A new creative team means a new direction for Detective Comics.  With the exit of John Layman and Jason Fabok, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato jump on board as the new all-star “storytellers” to begin their acclaimed run on the title.  Eschewing big, bombastic threats in favor of smaller, mystery-oriented stories, Manapul and Buccellato’s Icarus looks to bring the “detective” back to Detective Comics.

Volume 6 collects the following issues:

The first thing that really strikes me about this arc is how small scale it is.  Sure, the story focuses on a new drug that’s made its way onto the streets of Gotham, but there’s never a moment when it feels like the entire city is in danger.  It’s oddly refreshing, especially when every book these days seems to just want to get bigger and bigger each arc.  When stakes are continuously raised, when it always feels like everything is on the verge of disaster and destruction, those threats start losing their power.  It ultimately becomes meaningless, like Han Solo’s off-hand dismissal of the Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens.  We’ve seen things like this before, and the undefeatable have been defeated.  It’s just a matter of figuring out how to stop this new threat.

Instead, Manapul and Buccellato focus on crime on the streets of Gotham, and its effects on the city’s citizens.

Namely, the toll crime can take on a single family.

The title of the arc and the trade comes from the name of a new drug that’s hit the streets: Icarus.  For a while, the nature of the drug and its origins remain a mystery that’s rather compelling.  Better still, it’s a mystery that both Batman and Harvey Bullock are investigating individually, so naturally the two repeatedly butt heads.  This was around the time of Batman Eternal, so Jim Gordon was still in prison, which explains why he isn’t around the vouch for Batman.  I’ve always liked the contentious relationship between Bullock and Batman, and seeing the two doing good work in their own ways is rewarding as a reader.  The book, after all, is called “Detective Comics,” so why shouldn’t there be some fine detective work?

Besides the main plot, there are also a few explorations of family and trying to make Gotham a better place simply because it needs to be.  Bruce’s interactions with the Aguila family provide a strong emotional backbone that carries the story forward, with a few genuinely heartbreaking moments sprinkled throughout.  There’s a simple look Bruce gets when someone mentions him needing to prepare for Damian’s “teenage years” that is absolutely devastating.  It’s a close up of his profile, caught in a slim, tall panel.  The look in his eyes speaks volumes, though, and there are a few other moments throughout that add the same type of heart.

For a good two thirds of the story, Icarus is remarkably compelling.  The deeper Batman dives into the drug, the messier things get.  There’s a particularly gripping scene aboard a shipping freighter where Batman uncovers a shipping crate full of… children.  This was also around the time Damian had died, so Bruce is still reeling with grief, so seeing kids being exploited as cheap labor adds to his anger.  One of the best action scenes occurs immediately after he releases the kids, when he’s ambushed by an enforcer named Sumo.  It takes place within the shipping crate and is illuminated solely by a few red glow rods.  It’s claustrophobic and intense, with some inventive layout work from Manapul and great coloring from Buccellato.

Truth be told, the main strength of this collection is the art.  Manapul has a wonderful style that is somehow simple and incredibly detailed at the same time, and Buccellato’s lush colors complement him nicely.  There were some spreads that I took a few minutes just to look at, taking in every little detail and marveling at how beautiful they made this rather ugly story look.

Unfortunately, things kind of go off the rails toward the end.  One of the gangs that Batman investigates has a giant squid they use for… retiring people, which I’m fine with.  Batman versus giant squid?  I’d read about that all day.  The problem is it just feels really random, save for the fact that the gang leader’s nickname is “the Squid,” so it feels a bit too cute and on the nose.

That’s not even mentioning the source of the drug itself.  It’s taken from the blood of this radioactive guy who kind of appears out of nowhere, sprouts energy wings, gets into a fight with Batman and the gang that was using him, and… flies away, I guess?  It’s bizarre.  Besides hints that the drug is radioactive and a few panels in the shipping yard scene to indicate he was cargo, there really isn’t any detail given on this guy.  I don’t know, I may have missed something, but I read it a few times and still came up short.

