New 52 – Detective Comics #9 review

There are two comics taking part in the “Night of the Owls” event this week, but “Detective Comics” is the runt. An overpriced runt.

Before taking my review to heart, however, let’s make sure we agree on some things:

Do you feel that Roman Sionis should be the Black Mask, a character that embodies the perversion of Gotham’s mob as a result of the rise of the freaks?

Would you agree that the mask worn by Roman Sionis (or burned onto his face, if you prefer) should NOT grant him mystical powers of any kind?

Do you believe Gotham would never allow Harvey Dent back as its district attorney and any story that tries to sell that as a plausible scenario is waste of time?

If you agree with all of the above, then you and I are on the same page and perhaps my review will be of use to you. If you disagree then take my words with a grain of salt because this book will be far, far more enjoyable than my review would have you believe. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

A Missed Opportunity

I found issue #9 to be yet another disappointing entry to an awful series. I was hoping the “Night of the Owls” crossover would give this book the shot in the arm that it needs, but I had no investment in the action whatsoever.

First of all, this story shouldn’t have used Batman. Each “Night of the Owls” tie-in should utilize a unique Gotham character and the obstacles they face on this terrible night. We already get to see what Batman is up to in “Batman” where we were left with an awesome cliffhanger last month. By jumping ahead and showing us what happens directly after its follow up issue (a book we won’t get to read until next week) it cheapens the experience of another series’ 9th issue. Even “Batman: The Dark Knight” decided to sideline Batman for this event and is going to feature Red Robin as the main protagonist. That book not only says “Batman” on the cover but “The Dark Knight” as well! This book is just called “Detective Comics” after all, why not shake things up and put Harvey Bullock in the lead for a one-and-done adventure? That would’ve been fun! There are a lot of really fun ways to approach this, but instead it was used to try and clear up a few lingering continuity issues involving the Black Mask (which is kind of hard when you consider Jeremiah Arkham was portrayed as an inmate in “Batman” #1). It also became a boring, by the number slugfest that couldn’t even be saved by adding a few Easter eggs and random cameos by such forgetable foes as Nocturna, Steeljacket, and Fright (who you may recall from the story from years back that had Scarecrow turn into a giant monster called Scarebeast, easily one of the worst ideas anyone has ever had for that villain).

Want a Good Tie-In? Why Not Batwing?

My next problem involves the talons themselves. We know that the only way to bring them down is to freeze them or cause severe damage to their makeup: an eskrima stick through the brain or the chopping off of limbs, for example. In “Detective Comics”, Batman mentions that he has freeze grenades that will “slow the talons down”, but they have little to no effect. Instead of coming up with a more creative way to bring down the regenerative assassins, Batman simply beats them up until they drop to the floor like your typical nameless henchmen. It’s a far cry from the incredibly threatening talon that Batwing had to face in his own book which also came out today. If you want a fun cross-over comic then I suggest you take a gander at “Batwing”. Issue #9 of that series was action-packed and lots of fun. This, however, gave me a headache.

Another big difference between “Batwing” and “Detective Comics” Owl stories is the level of emotional investment. In “Batwing” we’re hoping that the hero can save Lucius Fox, a fan favorite character, whereas “Detective Comics” has Batman trying to save Jeremiah Arkham, a scumbag who shouldn’t even be running the asylum. Honestly, Bruce Wayne has enough pull in this city to get Jeremiah out of there, don’t you think? Batman says in this very book how he knows Jeremiah has added escape tunnels to the facility. These talons were never portrayed as a real threat and Jeremiah was not worth saving and those two factors bring the level of interest down severely. One of those two things HAD to work in order for the story to be worth a damn. Just look at last month’s “Nightwing”, that book had Nightwing trying to save the corrupt Mayor Hady, an equally unlikeable character to Jeremiah Arkham, but because the talon felt like a real threat to Nightwing and everyone else in the building, the fight had weight.

