It’s an all-new storyline written and illustrated by an all-new creative team so hop aboard, eager reader! If you’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to try out a New 52 Batman comic, this is your chance (and don’t forget about next week’s Batman Eternal #1 while you’re at it).
In my review of Batman ’66, Vol. 1 that went up earlier today, I spoke briefly about how similar the dozens of Batman titles can often be and how the lighthearted tone and vibrant color of that TV-inspired comic was like a breath of fresh air in times when I was going through reviewer’s fatigue. Despite there being so many Bat-books to choose from, nearly all are dark, overloaded with inner monologue, and– the biggest problem– more interested in delivering explosive action than engaging character development or portraying The Dark Knight to be “The Worlds Greatest Detective” that we all hear about time and time again. The world of Batman makes for a great action comic, that’s just a fact– ask Batman, he’s a scientist– but the thing that’s made him endure for 75 years is that he is more than just an action hero and the book with “Detective” in the title, more than any other, needs to utilize Bruce’s brain as well as his brawn. I think Manapul and Buccellato intend to that. At least that’s the vibe I’m getting.
Detective Comics #30 “Icarus: Part One” is by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, the same team that brought you the first couple years’ worth of New 52 Flash comics and I’m pretty optimistic about what they’re crafting here. Not just because it looks nothing like this…
…but because their ambition to make Detective Comics the stand-out Bat-title it should be is evident on every page. Its color palette is bright not dark, its villains are esoteric (The Squid? I had to find my Batman Encyclopedia because a Google search didn’t bring up enough info) not A-list Rogues Gallery, and there isn’t a single box of inner monologue to be found. One of the greatest rules of storytelling is “Show, Don’t Tell” and yet it’s broken time and time again in a medium famous for its pictures. Of course, the inner monologue, when done right is amazing (The Dark Knight Returns) and often times it’s a necessity since Batman doesn’t say much (A big reason why Robin was invented in the first place was so Batman would have someone to talk to, nobody had thought to use a thought-box in a comic at that time), but more often than not it is used as an exposition-reinforced crutch. Detective Comics #30 is a prime example of script and art being in lock-step together and it’s easy to see why there was so much buzz surrounding Manapul’s art and Buccelato’s colors (the team writes and illustrates together). There’s truly a terrific sense of motion from one panel to the next and you get the sensation that this richly detailed world is alive and these characters are moving freely in it.
Clearly, from that image there’s still plenty of action to be found in this comic. In fact, with all my ranting and raving about how much we need a good detective story in Detective Comics, there’s not any real Detective work to be found in issue #30. Heck, I’m even wary about the storyline involving a “new drug on Gotham’s streets” and I wasn’t a fan of this same creative team’s Zero Year tie-in, which is directly related to the events of this very chapter. So why do I like this debut so much?! Well, I’m always easier on new creative teams, but the #1 reason is the artwork. It’s an absolutely beautiful book. Batman fans are incredibly lucky to have books coming out right now from the likes of Manapul, Capullo, Gleason, and others. The 2nd reason is that the promise of mystery is absolutely there. Chapter one of “Icarus” is all about showing us the crime that Batman will be investigating in issues to come. The 3rd is that it offers us a side of Batman we rarely see, the side that speaks Chinese– I’m kidding, it’s Bruce Wayne, but the moment where he broke-out in fluent Chinese was cool, Batman should be versed in all languages and I was happy to see that touched upon. Bruce plays heavily in this story and he actually feels like a character with real depth. We see him still suffering after the loss of his son. We see him still fighting to save his city through more philanthropic means. We see in his scenes a person worth caring about, not a dull “we’re just going through the motions because of the plot, we promise to put him back in the cape in just a second” moment. Much like John Layman’s run, the new creative team seems keen on referencing events from other Bat-titles, but it appears that they’re doing so in a more meaningful way (be on the lookout for a Zero Year reference). Then there’s also the fact that I liked the zero inner-monologue approach and that they chose a villain who is out of the ordinary– I could go a year without seeing Man-Bat, Hatter, Clayface, or Penguin again.
The obstacles Batman is facing are two-fold. There’s organized crime and then there’s The Squid. You won’t be fully introduced to The Squid yet, but there is plenty of Batman vs. Gangsters and that’s great to see. Gotham’s mob has been…eh, no pun intended…criminally underused in The New 52. Even in Snyder’s Zero Year, which shows the beginning of Batman’s career, there hasn’t been a regular mob presence and the most we’ve ever seen of the mafia in the present day is when Joker killed every single mob lieutenant off-screen, which did more to make the ol’ Cosa Nostra look weak than it did to make the Joker look threatening. It was literally overkill. Another benefit of having Batman fight ground-level villains is that it reminds us of just how diverse Gotham is and how the war on crime extends beyond throwing the usual costumed enemy back into Arkham. While all of this may sound like quite a bit of ground to cover in a single issue (Father/Son drama, Bruce the philanthropist, Biker Gangs, The Squid, a new drug, a mystery, etc.) I didn’t find it overwhelming, but it could be said that the transitions between scenes were not as fluid as they could have been.
While I did really enjoy this comic on its own I do feel that the arc as a whole has potential to both rise and fall. The number of elements that I’m optimistic about far outweigh the pessimistic– I’m really only wary about the drug called “Icarus” but if this saga can continue to play things on a personal level for Bruce while giving us a true detective story that makes the reader think then I can see this series becoming a favorite of many.
- You were a fan of Manapul & Buccellato’s run on The Flash
- A Bat-book with a jumping-on point is what you’ve been waiting for. This is a new arc and a new creative team, slate’s don’t get much cleaner than that
- The A-list villains have grown tiresome and you’re ready to see The Dark Knight face down someone different for a change
- Manapul is one of your favorite artists. Even if the story doesn’t hook you, the art will
- Batman as a father who recently lost a son is an aspect of the modern mythology you’ve wanted to see addressed in greater detail. There’s plenty of action, but there’s a strong emotional core
- You agree that Gotham’s organized crime hasn’t gotten enough attention in the New 52
It’s a solid start and a big part of that is how Manapul & Buccellato are approaching the Bat-title in a different way than most of the books I’ve reviewed over the past couple years. They’ve ditched the inner monologue, turned the focus away from the big name villains, made Gotham feel alive by giving the Gotham gangs and average citizens their due, and they’re devoting just as much attention to Bruce as they are Batman. We don’t see any detective work in this issue, but I think it’s coming. Issue #30 is all about setting up the big mystery The Dark Knight will need to solve and while I’m not terribly excited about it being centered around a drug that makes people burst into flames, all of the other elements were very satisfying.