This is easily the best issue of Detective Comics that I’ve read in the last 2 years.  Even if we go beyond comparing it to previous issues from its own title, I’d still go so far as to say that it’s in my top 5 pick for best in the last year as well.  What’s so good about it?  Well, read ahead and find out…

The unknown!  I’m so used to reading comics that most of the time I can pinpoint where a story is headed after finishing the first chapter of a new arc.  Here, I have no clue what is about to happen, and I find that exhilarating.  As far as I can tell, this isn’t a rehash or reboot of some previous story line with minor alterations, but an actual original concept.  (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, one scene did seem a little Red Dragon-esque.)

The villain!  Typically, we are treated to a revolving door of standard Batman villains.  Half the time, name dropping a major villain is enough to guarantee a stream of readers for the story arc the villain is  attached to.  Here, we are presented with a no-name-nobody, and quite frankly, I find him far more menacing and ominous than the combined efforts of Batman’s usual Rogues Gallery. Why?

The reality of it all!  Now maybe this guy will turn out to be something supernatural or end up brandishing some weird power, but at the moment, he is just a guy.  It grounds him in the reality of our world, and that is terrifying.  He is a psychopath whom I could easily see having a real world analogue.  When you think about it that way, it’s fairly unsettling to consider that a person like this might be wandering the streets of your neighborhood right now.  Since the scene of him “torturing” that random guy is well within the boundaries of believability, it is easy to accept that something very similar to this has indeed happened in our reality, or could very well be happening at this moment.  And that leads us to…

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The creepy factor!  I love creepy stuff, and this story delivers in spades.  Right from the very first page, we are privy to the murderer’s ritualistic preparations.  Watching gloved hands systematically prepare an instrument of death is unsettling enough, but the fact that we see nothing but the weapon and his hands not only heightens the mystery and tension, but also voids the individual of his humanity since we focus on nothing of him but his will to kill.  There are other factors that contribute to the general sense of uneasiness in the prologue.  One would be the team’s decision to have us looking down the barrel of a gun. While not everyone is going to have an averse reaction to the gun image, I’d liken it to people who don’t want to touch a picture of a spider, even if it is just a picture.  On some levels, the image taps into our primal fight or flight reflex.  So even if it is just a picture, subconsciously you don’t want someone pointing a gun at you.  And let’s not forget that 18th Century Old English.  When you speak in Old English, you either sound incredible cultured, or creepy as all get-out.  There is just something about old-timey photos and language that makes me uneasy.  Much in the way I would say sepia-tone throws us off with its unnatural look, the fact that we are reading English but can’t immediately understand it entirely puts things just a little more askew.  This opening really set the tone for things to come.  If that wasn’t creepy enough for you, how about a naked dude wearing a lifeless George Washington mask that only allows you to see the whites of his eyes.

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Some more reality!  Gordon isn’t some godly super hero.  Like the villain, he is also just a guy.  He doesn’t even use Bat-Robot.  I get the sense that Tomasi wanted to tell a grounded gritty crime drama/cop thriller, but since he was stuck with Jim-Bat, he worked around the problem.  Aside from Gordon having a rooftop jaunt, I can totally see how (with minimal effort) this story could have been easily altered to tell a trench coat Gordon story.  The story felt like it was trying to draw Gordon back to his roots, a family man concerned with the people of Gotham who has shoot outs with criminals in dark alleys and discusses crime scenes over corpses in even darker morgues.  Speaking of which…

The detective work!  Yep, this issue of Detective Comics actually has street level detective work going on, and I loved it.  There was so much good cop talk that I was surprised when they didn’t discuss the ballistic complications inherent with archaic fire arms.

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The mood!  It’s raining, dreary, and dark.  It just feels so right and so like Gotham that nothing could ruin it for me, not even seeing Gordon looking all goofy with that cowl on his noggin.  From the back alleys of Gotham, to the icy halls of the morgue, and onto dilapidated old ruins, everything looks sooooo good.  But what we are really talking about here is the art.

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The art!  Typically, I focus on the penciler in my breakdowns, but the collaboration of the team on this story really delivered more than the sum of their parts.  Fernando Pasarin is on pencils with Matt Ryan and Chris Sotomayor on inks and colors, respectively.  Sometimes when one is trying to highlight the art of an individual, the best most flashiest splash page is used to demonstrate their talents.  Above, I chose to illustrate the level of commitment the artists had to this issue by showing the level of detail they chose to incorporate into not just the big pages, but even the smallest of panels.  This shot of Gordon getting thrown to the ground is a transitional panel in a fight scene.  We aren’t meant to linger on it as the pacing in this scene is fast and frantic.  So when you consider that this is the kind of panel that some other artist might depict with a blank backdrop except for the action, you can really see what this team brings to the table.  You can make out the trash as separate and distinct pieces of debris, you can see rain falling and creating rings on the ground, and you can see reflections on the slick pavement.  It’s a throw away panel, but just as much care is put into making it look as good as a full splash page.  Aside from the phenomenal level of detail that Pasarin adds, Ryan and Sotomayor are instrumental in providing that dark somber tone that I was mentioning earlier.  Everything has a disquieting muted darkness to it.  Even when you finally make your way to the villain’s headquarters which is lit by torches and candles, the glow is more sickly and uneven than warm and comforting.

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For those of you who read the Gail Simone Bartgirl run, Fernando Pasarin was the main penciler for much of the tail end of Simone’s tenure.  More often than not, I saw comments from readers and critics alike citing how dark and violent the later run was.  Well, it looks like that level of violence and creepiness must be a trademark of Pasarin, because it made the leap with him.  Personally, I never had a problem with the violent Batgirl issues (I guess some people just wanted the Batgirl comic to be more fun…and look where that got us… ), but for those of you who did, perhaps you’d be more inclined to appreciate it in the pages of Detective Comics.

Interesting Facts:

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  • Whether intentional or unintentional, this is a recurring line of dialogue from Batman Begins that is shared between Bruce and Ra’s.
  • Every line spoken by the villain in this issue is either a quote from George Washington, the first President of The United States of America, or Alan Shepard, the first American to travel into space.

Recommended if…

  • You like your creepy stories with a side of creepy.
  • You’re happy when Detective Comics focuses on the lost art of detecting.
  • You are a fan of Fernando Pasarin and his hauntingly beautiful and creepy work.
  • You want a story that feels slightly more real than comic-booky.
  • You want to see a brand new villain that can hold your attention with the best of them.
  • You want to read a Jim-Bat story that feels oddly more like a Gordon story than a RoboBat story.
  • Did I mention that this was creepy?

Overall:

Everyone involved in the execution of this issue brought their “A ” game and more.  This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been wanting to see from this title for awhile now.  Tomasi presents a truly riveting and terrifying villain who I imagine will be hard for some people to put from their minds.  He also delivers a Gordon who feels more Gordon-like than he has felt in some time.  Meanwhile, Pasarin and team deliver highly detailed and exceptionally atmospheric work that fully captures the Gotham feeling while simultaneously presenting the new villain in the “best possible light”.  I can’t say enough good things about this issue.  Seriously looking forward to the next installment!

SCORE: 9.5 / 10