I’ve found “Detective Comics” to be pretty terrible since the 2nd issue. The last arc was a definite low point in which nothing made any sense or had any real impact, and Penguin (who was shown on 3 covers in a row) never actively participated in the story until the final issue and even that only lasted two pages. The book needs a shot in the arm and everybody wants to know if issue #8 is it. Just look at it! It has Scarecrow on the cover, Two-Face in a back-up story (and not the One-Face kind of Two-Face, but REAL Two-Face), and “Spawn” and “Penguin Pain & Prejudice” artist Szymon Kudranski handling the back-up story’s art. Is all of that enough to pull this series out of a nose dive? Is it enough to validate the price hike to $3.99?

The Review

Here is how DC Comics teased the plot of issue #8:

Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, investigative journalist Charlotte Rivers, tries to protect a long-hidden secret even when her own life hangs in the balance. The Scarecrow is after knowledge only she possesses, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it from her. Can Batman uncover Charlotte’s secret past in time to save her future? With the clock ticking and a dose of newly designed fear gas in the air, Batman must first fight his own nightmare as all of Gotham City turns against him.

Here’s what actually happens in issue #8:

Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, investigative journalist Charlotte Rivers, tries to protect a long-hidden secret even when her own life hangs in the balance. The Scarecrow is after knowledge only she possesses, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it from her. Can Batman uncover Charlotte’s secret past in time to save her future? With the clock ticking and a dose of newly designed fear gas in the air, Batman must first fight his own nightmare as all of Gotham City turns against him.

It’s quite a bit of unnecessary false advertising, yeah? Or maybe it’s just misdirection and the folks who write the plot synopses did it as a joke since very few (if any) fans give a crap about Charlotte.

The poor man’s Vicki Vale doesn’t get any mention at all, but that’s fine. Instead of Charlotte, we get a cameo by two fan favorite female characters, one of which Daniel draws exceptionally well. This issue is a one-and-done self-contained adventure that anyone can pick up and enjoy. There are a total of 4 classic Batman rogues making an appearance and if you prefer the Frank Miller, brutal interrogation Batman over other interpretations then you’re definitely going to want to check this issue out. This is a Batman who either pummels you until you black out or shouts at you until you’re drenched in spittle. This Batman’s detective work isn’t about collecting clues or, well, thinking. This Batman beats up bad guys until they answer the question “WHO ARE THEY!?!?” and then he goes and beats up those bad guys until they answer the question “WHERE ARE THEY?!?!” and when he finally finds the main bad guy he beats him up and goes home.

My bad jokes aside, it’s easily the best issue since  #1 and although I didn’t find it to be worth a dollar more, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. The art still looks good, and as much as I dislike the way Daniel writes it’s absolutely amazing how he’s able to put out this level of work month after month. Sure, Batman’s incessantly angry facial expressions are becoming rather comical, but there’s a hell of a lot of detail in every panel. There’s a surprise character (you’ll see on the first page) who Daniel drew really well and his Scarecrow is a nice design reminiscent of Cillian Murphy’s portrayal in “The Dark Knight”.

Here are some of my problems with the book that involve spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Spoiler

1. At the start of the book, Catwoman is under the influence of fear toxin. Her greatest fear? Poison Ivy. What’s up with that? I know the two have had their differences, but worst fear? Really?

2. For a guy with so many degrees, Jonathan Crane doesn’t seem too smart. At first the idea of Scarecrow using Batman to bring down his competition isn’t such a bad idea, it’s his execution that’s the problem. Everything was going fine until he had to go watch Batman bring down Digger. Exposing himself like that was unnecessary. The only reason that part was written in was so the Scarecrow loose end could be tied up nicely in a one-shot issue…but why not just let Scarecrow get away in the end? Bringing down Scarecrow so easily cheapens him as a villain. We already get Batman catching Eli and stopping a major threat to Gotham so why not leave Scarecrow creeping in the shadows, victorious, a villain who used Batman, forcing the Dark Knight into a situation where he had no other choice. THAT would have been good. Build up the threat of Scarecrow–we’ll be seeing him all over again anyway in just a few months so it works perfectly! In “Batman: The Dark Knight” when Gregg Hurwitz takes over this June the Scarecrow will be the main villain. If the Scarecrow was still on the loose at the end of this story it would have only added to the anticipation of “Batman: The Dark Knight” and made this one-shot a far more haunting tale.

I’m tired of the classic Batman rogues getting shortchanged. Joker didn’t do anything but cut his face off, Two-Face is only now getting his dignity back from that One-Face fiasco, Poison Ivy and Catwoman get plenty of face-time in their own books but they aren’t real villains anymore– there’s a whole generation growing up now that only knows Batman’s greatest female rogues as anti-heroes rather than enemies, Clay-Face passed out, Dick and Batman whooped everyone in Arkham in the first issue of “Batman” without any trouble, and Bane’s development has been retarded to an offensive degree and is nothing but a giant hulk that was beaten by a venom antidote being tossed in his yap as he rambled about how he was going to attempt to break Batman for the 83rd time. Is there a rule in the New 52 that classic Batman rogues can’t be a threat anymore?

3. Why did Eli Strange’s henchmen dress like Scarecrow?

4. Why is Scarecrow walking around with a wallet-sized photo of Eli as a boy? Was it a just-in-case to reassure Batman that there was indeed a victim/hostage out there in the event that Batman apprehended him? If he was so worried about Batman catching him, maybe instead of tracking down a childhood picture of the guy you hate, why not just stay home so Batman definitely can’t spot you while he’s about to feed a drug dealer to the dogs? And I’m sure that these flamboyant villains love their irony, but did it didn’t even have to be a picture of Eli as a kid. Just show Batman a photo of some random child. How did Scarecrow get his hands on this picture?

5. I’ve already ranted before about how much I hate Eli. But here we get his full origin story and it’s just…it’s just dumb to me. He graduated college when he was 10 years old because he’s a super genius like his father. By 17 he worked for the Pentagon (which makes me wonder what places he worked at from age 12-16 in order to build a resume worthy of the Pentagon) and apparently started killing his supervisors until he had to flee to Gotham and start a life of crime that included jacking a card game with Catwoman. I just don’t know where to start. I mean, if you’re cooking up an original villain, having them be a blood-relative to a pre-existing hero is already going to gather a lot of hate from fans. And then when you go the evil Doogie Howser route with his origin story… Come on.

As for the back-up story…I don’t really know what to say about it story-wise. It’s only 8 pages of setup and it’s something about how if charges are dropped against Two-Face then he can become D.A. again…which seems incredibly hard to believe. If Daniel did a story about crazy-ol’ Two-Face being deluded enough to think that he could run for office again, that might be fun. One big political campaign of terror. But having him find a loophole to actually get back into office as if he isn’t an infamous murderer with countless charges on his record….I don’t think so. But like I said, it’s only 8 pages and it’s not totally clear what is exactly going on, but the art looks great. Well, except for an awkward shot of Two-Face where it doesn’t look like he has a neck. Other than that, it’s a wonderfully gritty style that I fell in love with during “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice”. Kudranski’s heavy use of shadow is perfect for Gotham and he draws a pretty nasty Two-Face.

Issue #8 is a definite improvement on what I’ve seen lately from “Detective Comics”, but it’s still not good enough to warrant a $3.99 price tag. Not when there are so many better books that come out on the same day. Examples would be “Animal Man”, “Swamp-Thing”, “American Vampire”, “Supurbia”, “Ultimate Spider-Man”, “Avengers vs. X-Men” and even “Batwing” is a far better read if you just want something bat-related.

SCORE: 6/10