It turns out I was saving the best for last and didn’t even know it!

“Targeting The Shield,” marks the first chapter of an all new 3-part arc (I’m very happy to see a short arc for a change in any of the bat-titles!) and it’s my personal favorite of not only John Layman and Jason Fabok’s run, but I think it’s the best issue of Detective Comics the New 52 has seen so far!

When I first heard of this story about an Anti-Batman and saw the cover featuring a villain who looked kind of similar to a Talon, I was interested but I wasn’t exactly holding my breath either. However, what I got here really floored me from page one and I mean that. The first page of this book slapped me across the face and said, “Pay attention, this is gonna be good.”

Fabok nails it. And by “it” I mean everything. Not only does Batman look amazing, but Gotham looks real and full of life. There’s a full page shot of the city that perfectly blends the look of classic Gotham with its zeppelins and clouds of bats with the areal shots of Chicago/New York used in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. And speaking of Nolan’s films, Fabok is still drawing the tumbler and it looks exactly the way it did in the movies.

As skeptical as I was about the look of Wrath, it works. The design is so busy and heavily plated that it sets itself apart just enough (not as much as I would like, but enough).

Spoiler
Speaking of looking like a Court of Owls Talon, did you guys see Dynamite’s The Owl #1 today?
I liked the design of Wrath’s sidekick Scorn (Both Scorn and Wrath appeared in a season 5 episode of “The Batman”) even better, though. But something I really hope you all take notice of is that there is a new colorist on board. I felt that Emilio Lopez gave the book a darker, moodier atmosphere than ever before and his palette really complements Fabok’s illustrations beautifully. Sound effects and tracer fire are all very vibrant and really pop on the dark imagery. The artwork really is phenomenal here and in the back-up as well.

The story is just as it was advertised and the lack of any real surprises might dissuade some readers, but I rather liked how Layman took a classic premise and gave it a modern twist. One thing that some might not expect, however, is that the Wrath is mostly seen lurking in the shadows until the final pages and it’s actually his sidekick who gets the most attention. But Wrath is so well  set up in those earlier pages that I don’t see how anyone could complain. The comic book is mostly made up of Batman and Gordon’s investigation into a series of cop killings perpetrated by Wrath. This pursuit eventually puts them on the trail of the Anti-Batman’s Robin, Scorn and I was very pleased with the way Wrath and Scorn’s relationship was depicted. There’s also a subplot regarding Bruce Wayne and a Wayne Enterprises competitor

Spoiler
 Do you think Wrath’s identity is really as obvious as that of The Merrymaker? Is E.D. Caldwell  the Wrath or is he a red herring?
. That said, the thing that pushed this book way, way over the top for me wasn’t so much the plot as it was the characterization, particularly the way John Layman’s depicted the GCPD.

A major gripe I’ve had across the entire line of Bat-titles has been that the cops have been worthless and Gordon has been underused. Detective Comics #22 makes great use of the GCPD, even going so far as to bring back the cops from issue #19 (The 900). Getting some supporting characters in there who aren’t wearing capes or tights is refreshing and actually hearing from cops who hate and admire the Dark Knight makes the city come to life. These cops didn’t feel inept, they didn’t feel like red-shirts there to be slaughtered, and they didn’t blend into the scenery. They felt like real characters.

It all made for an enjoyable read. The moments that stuck out to me though are spoilers so click this if you’ve read the book already:

Spoiler
After Scorn sees the tumbler and runs away, Batman doesn’t pursue immediately. Instead he hops out of the tumbler and hears officer’s Strode’s lengthy description of the suspect while the suspect is still very much in sight. The moment between Strode and Batman is nice and the reveal of the Caldwell tech armor was good as well, but Batman really needed to go get the bad guy! Especially when the bad guy is so close. And as for the ultimate death of Scorn, many might see that as being a cliche thing for a villain like Wrath to do, but I liked it. It was a great example of how much of an anti-Batman Wrath is. He truly sees his side-kicks as disposable and even delivered a great line about how partners in Gotham have a way of dying. Instead, my problem with the murder is that Scorn is a convict, which means he’s probably got a record and if you drop his body over the city then the police and Batman are going to find it and that’s evidence that can lead back to Wrath. He’s killing Scorn for being sloppy but ditching the body seems sloppy on Wrath’s part.

As if the detective work of finding a cop killer alongside a police department with depth wasn’t enough for you, the book also comes with a backup story by John Layman and Andy Clarke (who draws one of the best Man-Bats there has ever been). The backup focuses on Kirk Langstrom who, after believing he has overcome his were-bat affliction, begins transforming at random without the use of the notorious serum. At the same time, a number of grisly murders reminiscent of the 900 block occur and Kirk wonders if he has truly lost all control. While I would’ve liked a back-up that better complemented the main story, this is entertaining and well illustrated (with great color work by Blond, I might add) so I can’t really grumble. The back-up even features Harvey Bullock (another Gotham cop I would like to see more of) in a pivotal role and casually references the morgue hologram from Batman #2, which I thought was a nice touch. The one two-punch of Fabok and Clarke makes this one of the best looking comics DC is cranking out and if the rest of this arc is as good as this chapter I think Detective Comics will definitely start to become the favorite bat-book of many fans.

Overall

This was a terrific first chapter with a great new villain (I say new, but he’s been around since 1984 or so without much success), action (could’ve used more detective work but I’m sure that’ll come later), a police force that doesn’t feel one dimensional, and absolutely tremendous artwork. The only flaws I found at all noticeable were a somewhat sluggish pursuit by Batman in one of the action scenes, a potentially obvious villainous identity, and a back-up that didn’t add to or enhance the main story. In the end I think it’s the best bat-title of the day and a must buy, especially for those who have been eager to give Detective Comics a chance as this is a new reader friendly comic.

SCORE: 9.5/10