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Comic Book / Batman: The Black Mirror

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The Black Mirror is the first Batman story by Scott Snyder.

Written pre-New 52, The Black Mirror stars Dick Grayson in his closing days as Gotham's Batman. While the newly returned Bruce Wayne is busy developing Batman Inc elsewhere, Dick has developed a new crime lab for the GCPD and James Gordon in particular to use. Simultaneously, he is continuing to fight crime as Batman with the technical support of Red Robin, Oracle, and Jim Gordon.

The Black Mirror collects three separate but related storylines:

  • "Black Mirror" where Dick faces off against an auction house of super villain trophies
  • "Hungry City" where Dick must solve the murder of a bank employee left in the stomach of an orca
  • "Skeleton Cases" where Jim and Barbara Gordon deal with the return of sociopath James Gordon Jr to Gotham.

The Black Mirror was published in the pages of Detective Comics and was so acclaimed that Snyder was moved to the main Batman series following the New 52 reboot.

The Black Mirror contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Ending: By the end of the story, it's unclear whether the Big Bad has successfully carried out his master plan. James Jr. implies he has tainted Gotham's supply of baby formula with the inverted diaxamene several days before the heroes could suspect anything. When Dick conducts a forensics exam on the factories, he is unable to detect any traces of prions, which means Jr. was either lying or had committed the crime so long ago the impurities have been washed away. Gordon Sr. ultimately concludes the only way to find out if the babies were turned into psychopaths is to wait for them to grow up.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unclear what exactly created James Junior's mental problems: brain damage from the fall during Batman: Year One, a genetic defect, or being raised in an environment such as Gotham City.
  • Arc Villain:
    • The central threat in "Black Mirror" is the Dealer, an auctioneer who collects items that belonged to supervillains and auctions them to wealthy people. Batman becomes aware of his operations after a vial of Killer Croc's mutagen accidentally falls into the hands of a young boy, transforming him into a monster.
    • The events of "Hungry City" occur due to the pirate Tiger Shark murdering one of Sonia Branch's friends for black-mail purposes.
  • An Arm and a Leg: After turning into a crocodile monster, Dana bites off the arm of his bully.
  • Big Bad: James Gordon, Jr. is the main villain of the overarching narrative. A serial killer who views empathy as a weakness, he returns to Gotham City with the intent of torturing his family members and turning infants into dangerous psychopaths by infecting them with a special drug. He also expresses a desire to challenge Batman, whom he views as a dark reflection of himself.
  • Body Horror:
    • A twelve-year-old boy is infected with Killer Croc's mutagen and turns into a rabid beast. A panel shows his eye morphing into a crocodile's before he emerges from the water as a reptilian monster.
    • The Dealer consumes the Man-Bat serum in a desperate attempt to fight off Batman. This causes him to mutate into a hideously deformed bat-like creature.
  • Cain and Abel: Barbara views her brother James Jr. as a monster, because she suspects him of murdering her friend Bess. The final chapter reveals their animosity actually dates back to when they first met, and he resents her for being able to immediately tell that there was something seriously wrong with his psyche.
  • Call-Back: James Jr falls off Gotham Bridge like his father did in Batman: Year One.
  • Cassandra Truth: Barbara seems to feel that she's the only one to see that her brother is a psycho killer. Subverted when it's revealed Dick bugged James Jr when they met and Jim swiped one of James Jr's pills to analyze. Turns out to be a good thing they did.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Dick describes himself as overcautious, which is an understatement considering the measures he takes when preparing to go out on his missions.
    • Dick has a tazer hidden in the finger of his glove for when he gets held up from behind.
    • When Dick has to go on a seafaring mission, he foresees he may need to hold his breath for a long while and ingests a significant amount of pure oxygen in advance.
  • Damsel in Distress: The last story has Batman desperately trying to locate the Big Bad before he executes Barbara Gordon. Downplayed in that she manages to fight back and stalls just long enough for Batman to arrive at the scene.
  • Eldritch Location: Gordon hypothesizes that Gotham somehow drives people towards madness and evil.
  • Evil Counterpart: James Gordon Jr. views himself as Dick Grayson's morally-inverted counterpart, as his lack of remorse contrasts with the hero's compassion.