Black Mask is Back But in a Bad Way

And since I think it’s clear at this point that I’m  advising you all to not buy the book, I’ll wrap up with one final complaint which is in regards to Roman Sionis, the second rogue to be brought back from the dead in the New 52 (Arnold Wesker is the other). As you may remember, Sionis was shot and killed by Catwoman but then Jeremiah Arkham took the mantle of Black Mask for his own (a dumb and unnecessary idea in my opinion). I suppose now that Catwoman is only like 23 years old or so, that those events no longer happened and Sionis lives. In the new continuity, as Daniel clears it up, Sionis vanished for a time and Jeremiah took over, describing it as a ride that was “anything but joyful”. It’s hinted that the mask has a possessive power, maybe it is haunted by the soul of Roman’s father or something? What is clear, however, is that the mask gives the wearer the power of mind control. Did we really need this? We already have a mind-control villain, a very good one called The Mad Hatter. Not every villain needs a super power. Black Mask was great because he straddled the line between freak and gangster. He was a symbol that the old mob could only survive in Gotham if it adapted to the way of the freaks. It took me years to finally accept the knock-off Red Skull redesign of the character and now they want to give him magic powers? No thanks.

What’s the New 52 have against classic Batman rogues?

Ventriloquist: A giant steroid monster

Two-Face: A giant steroid monster who changed his name to “One-Face” and then passed out, Beaten up in “Batman” issue #1 riot, Thinks he can actually become DA again by doing someone else’s dirty work

Joker: Cut off his face and then vanished

Poison Ivy: Bane locked her in a tube, Also is a member of Birds of Prey thus making her more of an anti-hero rather than a villain

Clayface: A giant steroid monster who passed out, A mind controlled puppet of Black Mask

Bane: A giant steroid monster who bragged about how smart he is while all he did was throw rocks

Penguin: Punked by a couple of forgettable con artists and then punched out in a single page confrontation with Batman

Scarecrow: Actually performed well in “Batman: The Dark Knight” but was taken out like a punk in last month’s “Detective Comics”

I get that they want to introduce new blood to the rogues gallery with the New 52, but that doesn’t mean we have to neuter all of the classic baddies.

 The Back-Up Story

Your extra dollar is going toward the 10 page back-up story “50/50″…I don’t remember the last time I zoned-out so fast while reading a comic.

Every story, every good story I should say, hinges upon a character’s desire. The character pursues something (a MacGuffin, love, money, etc.) and there are obstacles in the character’s way that they must overcome. Is “50/50″ a story in which the protagonist does not strive for anything? No, instead it is a story in which the protagonist is striving for something that we know, without a doubt, is ludicrously unobtainable and he is going about it in a way that feels just as implausible. This is a story about a corrupt state prosecutor asking Dent to do him a favor and in exchange Dent will be reinstated as the DA of Gotham City.

Sigh.

And then the whole story ends, get ready for this because I’m going to hit you with a spoiler– the whole thing ends with a surprise ninja attack. I’m not kidding. Just–just out of nowhere these ninjas show up on the final page claiming that they are here to take Two-Face to their leader. What the hell is that? How do you try to tell a dark story of corruption (and I mean dark, turn all the lights on when you read this story because they used ALL the black ink. It’s so deeply in shadow that it’s difficult to tell what exactly is going on in many panels) to SURPRISE NINJA ATTACK?

I tried running through the logic of this back-up and there are only two ways of allowing this story to make sense: #1 Maybe Two-Face hasn’t been around that long and he doesn’t have a mile long rap sheet? All of the atrocities he’s been famous for in over 60 years of fiction never happened as a result of the reboot of the New 52 and Two-Face never committed a crime that was overly heinous OR he was never caught. Doing this ignores the first issue of “Batman: The Dark Knight” and “Batman” where Two-Face is an inmate, of course.

Option #2 for allowing Harvey’s possible reinstatement to make sense is to accept the fact that it’s “Just a comic”– and that’s the most insulting thing of all. To be “okay” with this book I would have to thumb my nose at Batman comics and maybe even the entire medium. It’s stories like “50/50″ that make comics look like a disposable, cheap excuse for literature that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Final Thoughts

“Detective Comics” is a book worth dropping. Daniel is a swell artist, Kudranski is a swell artist, but the writing is terrible in both the main story and the back-up story. Issue #9 might have some cameos that’ll make a few fans happy and it does answer a few questions regarding the identity of the New 52 Black Mask and Clayface (Basil Karlo) but it doesn’t feel like it has any impact on the “Night of the Owls” story. It doesn’t feel important at all, like it’s just a side-trip Batman takes before moving on to the real adventure. Instead of feeling like it’s part of a sweeping event it feels like filler.

SCORE: 3/10

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