels like it was written for Cloonan. As the "first female to draw the series," having her work on Harper's story was simply fitting.
The story isn't completely only about Harper. Obviously Batman does appear here. As mentioned, there are some gaps during the first eleven issues and we get to see some events from different angles. Seeing Batman from the 'average person's view' adds a different and welcome feel. What will their interaction be, if any? If you read issue #7, you already know they must have some sort of history.
What will her appearance here mean for the future of the series? Perhaps not much. Snyder teased that she'd have an "important role." I've already seen a couple people suggest she take on an "Oracle" role. Maybe she could take on the role Harold used to have (minus living in the Batcave like a creep). I say, whatever capacity she may serve, all the better for Batman. As awesome as he is, he can't and shouldn't do it all on his own. That was the main point he got out of 'dying' and returning. That's why he formed Batman Incorporated. This is a smart kid and it'd be great to see more of her.
It should be pointed out that the back up doesn't quite have a complete 'back up' feel. The story continues but the final few pages are co-written by James Tynion IV and the art is picked up by Andy Clarke. Clarke and Cloonan clearly have different art styles. The detailed grittiness that Clarke adds makes a great issue even greater.
As much as I enjoyed seeing both Cloonan's and Clarke's art styles, it always bothers me when there is a distinct difference in the same story. Despite being a back up story, it essentially continues the main one. There's almost a jarring transition between the two styles. Clarke delivers a different sort of detail that fits with the location of where the back up takes place. Also, Clarke drew the partially shaved head more distinctly than Cloonan so it appeared Harper got a buzz between pages.
Scott Snyder shows us he can tell different types of Batman stories. One thing that wasn't mentioned in order to avoid spoilers is the important message here. If nothing else, hopefully a certain sequence of events will open people's eyes.
Harper Row was a character first seen in issue #1. Now we know what her story is and how she seemed to already know Batman when she saved his life in issue #7. Snyder has teased she will be important so it's hard to say if we'll be seeing more of Harper in the future or if her story is complete here. People may be questioning how come Greg Capullo isn't here but Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke do a great job with their portions of the story. We should all be accepting of change and take advantage of the opportunity to see different interpretations of the characters. Despite being tied in to events from previous issues, this is also one that could be read and enjoyed on its own. It's also an issue you can share with non-BATMAN readers, if you actually know of any. This was another great issue. It stands separately from the Snyder/Capullo issues but definitely will stand out on its own for what it accomplishes.