    The villain: You see, this place is special, Dick. It is a city of nightmares. And I'm yours. I'm the face you see in the glass. A man with no conscience. No empathy.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: The Big Bad tries to make a point that Batman's empathy is his biggest weakness. Though the hero concedes that he is a softy, this doesn't mean he would be stupid enough to blindly trust him. When Dick and James Jr. first met, the former implanted him with a dermal tracker, allowing the villain to be located and defeated at the climax of the story.
  • Hollywood Satanism: The Dealer's alias is Etienne Guibourg, a 17th century monk who was executed after being accused of performing demonic rituals. This is a reference to the villain's philosophy that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is the capacity to be evil, which he promotes in his cult-like auctions.
  • Karma Houdini: Batman is unable to apprehend the Dealer and Tiger Shark. The former goes down in a plane crash, but the coast guard cannot find his body. The latter manages to escape, albeit at the cost of his yacht, which he detonates in an attempt to kill Batman.
  • Lack of Empathy: James Jr is a psychopath who sees empathy as a weakness. He wants to enforce what he believes to be the next step in human evolution by tainting baby formula with his altered meds, which are designed to attack specific regions of the brain and make the victims as remorseless as himself.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son:
    • James Gordon is a police commissioner and one of the most upstanding men in all of Gotham. His son is a remorseless, dangerous psychopath who believes empathy is humanity's biggest flaw.
    • Sonia Branch is the daughter of the mafia boss Tony Zucco. She is ashamed of her father's activities and strives to disconnect herself from him, eventually securing herself an important position in Gotham Global Modern Bank. Subverted when she is revealed to be as ammoral as her father. After Batman offers his help to track down the criminal who murdered her friend, she takes the opportunity to trick him into taking down another criminal who bothered her in the past, despite being aware of his innocence.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Sonia Branch, the owner of Gotham's most successful bank, is the daughter of Tony Zucco, the man who killed Dick's parents.
  • Not Me This Time: Barbara Kean is infected with Joker toxin shortly after said villain has escaped from prison. When Batman confronts the Joker, the latter begins incessantly repeating "wasn't me!" He is not lying. The real culprit is James Jr, who got his hands on the toxin by purchasing it during one of the Dealer's auctions.
  • Powered Armor: Dick wears a flying armor to pursue the Dealer's plane when the flying Batmobile can't get high enough.
  • Plot Armor: Batman escapes from Tiger Shark's trap despite also stating that no person should have been able to. The hero was stuck on a sinking submarine, with the currents being too strong for him to swim against. Even if he somehow managed to leave the vessel, the underwater pressure would have been too much for a normal person to withstand, and he would have to swim for at least seven minutes before reaching the surface. Though he clarifies he was able to hold his breath for that long by ingesting massive amounts of pure oxygen in advance, the only explanation for how he could overcome the other issues is because he was "overcautious" and "crazy".
  • Religion of Evil: Mirror House is an auction operation whose participants behave like a cult, believing humanity's tendency towards pointless cruelty is its "divine spark".
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: It's heavily implied that Gordon Sr. knows that the first Batman was Bruce Wayne, and that his replacement is Dick Grayson. At the end of the story, Dick believes Gordon is thanking him for helping with the investigation, but the commissioner clarifies he is thanking him "on all fronts".
  • Shout-Out: Bixby Rhodes' alias is Roadrunner, and he quotes the cartoon character's famous Catchphrase to taunt Batman.
    Roadrunner: Meep, meep, sucker.
  • Slasher Smile: Dick busts a smile when he wants to rub it in a criminal's face. This is what makes James Jr. realize that a new person has taken on the Batman's mantle, as Bruce was too stoic to display such an expression.
  • Social Darwinist: James Jr believes that empathy is weakness and looks to eradicate it in the next generation of Gothamites by mixing his psychopathy-enhancing formula to baby formula in the city.
  • Villainous Rescue: James Jr reveals he saved Dick from the mob at Mirror House. He has only done so because he gets a thrill out of challenging Batman and didn't wish their game to end prematurely.
  • Wham Shot: Ben Wolff strung up in his own basement, his limbs and lower jaw hacked off, The Reveal that, yes, James Jr has been Evil All Along.
  • When He Smiles: One of the characters makes a Call-Back to when Dick first put on the cowl after Final Crisis and re-debuted to the public as Batman. Dick's little smile there was proof positive that this wasn't the original Batman.