ART: Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke, and Sandu Florea
Scott Snyder is slowly turning into the Christopher Nolan of the comic book industry - in more ways than one, Snyder has influenced not only Batman's world, but the DC universe at-large. Even before the 'New 52' reboot, Snyder was toying with Gotham City as a focal point of Batman's stories. Though this might seem cliched and overused, Gotham as a part of the story has become less and less pertinent to Batman arcs over the years. Really, the last time the city itself was the focal point was during the incredible "War Games" story that turned Bruce's hometown into a raging warzone in the battle between Gotham's criminal organizations. Snyder has revived Gotham City as a sort-of tertiary character that has a part to play in the story beyond the setting. As the first issue not having to do with the Court of Owls, Batman #12 is a phenomenal stand-alone issue that excellently blends deep comic knowledge with more well-known, broader ideas that all work together to successfully introduce a new character, Harper Row, into the Batman mythos.
I'll start with what I didn't like. I was immediately put off by Becky Cloonan's artwork, and also Andy Clarke's later on. After 11 great issues with Greg Capullo's unique style, Cloonan's work looks like Japanese manga, and sloppy manga at that. When Harper's younger brother, Cullen, is harassed and beat up, the kids cut his hair awkwardly, yet until Andy Clarke took over, neither Cullen's - nor Harper's after she cuts it to match out of solidarity - looks terribly bad. Sure, the kids at school laugh at them, but it's not really evident why. Once Clark takes over, his overly-realistic technique finally conveys the sentiment behind the head-shaving, but sacrifices any beauty in character faces.
Beyond the art, this issue is superb. Harper Row showed up briefly in issue one and seven during Bruce's 'let's change Gotham' speech where he unveiled his plans to upgrade the city, and she's back as the focus of this issue. Snyder is one of the few select writers who strikes an amazing balance between showing and telling audiences what is going on in a given narrative.
Batman #12 sets the gears into motion concerning the expansion of Batman's supporting cast. While unmemorable figures, like Bruce's girlfriend over in Batman: The Dark Knight, have started popping up in a bunch of the Bat Family books, Harper Row is already one of the most interesting ones in the group. Harper and Cullen live in the Narrows, which you'll remember as the run-down part of Gotham that was heavily featured in 2005's Batman Begins. Harper works for Gotham's electric company, spending her days below ground surveying and maintaining the power grid that runs through the entire city. After a run-in with the Batman, Harper realizes that the Dark Knight has a system to hack into the grid and use it for his own purposes. Because of the grid's age, Harper knows it can't be remote access, so she takes to the sewers to find evidence of Batman's tinkering.
While not an exceptionally flashy piece of tech, Harper finds a 'Batbox', one of many such devices that old Bats has placed at strategic junctures all over the city's grid. While it's primary use seems to be making sure images of the Batman stay off security feeds and the such, Harper also discovers that they are also sapping power from Wayne Industry buildings and reappropriating it for Gotham's grid - in effect, they're helping keep Gotham's energy infrastructure afloat.
The fate of Harper Row is still to be determined. Though she's just been introduced, she already has a (somewhat) direct line to Batman, something not many people can claim. It's almost as if Snyder is setting the stage for Harper to put on a cape and become another ally in Batman's army against crime. In interviews, Snyder has hinted that Harper will be a big part of Batman in the coming months along with the "true" debut of the Joker in the 'New 52' universe.