Detective Comics, Vol. 7: Anarky review

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Other than an appearance in a Green Lantern Corps tie-in to Batman’s Zero Year, the sometimes-villainous, sometimes-something-else Anarky was absent from DC’s New 52 relaunch. For their second arc on Detective Comics, Brian Buccelato and Francis Manapul set out to change that.

What’s included?

Detective Vol. 7 actually collects several distinct stories, picking up where the previous volume left off and (largely) following a straight line from there. We begin with the two-part “Terminal” story from #35-36, written by Benjamin Percy, with art by John Paul Leon, colors by Dave Stewart and Leon, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher. Next comes the volume’s title arc, spanning #37-40, written by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul, with art by Manapul, colors by Buccellato, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher. An “Endgame” tie-in is next in line, from Detective Comics: Endgame #1, written by Brian Buccellato, with art by Roge Antonio and Ronan Cliquet, colors by Nick Filardi, and letters by Dave Sharpe. The volume closes with “Futures End: Anniversary”, from Detective Comics: Futures End #1, written by Brian Buccellato, with art by Scott Hepburn, Cliff Richards, and Fabrizio Fiorentino, colors by Buccellato and Lee Loughridge, and letters by Dezi Sienty.

We reviewed all of these issues individually as they were published, so if you’d like a more in-depth (and different) perspective, you can find those reviews here:

Terminal

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A two-month rest for Manapul and Buccellato provided writer Benjamin Percy (now on his second tour with Green Arrow) with a prime opportunity to break into comics. “Terminal” is his debut, and he is here paired with the most excellent John Paul Leon, Dave Stewart, and Jared K. Fletcher. The lines are greasy, the colors mostly flat, and Percy’s prose dark and authentic as the story explores a biological threat at the Gotham Airport and a race against the clock to find a cure. Percy has said that he likes to touch on the raw nerves of our cultural moment, and he does so expertly with a tale of terrorism and mass infection. Bruce and Alfred’s interactions and a cameo from the conveniently-in-Europe Agent 37 provide some levity, and we end up with a punchy, focused Batman story that covers an awful lot of the character’s usual ground in a short space. I would have liked another half-to-whole issue in the middle, but I am nevertheless in awe every time I revisit this one.

Anarky

If you’ve been reading Detective Comics in order, then you may remember Jeb Lester, a Wayne Enterprises employee who was implicated in a human trafficking ring in the last volume. The title arc of this volume begins with Lester being lit on fire and pushed off of the top of Wayne Tower by Anarky. Heck of a start! Meanwhile, Batman interrupts Mad Hatter’s crazed violence against some homeless people and uncovers some human skulls nearby. As he works both cases, they begin to converge, and the awful truth of the Hatter’s New 52 origin is given some disturbing clarity.

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I love Manapul’s artwork, and I love it even more when Buccellato is doing the colors. These guys have worked together a lot, and it shows. I also thoroughly enjoyed their first crack at Detective, even with that arc’s weak ending. Unfortunately, this one is a low point for the duo—a beautiful collection of confusing storytelling that screams “style over substance”.

I liked this a lot more when I read it in single-issue form back in early 2015. Maybe it read better with some space between installments; maybe my enjoyment of it was bolstered by great DC stories published at the same time, like “Endgame” in Batman (an arc I loved until its final few pages), Justice League’s “The Amazo Virus”, and a father’s refusal to give up on his son in Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin. I most definitely had a lot less experience reading comics at that point, and I wasn’t reviewing them, so I had yet to begin thinking critically about what works well in this art form. Whatever the case, I remember being very swayed by the lush pictures of colorful Gothamites in a snowy city, and needing to go through each issue at least twice before really absorbing the script.

