By DANA JENNINGS The New YorkTimes
On the first page of the recent Batman No. 24, the Caped Crusader doesn’t swoop high above Gotham City, and the Joker doesn’t stalk dark alleys, straight razor in hand. But it’s one of the best moments ever in a Batman comic. In this tender scene, Bruce Wayne’s butler and mentor, Alfred, is giving him a pre-battle buzz cut.
“How do I look?” he asks Alfred.
That haircut and exchange capture the essence of the bond between the two men in just five panels. It also distills how the writer Scott Snyder has reinvented Batman in the past two years, deepening and humanizing the Dark Knight’s myth — in the making since 1939 — like no one since Frank Miller in the 1980s. (DC publishes other comics that feature the character, but Batman is its flagship title.) In addition, with DC/Vertigo’s American Vampire comic, Mr. Snyder has also made over the vampire in his own creative image, telling the story of Skinner Sweet, the first vampire conceived on United States soil.
Such reinvention is crucial in all popular culture. The land of lame nostalgia is littered with once-vital characters: Tarzan, Dick Tracy, Doc Savage, to name a few.
“This is a time when comics companies are looking to bring excitement and fire to their books,” Mr. Snyder said in a telephone interview, referring to the importance of keeping characters fresh, and his colleagues agree.
“It’s essential, the lifeblood of our company, to reinvent cultural icons,” said Dan DiDio, a publisher of DC Entertainment, referring to Batman. “And Scott’s tone is unique. It has more of a horror feel. His Joker plays more like a slasher movie.”
Mr. Snyder, 37, began as a writer of short fiction, publishing in literary magazines like Tin House and Zoetrope. His first collection, “Voodoo Heart” (Dial, 2006), got starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and Stephen King compared it to T. Coraghessan Boyle’s debut collection, “If the River Was Whiskey.” But comic books were his first and truest love.
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