Either way, even with such a weird ending, the arc was largely a solid read.  When it stuck to the human center of the story it was genuinely strong work.  When it tried to be about weird radioactive guys and oddly-defined gang wars, well… it still wasn’t terrible.

If the main “Icarus” arc started strong and ended weak, this annual was pretty much the exact opposite.

A lot of that has to do with the story’s structure, namely the different time jumps it makes.  Everything takes place on Friday, October 9th at different points throughout the day.  It alternates between: Batman tracking down a missing shipment of Caldwell Industries weapons (a nice callback to The Wrath); Annette Aguila and her boyfriend Dante, the latter of whom is watching over a cache of Icarus; and Matches Malone beating up Calendar Man for being a dead-beat dad (among other things).

Truthfully, it took me a while to get into this story.  It was disjointed thanks to the jumps back and forth throughout the day, and it isn’t really clear what the whole point is until later in the issue.  Once everything clicked, though, I was all about it.

Call me a sap, but I really loved the moment Batman shared with Julian Day’s son.  The kid helps Batman figure out where a weapons shipment is going to be, and Bruce is actually kind to him in return.

Scenes like this make me think of DC: The New Frontier, when Batman decided to lighten his approach a bit.  “I set out to scare criminals, not children,” he tells Superman.  I love that.  Dark as he is, vigilante that he is, Batman is still ultimately good.  There’s no reason a child should fear him because the child has done nothing wrong.  Criminals?  They’ll totally get a goofy bat-shaped knee pad to the face all day long.  The innocent, on the other hand, have nothing to fear because he’s fighting for them.

Anyway, Aden there is Julian Day’s son, and of course he gets kidnapped by the big bads.  Batman finds out, however, and concocts a plan that will use all of his skill with stealth and the shadows to save the boy from harm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding: Batman charges in while wearing a giant mechanical suit, because of course he does.

It’s a frenzied action sequence that ends on the most hilariously anticlimactic note that I couldn’t help but love it.

It’s not all goofy silliness, though.  That earlier scene with Aden carries an emotional current through to the end of the book, and I ended up enjoying the story a lot more than I thought I was going to.

Buccellato flew solo on this one, which may have contributed to the slightly disjointed feel.  Manapul’s pencils are missed, that’s for sure, and there was a good synergy between the two that made the earlier story compelling, as well as others later in their run.  The pencils on the annual aren’t bad at all, with different portions of the story handled by one of three artists.  Brandon detailed the differences pretty well in his review, and I echo his sentiments and descriptions:

  • Scott Hepburn is the most Manapul-esque of the three, handling the scenes with Batman’s investigations
  • Jorge Forn covered the Annette and Dante subplot, and his work is pretty exaggerated and loose.  Of the three, his is the most distinct and, therefore, the one that fits the least.
  • Werther Dell’Edera handled the scenes with Julian Day.

All three have styles that I liked, and while there were some inspired images, it would have been nice if there had been consistency.  Either way, I can’t really think of anything bad to say about the art other than “I wish only one of them had done it,” so that’s a win.

The best thing about this annual, though?  It’s actually part of the main story.  That’s right: every issue contained in the Icarus trade was part of the “Icarus” storyline.  It stands on its own perfectly well.  After several trades of choppy storytelling and incomplete arcs, the fact that this collection tells one complete story is almost a novelty.

Bonus material: Some variant covers and a brief but interesting look at some of Manapul’s breakdowns.  Here’s my favorite variant cover, this time from Joe Quinones.

Spoiler

Value: It’s a pretty quick read, but it’s a good read and pretty self-contained.  You can get it for less than ten bucks on Amazon, and that’s a pretty good deal, so I’ll say full price.

Overall: Like Icarus himself, this collection flies high and falls just short of touching the sun.  When it’s good, it’s really, really good.  When it isn’t, it’s still entertaining in its weirdness.  Manapul and Buccellato have something special going on here, and this is just the first step in redeeming Detective Comics and making it a must-read.  It’s a good story with some dazzling artwork, and more than that it’s a standalone collection.  The fact that it doesn’t continue one story or lead into another adds to the readability and value for multiple read-throughs.

SCORE: 7.5/10