SPOILER ALERT! No, not that kind of spoiler. The other kind of Spoiler. The kind that’s irrationally mad at Batman and irrationally tries to be like Batman, but not exactly like Batman. Anyway, Spoiler’s ahead in Detective Comics #957, and SPOILERS (the kind you’ll want to avoid if you haven’t read this yet) AHEAD.
Not the worst Spoiler story I’ve read…but that’s not saying much
I get it. Some people like Stephanie Brown. And to be fair, my experience with her is limited to War Games and Rebirth. And in War Games and Rebirth, she was and is one of the most annoying characters I have read. But whereas in War Games, she (rightly) came to see herself as responsible for her mistakes (even if she piled on more errors in her attempts to make things right), so far, in Rebirth, she thinks she’s better than Batman. She has taken up the tired old “superheroes actually make things worse” argument, and makes it her mission to replace the city’s dependence on heroes with a self-service approach. Seems reasonable, right? Teach people to take care of themselves instead of depending on outlandish heroes.
The problem, though, is that Steph’s plan to undermine Batman is ridiculous, and she’s the only person that can’t see it. After telling us again that people shouldn’t need heroes to save them, and that they can depend on themselves (which, in her thinking, also includes the police—but whatever), she carries out a plan in which she saves the day (sounds awfully heroey) and leaves the credit for the cops. So, in short, her plan to show Gotham that it does not need heroes depends on a hero. But if the cops can’t stop Wrath (or the next guy, or the next guy, or the next guy) without the help of someone like Spoiler, then isn’t she potentially signing up for a perpetual cycle of taking down bad guys in secret? Sure, she breaks out another tired argument—that the freakiest of freaks somehow exist as counterweights to Batman and his ilk—but if we give her that argument, does not her own continued activity in costume offer the same sort of provocation as Batman’s? I’d love for some of you readers to tell me what I’m missing in the comments (seriously!), because right now, it seems to me like this is obvious stuff to anyone but Steph (and perhaps James Tynion and Chris Sebela). And with such an obvious contradiction, I have a really hard time taking Steph—or the story overall—seriously. She is not convincingly naive, as the writers intended; rather, her entire attitude and set of actions come across as a massive hole in the script. To be fair, this all still results in a story that’s easier to read than those Steph-heavy chapters of War Games, but the bar is low.
Where is Batman?
Unfortunately, such a poor story only accentuates the absence of Batman from Detective Comics. His essence has been absent from almost the entire current run, even when his body has been there. And this time around, even his body is gone. In its place, we have only the irrational rantings of Stephanie Brown, whose words are the verbal seal on an argument that Tynion’s ‘Tec has made for some time (even if unintentionally): that everybody around Batman is better than he is. That Kate leads better than he does; that Tim thinks better than he does; that Cassandra fights better than he does; that Stephanie cares more than he does. I would love for there to be some grand payoff where these arguments get shot down and Batman is shown to be worthy in his own book. Right now, I don’t see how Tynion could take us there.
Now, I know what some of you will say: Batman does have deficiencies as a leader; Tim probably is smarter than Bruce; Cass most definitely is a superior martial artist; Stephanie may well be thinking more about the so-called little people than Bruce is. But since the first arc ended, Tynion has given us a Batman whose flaws render him incapable of completing his mission, rather than one whose incredible resolve and abilities allow him to overcome his deficiencies and save the day just the same. In an effort to explore the logical outworkings of Batman’s problems, Tynion has made him look incompetent over and again.
Thankfully, Carmen Carnero returns for more fun with Spoiler. If you remember, she provided some of the pencils for November’s #945, as well—the issue where Steph first struck off on her crusade to not be a superhero, while still kind of doing superheroish things, but saying superheroing is bad, and that the cops should get the credit, but only making that work by superheroing and then lying about the cops doing the work. Anyway…
I worried when I saw the credits page, because there are three inkers going over Carnero (herself included). That sort of mixture seldom turns out okay. But in this case, my fears were relieved, as the look remains fairly consistent throughout. I’m really glad, too, because I like Carnero’s style quite a bit. Her layouts are fairly simple, seldom breaking panel borders and never doing anything too crazy. Her facial work isn’t terribly realistic, but it is consistent enough that, combined with Mena’s colors, it does not distract. While the color is clearly more sophisticated, I’m reminded of some of my favorite stuff from the 90’s. I wouldn’t mind seeing Carnero and Mena work together on Detective again—hopefully editorial can make that happen.
- You really liked Steph in War Games—she’s as annoying and irrational in ‘Tec today as she was back then.
- You grow tired of the over-glossy color finishes that get applied to many of today’s books, and you’d rather enjoy some artwork that doesn’t try so hard to reproduce realistic lighting.
- You’ve looked at Eddy Barrows’ cover really hard, convinced yourself that Wrath is in fact Marvel’s War Machine, and you’d like to pretend that Rhodey gets his butt handed to him by the only Robin worse than Jason Todd.
Detective #957 fails to add anything substantial to the Spoiler saga that has been brewing since Tim Drake’s departure. Steph remains more annoying than sympathetic, and neither the reemergence of Wrath nor a surprise guest add much value to what is largely a boring-but-readable issue. Carnero, Mena, and some additional inkers are the real heroes this week, employing simple-but-effective layouts and a relatively flat color finish that perfectly fits Carnero’s style. You could do worse than picking this one up, but be prepared to lean heavily on the art for your enjoyment.