This time, I’m struck by how many problems I missed in that script, and how Manapul and Buccellato’s gorgeous finishes are often poor storytelling devices. For starters, there are just too many crises dependent on shaky plot points. For example:

  • A bunch of employees end up trapped inside Wayne Tower because Anarky has hacked the building’s automation control system. What building inspector or fire marshall would sign off on a building automation system that does not have manual overrides on doors to facilitate safe exit?
  • Citizens (and later, police) blame a shooting on Batman, even though he isn’t carrying a gun, and the officer who actually did take the shot is standing close by with her gun drawn (and presumably smelling like powder). What reasonable person would possibly conclude that Batman, who has never been known to use a firearm, took the shot?
  • Part of Anarky’s master plan involves giving everyone in Gotham a fresh start by wiping out their records of criminal activity and debt. But it is later revealed (indirectly) that only Gotham-based systems of record were affected. What person’s criminal and financial histories are limited to activities conducted within their current city of residence?

If at this point you were depending on the artwork to bail you out, you might be disappointed. It is certainly drawn well, and colored magnificently, but it often creates questions rather than answering them. There’s a scene early on where Detective Bullock’s gun goes off, and it looks like Batman moves his arm out of the way at just the right moment. But the next panel shows a Batarang embedded in some switch on the wall, so if you were to now reinterpret the previous panel to suggest that Batman’s throw inadvertently hit Bullock’s arm and caused him to squeeze the trigger, you would not be alone. But several installments later, Bullock implies that he shot intentionally.

There are plenty of other scenes just like this one, where you encounter a panel that isn’t quite clear, and then have to go back and reevaluate things after discovering that later information contradicts your earlier conclusions. This sort of thing would be just fine if we were talking about gaining evidence about Batman’s case and then flipping back to see what you missed. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about sequential artwork that fails its most basic task: letting you know what’s happening.

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At the end of the day, “Anarky” has great difficulty with the two most basic questions that storytelling has to answer: what? and why? I can flip through its pages and appreciate their beauty as isolated works of art, but as a story, they are too often confusing, and the script doesn’t offer much help.

Endgame

If you were reading Batman when this Endgame tie-in was released, then its entertainment value was likely raised by your immersion in the Joker’s gaseous reign of terror in Gotham during that time. Purely within the context of Detective Comics vol. 7, however, this story is a confusing, somewhat incomplete tale only loosely tied to the rest of the book by Lonnie Machin. The narrative itself is simple, and structured well enough to produce suspense and excitement, so it’s not a total loss; however, someone who simply reads through Detective trades will have more questions than answers after this one. The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but from a functional perspective, there are several confusing or downright odd panels, including one where leaping (non-powered) characters appear to be flying in a straight horizontal line between two rooftops. It’s worth a single read for sure, but its average quality and its dependence on an external context ultimately make it more of a liability than an advantage for this collection.

Futures End

Part Futures End tie-in, part Zero Year back-reference, Detective Comics: Futures End #1 reads quickly, and that’s a good thing. There isn’t much to the story, and the finishes are divided between two sets of artists with very different aesthetics. Seeing Batman work an intellectual advantage over the Riddler is always at least a little bit of fun, and that is certainly the case here, but as with the Endgame tie-in that precedes it, this installment’s larger context is both outside of this trade and outside of the Detective Comics main line, and that hurts, though to a lesser degree than with the Endgame story.

Bonus material

As expected in a New 52-era trade, you’ll find a variant cover gallery at the end.

Value: sale price

You can get a used copy on Amazon for about eight bucks, and that’s a fair price. The Percy story at the beginning would have cost that much in single-issue form, and while the rest of the volume is characterized by varying degrees of disappointment, the title arc at least benefits from the strong visual identity of a Buccellato/Manapul collaboration.

Overall

Though it starts very strong, Detective Comics Vol. 7 quickly squanders its advantage with confusing storytelling in the main tale, and two throwaway tie-ins tacked on at the end. Buccellato and Manapul were one of the best teams out of the gate for The New 52, but their success on The Flash has sadly not been replicated in Detective. There are still a number of breathtaking shots in the title arc, and the two-part lead-in makes this collection worth owning at the right price; just don’t expect to be blown away.

SCORE: 6/10

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