Detective Comics Vol. 1: Faces of Death review

Being a good writer doesn’t mean that you’re also going to be a good artist and being a great artist like Tony Daniel doesn’t mean that you’re also going to write great stories. “Faces of Death” collects the first 7 issues of the New 52 “Detective Comics” series written and drawn by Tony Daniel and although it starts off interesting enough with 2 gruesome (and perhaps overly gory) chapters about the Joker and a mysterious foe obsessed with mutilating his enemies, the rest of these issues get worse and worse and worse.

Content

Batman in Detective Comics

This is the big one. It’s easily the most talked about issue from the New 52′s first month and its events have a major impact on an upcoming “Batman” arc involving The Joker. It’s also one of the first reviews I did and I gave it a 7/10. It’s an issue that’s worth taking a gander at just so you see what happened to Joker. However, I loathe the way Joker is characterized here. It’s not the Paul Dini or Christopher Nolan Joker, it’s the Frank Miller style of Joker. This Joker is simply a serial killer with green hair and there’s nothing funny, charismatic, or entertaining about him. Still, this and issue #2 “Playtime’s Over” are the best chapters of the whole book and are worth reading. Everything else…not so much.

Playtime’s Over

Looking back at my old review of 8/10 I think that I over-valued this one. It’s probably more in the 7/10 area…but who cares, the scores are kinda arbitrary anyway and if you read what I actually said about the comic then that stuff still stands. You get plenty of Jim Gordon in this issue and that’s always a good thing, but you also get too much time with new characters Guy Who Will Definitely Turn Into A Villain and Uninteresting Hottie Who Bruce Sleeps With. Much like the last issue, “Playtime’s Over” ends with a startling cliffhanger that had fans hungry for more and we all came back in droves for part 3. Only when most readers picked up #3 they discovered that these cliffhangers weren’t part of a greater plan for a larger, more thrilling story but were planted there for shock value and nothing more. Cheap thrills like that wear off quickly.

Cold Blood

And then things got ridiculous. This chapter featured a hot nurse, a juggernaut, a cymbal clanging monkey, a Batman who is terrible at stealth operations, and numerous plot holes. I gave it a 4.5/10 way back when it was first printed.

The Main Event

If the “main event” backtracks 72 minutes ago to slip in a key story element and a character never mentioned before…then it’s not much of a main event. This chapter is meant to wrap up the first of the two stories included with this graphic novel but it’s a story that offered no closure and felt awfully rushed. The narrative is jarring, the events that take place don’t make any sense, and it’s just plain bad. I gave it a 5/10 back then, but I guess I was young and naive then because it’s a worse book than that. The chapter’s only real strength (other than the art) is in Harvey Bullock who is easily the smartest character in the entire “Detective Comics” series and he’s handled better in this 4-part story than he is in any other bat-title.

Wheel of Fortune; Russian Roulette

The book gets really bad from here on out with the only exception being the re-design of the Iceberg Lounge as a casino, that I do like. This 3 part Penguin storyline (which features very, very little Penguin at all even though he was on every cover) is one of the worst of any bat-title in the New 52. There’s a weird “Occupy Gotham” sort of protest going on but it’s made up of hundreds of Joker admirers…I don’t see this happening. It would be like having a pro Osama Bin Laden rally in New York or a Timothy McVeigh rally in Oklahoma City. It’s absurd. Not much else in this issue makes sense either and we see Batman act totally worthless again as he lets another bad guy slip through his fingers. It was published as a half-issue as well making this a very short chapter that ends abruptly. The other half of the original issue was a short story drawn by Szymon Kudranski and it deals with SHOW SPOILER ▼

(an idea that makes ZERO sense to me and you can read the full 2.5/10 review to see why) and Catwoman. Not only is it not a good short story, but it feels horribly out of place in this book (it’ll play somewhat of a roll in Vol. 2 though) and destroys the pacing of the Penguin arc.

Kill Game

The cliffhanger from “Wheel of Fortune” is totally forgotten and Batman delivers one of the worst lines in any New 52 Bat-title. It’s honestly painful re-reading this arc. I gave “Kill Game” a 3.5/10 when it was first published and it isn’t any better when collected with its other 2 parts.

The Snake and the Hawk

The Penguin vs. Batman showdown advertized across 3 dynamic covers lasts longer than the actual battle that takes place here. Batman and Penguin only share 2 pages together. I gave it a 3/10 when it was first published but it’s far worse here because it’s the final chapter of the whole book. These are the pages that you’ve been leading up to the whole time, you’re more invested in a graphic novel than a monthly. They are the pages that will be the freshest in your memory when you close the cover and they don’t even have anything to do with Batman! Instead the final page is about a new villain named Snakeskin who I cared nothing about and another villain who is yet another surprise relative of another character. There’s nothing satisfying about this graphic novel’s finale whatsoever.

Supplemental Material

11 pages of preliminary sketches and layouts. It would’ve been wonderful bonus material had it been annotated. I’d like to hear what Daniel’s thought process was for altering various designs, but all that’s here is the rough imagery without explanation.

Value

$22.99 (not including tax) for seven $2.99 books which would’ve cost you $20.93 (not including tax) had you bought the monthlies. You’re also getting the 11 pages of sketches and layouts, but it’s pretty boring bonus material without any commentary. Of course, this thing can be bought for $15.63 on Amazon too, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth even that.

Overall

The majority of issues collected here are terrible and the only reason I see anyone buying this book is to satisfy their curiosity about what the Joker did in issue #1. If you fall into that category, you could always simply buy that issue alone at comixology for 99 cents.

SCORE: 4.5/10

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