Change is good. The first week of the month has been one of my favorite weeks for comics but one of my least favorite for Batman comics, however I think all of that is about to change. Anytime new talent comes to a title you should almost always give that book a chance but few comics needed a shot in the arm like Detective Comics. It’s the flagship title (DC stands for Detective Comics) yet this has been one of the weakest New 52 titles for a full year. Tony Daniel creates impressive artwork, but his scripts were…well, I thought that the writing was terrible. After publishing so many negative reviews there’s enough evidence out there that I can’t really sugarcoat my hatred for it. I felt like I was throwing $4 bucks away month after month. Well he’s gone now and although the bar was set pretty low, the new creative team of John Layman and Jason Fabok has produced a very satisfying comic and restored hope in one of the oldest titles in Comicdom.
Detective work, gadgets, action, a classic rogue, a cameo by one of the batfamily members, HUMOR, and a solid backup story! These are the things you get from this issue and…it’s a good feeling. I sat the book down and felt that that was money well spent. Although the artwork has never been Detective Comics problem, Jason Fabok’s cleaner David Finch-esque style really stands out. It looks terrific. Batman is both heroic and threatening, the perfect balance. The backgrounds are also richly detailed and every character looks unique and memorable. I liked the look of the Ghost Dragon masks (they’re a league of assassins of some sort) but before the name was given out I began to wonder if Layman was bringing back the NKVDemon or something. The Oni/Demon mask has been cropping up rather frequently in my comic reading. It showed up in Batwoman #0, the Batgirl villain Grotesque and his crew wore them, and although it’s not recent for everybody, I saw them in the No Man’s Land trade paperbacks that I reviewed just a month ago (the attire of Nick Scratch’s gang). The Penguin is depicted a tad differently than you might be used to seeing as well because he’s the least hideous incarnation of we’ve seen in some time. Handsome? Far from it, which is good, but he doesn’t look like a goblin either and I was getting tired of that exaggerated look cropping up in other books (somehow after a year of reviews and never using the phrase “cropping up” I’ve used it twice here)–and Penguin has definitely been showing up a lot. He’s been given more attention than any other classic Batman rogue, even finding time to show up in Batwing and Batwoman. This isn’t even his first arc in Detective Comics.
The story here is that Penguin wants to build a legacy. He’s respected and feared in Gotham but he isn’t loved. If you’ve read Penguin Pain & Prejudice then you know that Oswald has some serious intimacy issues so the idea of him bullying his way into Gotham’s heart makes sense. His plan is to donate money to the community center and have a new wing named after his mother. Sounds legit, right? Not when that wing has already been funded by Bruce Wayne and named after his mother Martha. To take control of the situation, Penguin must kill Wayne and keep Batman as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. Little does Penguin know that Bruce Wayne and Batman can’t be in two places at once. Now, doesn’t that sound more complex and interesting than issues 1-11 of this series combined?
One thing that everyone is going to be talking about is the humor. The tone of Daniel and Layman’s Batman is vastly different. Light and day. Daniel gave us a very dark Batman who yelled a lot while Layman’s casually rambles and even cracks a joke from time to time. He’s a much more chatty Batman who can get so caught up in talking about detective work and crime fighting that Nightwing has to cut him off. If you’ve read Layman’s Chew then you’ll likely be expecting some comedy here and if you haven’t then the idea of comedy and Batman might scare you. It shouldn’t. Layman uses it appropriately and it’s not like he’s going to have the Caped Crusader doing slapstick. Batman isn’t delivering one liners constantly, but he actually has a sense of humor and that makes him more human, more relatable, and more fun to read. Even in the darkest stories like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman will say something funny from time to time. As crazy and brooding as Batman is, a part of him enjoys all of this. The key is to not make Batman too lighthearted or too grim.
The only thing that really stuck out as being off to me in this comic was this weird floating red scanny thing…
I’m guessing it scans the crime scene for clues or something, but it raises the question that I’ve asked before: how much technology is too much for Batman? I think anybody could operate a weird floating red scanny thing. That doesn’t make him the world’s greatest detective. And then we have the contact lenses that Batman writer Scott Snyder added that gave Bruce a constant stream of data as he looked at the world. How much is too much? And will we eventually reach a point with technology that it’ll be clear the Dark Knight best worked in a 20th century setting? Batman Beyond worked and it had way more advanced tech than this, but Terry wasn’t a smart Batman and depended on these gadgets and Bruce’s insight. Is it more interesting to see a Batman smart enough to build gadgets that do the detective work for him or would you rather see him take his time with a crime scene and rely on his own intuition? It’s an interesting discussion to have.
The backup by John Layman and Andy Clarke was also quite good. It’s not a “to be continued” short either. It’s a great glimpse into the life of small time Gotham criminals and it fleshed out Penguin’s top henchman from the main story a bit more. Andy Clarke’s crosshatching art style is quite different from Fabok’s but it looked fine nonetheless. These are two well-illustrated stories back to back, both of which complement each other well and had me totally entertained.
I recommend that everyone give this new creative team a chance. Issue #13 is the start of a great Penguin arc and the return of detective work (and fun) to Detective Comics.