Batman’s army has been bested by Shiva, and one of his strongest soldiers struggles with the revelation of her connection to the deadly lady. How can Team Bats take down so mighty a foe? Find out in Detective Comics #953Spoilers follow (but not that Spoiler, she’s still on her walkabout)

Pretty ordinary

Detective Comics #953 serves as an apt representative of the slump in which this series has lived for the past few weeks. After a downright inspiring prologue in #950, “League of Shadows” has thus far played out in run-of-the-mill fashion, with few surprises along the way. Whereas that prologue promised a character-driven saga of Cassandra Cain coming to terms with her own identity, the story proper feels much more plot-driven. We get some character moments, but they feel like ornaments rather than anchors. I’m on the record as loving Tynion’s take on Clayface, but here, even his interaction with Cassandra seems planted—I don’t think it has the same organic connection to the story that his previous moments had. And even a naturally-sourced confrontation between Orphan and Shiva suffers from generic sentiments and by-the-numbers villainous scumminess.

Confrontation is at the heart of this issue—indeed, this whole arc—but since the prologue, the story has focused more on simple conflicts at the expense of the confrontation of ideas promised in #953. Asking Shiva why she abandoned Cassandra is not nearly as interesting as exploring the personal uncertainty in Cassandra herself. We all know that Shiva’s a monster, and really, Cass should, too. And the answer to the question only confirms this—nothing useful gets added to the narrative because of it. Given the prologue, Tynion would have done well to hone in on the emotional baggage of having two evil parents. He stabs at the idea during Bruce and Cassandra’s rooftop showdown, but the story doesn’t really focus our attention there. When Orphan meets Shiva in the square, she confronts the woman who abandoned her—not the fear of deterministic, irredeemable evil within her own self.

Simplistic conflict is not an automatically inferior approach. But without distinct story elements, a simplistic conflict looks generic, lacking any real tension or drama. I am not surprised when Clayface lets Cass go. I am not surprised when Batman refuses to fight  Orphan. Surprise, surprise, someone got into the Batcave and the Belfry, and Alfred and others are in danger. I wasn’t even surprised to see Batwoman stabbed in the liver, because it’s already on the (admittedly, gorgeous) variant cover! Not every story has to be entirely fresh, and tried-and-true narrative turns can get tons of mileage if used well; but again, without the draw of compelling ideas beneath the surface, there’s nothing making this issue particularly worth chewing on. By the end, all that’s really changed is that everyone’s gotten their butts kicked again. And the introduction of a special guest that—while I can’t claim I was expecting him—is so on-the-nose and obvious that he adds no intrigue (even though I’m glad to see him).

Pretty uninspiring artwork

On the flip side, Vacation Gordon might just make it all worth it…

Series-regular Christian Duce shares art duties with Fernando Blanco this time around, and while I hesitate to call any of the pages bad (except the ones with Clayface—he looks terrible), Detective #953 looks as generic as it reads. Aside from a few shots, everything feels too familiar, and much of the book is crowded with odd assortments of overlaid panels. The two larger fight sequences—Oprhan vs. Batman and Orphan vs. Shiva—both rely heavily on a “one panel, many positions” approach to rendering the action that, in my mind, works far better in stories with a lighter tone. Here, the technique takes me out of the flow of the story, and it uses an awful lot of page real estate in the process.

The colors at least help to establish some consistency when Duce and Blanco trade off, and they look good overall, but they can only add so much to a bland-looking book.

An issue made for trade

I have enjoyed Tynion’s Detective overall, but there have been a few points since June when I considered dropping the book. Today’s issue makes another one. After an intriguing prelude, “League of Shadows” is in a rut, and “Kiss of the Dragon” is little more than spinning wheels. It isn’t terrible, but there’s not a lot of meat on it, and I would be very surprised if we don’t look back on it as an extraneous installment.

Recommended if…

  • You can’t bear the thought of having a one-issue gap in your set.
  • You’ve been enjoying “League of Shadows” so far.
  • You like seeing Batman get the guano kicked out of him.

Overall

A predictable, uninspiring stepping stone of an issue, Detective Comics #953 is written well enough and drawn competently enough to merit a read or two; but little actually happens, and generic plot points cannot sustain interest in the absence of more philosophical confrontations. If you’ve liked “League of Shadows”, pick it up. But if you’ve been thinking about dropping, this one could be the last straw.

SCORE: 6/10