You probably saw the $7.99 price tag and thought “I better check on the reviews first.” Well, it’s good. It’s a fun read and absolutely worth buying if you’ve been keeping up with Laymnan and Fabok’s run from the start. If you haven’t and are just curious about the title because it’s the milestone 900th issue of Detective Comics, you may want to read further into this review.
This good but expensive 80 page giant’s main feature “The 900” continues the Emperor Penguin storyline from previous Detective Comics issues, but Ogilvy takes a backseat as we focus on Batman trying to find Zsasz and stop a plague that’s turning everyone in the 900 block of Gotham into a man-bat. All of that alone could’ve been 80 pages. Especially when we consider that “The 900” is being treated as the first ever appearance of Kirk Langstrom. I found it odd that history was rewritten and done so hurriedly at the tail end of this adventure. I wish that the first meeting of these characters had been treated with more care rather than squeezed into an Emperor Penguin/Zsasz/Save the City story. Man-Bat is the kind of villain who is rather one note after all so I would’ve rather seen him get full attention in the one brand of story he’s actually effective in. Why rewrite history anyway? It makes it quite odd that Talia and her man-bat army now came before the true Man-Bat, Kirk Langstrom. Oh well. “The 900” is still a thrilling read with amazing illustrations by Jason Fabok and colorist Jeromy Cox but one that I felt ended too abruptly to make room for the 4 other short stories also featured.
The first of the short stories, “Birth of a Family” feels like the typical back-up we see at the end of any issue of Detective Comics. It’s a quieter, more villain-centric short written again by John Layman and drawn by Andy Clarke, who is an amazing artist (except when it comes to drawing open-mouth smiles, they always look creepy) that I would like to see on a bat-title full time. Here we see how Langstrom’s research began, how he met his wife, and how she is dealing with the aftermath of what occurred in “The 900.” Clarke got to draw some rather disturbing imagery in this one and it looks great. The nasty monsters you see will really stick with you for a while.
“Birth of a Family” is quickly followed by “War Council” which should be the most talked about episode here. It’s the return of Bane written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Mike Janin. After the truly awful portrayal of Bane in Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight I was really excited to see what Tynion IV and Janin could do to repair the damage and thankfully they made some terrific changes. For one, we’re seeing some definite Dark Knight Rises influence here. Tactical vest instead of a wrestling singlet? Check! Wrist guards? Check! A private army that worships the ground he walks on? Check! My only complaint about the new and improved design (the original New 52 look was almost exactly that of the horrendous design from Batman: Arkham Asylum/City) is that the hoses coming out of his head are too large. It’s something about Bane’s character that’s always bugged me when he’s on venom: his weakness is so incredibly obvious. It was even worse in The Dark Knight Rises when busting the pipes caused him enough pain to bring him to his knees and the pipes were all located exactly where a punch would land. Speaking of venom, it seems that Bane has far more of the chemical than ever before and plans to use it on each of his soldiers. Well, maybe not all of them. There are three lieutenants working for Bane that appear to have unique abilities of their own. They are rather over-the-top looking henchmen but I’m curious to see what they’re capable of. Still, part of me wishes that we could’ve seen a New 52 return of Bird, Trog, and Zombie from Knightfall. Why does this Bane want to sack Gotham? It’s never stated, but luckily we’ll find out more when we read Talon later this month! “War Council” was a really cool read and it’s also worth noting how well Tynion did at incorporating the awfulness of Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight into the story of how Bane got to where he is now. It’s a bit unnecessary, I mean, I would’ve rather pretended like none of that ever happened, but you’ve got to salute the guy for not only acknowledging it but finding a way to pull something from the wreckage. The colors in this story were also fantastic. Santa Prisca (yes, it’s the return of Santa Prisca) has a totally different look and feel from any other location in this book.
It was nice to see a short from a different writer, but Tynion was the only other author contributing to issue #900. The remaining tales are all penned by Layman once again.”Birdwatching” is a story that’s not going to mean much to anyone but those who have read Layman’s Detective Comics from the start or even Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics run for that matter. We see Mr. Combustible (still not sure why he’s called that… looks a lot more like Gentlemen Ghost and I’ve yet to see him combust) operate as a secret agent of the true Penguin to bring down Ogilvy. Terrific stuff for those of us wanting to see more out of the Emperor Penguin storyline that’s been going on for some time now. This short was illustrated by Henrik Jonsson and Sandu Florea and the look is very reminiscent of Fabok and David Finch and fit right in.
“Through a Blue Lens” is told “through the lens” of the boys in blue. A cop who had transformed into a man-bat and fought the Batman in “The 900” is now recovering in the hospital and is surrounded by his fellow officers who all want to talk about his fight with the Caped Crusader. Of all the short stories, I wish this one had gone on longer. I love hearing the perspective of everyday people in Gotham, it’s one of the reasons why I loved Harper Row so much when she first showed up (she’s no longer representing the everyday person though as of issue #18 though, sadly). Of all the stories it also has the most different look and at times the colors appear too pure and everything has an overly clean and polished look. Even the Joker, who appears in a single panel with that rotting face of his, looks almost healthy.
And if 1 regular sized story and 4 short stories weren’t enough, you also get some fantastic pin up artwork in this book too! You’ll see stunning full-page images by Alex Maleev and Nathan Fairbairn, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse (their page had more of a Dick Grayson/Batman feel to it), Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn, Jason Fabok and Jeromy Cox, Andy Clarke, Francesco Francavilla, Cameron Stewart, and a really cool watercolor by Dustin Nguyen depicting a classic scene from The Killing Joke.
It’s expensive, most of the stories could’ve been fleshed out more (probably could’ve cut one of the stories and elaborated on the remaining 4), and it would’ve been nice to have had something that was more new-reader friendly, but overall this was a really fun read. Whether or not it’s worth the price of a whole TPB like Saga or X-O Manowar, however, is debatable since most of these short stories feel more like teasers for future issues rather than a complete tale. If you’ve enjoyed Layman and Fabok’s run so far then you’re going to absolutely love it. It’s worth every penny for anyone who has loved the Emperor Penguin storyline. And if you haven’t been keeping up with what goes on in Detective or Batman (which is also referenced as well as Batman: The Dark Knight AND Talon) you’ll at the very least appreciate the exquisite artwork. It’s a very, very good looking book. Action, a new and improved Bane, progress in Emperor Penguin’s story, the first appearance of Man-Bat, and spectacular artwork. It’s a book that gives you a lot to talk about.