Spotlight on Azrael! Jean Paul Valley may have overcome his programming, but he may never truly be free of the Order of St. Dumas. When an old friend brings grave tidings, the once Avenging Angel and his new team must come face to face with the evil grown in his absence. Spoilers ahead!

Putting the pieces on the board

I confess that my first read through this issue was colored too much by my recent (negative) experiences with Detective Comics. As the start of a new arc, though, it isn’t all that bad, even if it isn’t terribly engaging. Long-time fans will no doubt enjoy seeing some familiar faces, and the team banter at the beginning is nice—though Luke’s tech talk feels a bit grating.

Clayface remains my primary emotional tether to this book, showing yet another dimension to his personality through his interaction with Cassandra. His zig-zag redemption through Tynion’s first year is this book’s greatest accomplishment, perhaps because it doesn’t come at Batman’s expense. Basil’s inclusion is to the credit of Bruce’s judgment, and his reshaping—pun lovingly intended—is made more authentic by its staggered ascension. If, like me, you have grown a little tired of Tynion gifting the rest of the cast advantages over Batman, you’ll likely enjoy another glimpse at Basil’s more compelling, believable growth.

Another positive: Tynion throws us a bit of detective work. While the plot strongly suggests that the detecting won’t last—even into the next issue—I’m grateful for the chance to see Batman go undercover as Bruce Wayne.

Some holes

Unfortunately, this installment’s biggest plot holes are tightly bound to that detective work. For starters, why does Batman need to approach “her” at the Iceberg Lounge? Why not catch her some place else? And why is he so indecisive at the start of the op? I suspect that, in Tynion’s mind, Bruce’s history with her plays into his timidity, but why wouldn’t he—against Alfred’s advice—just go in full Batman-mode and use duty as a wall to prevent things from getting too personal? And speaking of Alfred, he’s just a bit over the top with the playfulness this time around. It’s a fine line, as I love Alfred’s sarcasm; but here, it’s relentless, and one of his comments (the one about money better spent elsewhere) actually doesn’t make a great deal of sense, given that he’s the one pushing Bruce in the particular direction that prompts that comment.

If I’m honest, I am really happy to see “her” show up in Rebirth. But I don’t like the way that Tynion deliberately avoids her identity until the end. Surprise reveals are awesome when they are actually surprises, but anyone with an eye on the solicits (or that remembers the last page of “League of Shadows”) knew she was coming, and the avoidance seems unnatural. Surely someone would have said her name or referenced the nature of her performance.

My favorite look

Martinez is probably my favorite artist in the ‘Tec rotation. Barrows has the superior layouts, but with (what I perceive to be) a lack of emphasis on quality finishing in most of DC’s double-ship titles, anything that breaks the trend really stands out. Martinez may overdo the double-page spreads this go-round, but he, Fernandez, and Anderson bring a fantastic collection of settings, from the basketball game, to the city itself, to the Iceberg Lounge, and I love the character work, too. It doesn’t hurt that I his Clayface rocks, either.

I didn’t get to it in my last Detective review, because I had other concerns, but I’ve been consistently unhappy with Cipriano’s credits pages. I won’t blame him entirely for “League of Shadows”, because Marilyn Patrizio set the style for that in the prologue issue. But last issue and this issue are all Cipriano, and this one is the worst yet. He’s sacrificing readability for a clever layout and a particular aesthetic, neither of which are interesting enough to justify illegible text. Most of you will (understandably) just move past it and get on with the rest of the comic, but I am cursed to find it quite distracting.

Too early to tell

This issue reads well enough, and while it isn’t terribly compelling, it’s the first installment of a new story; and, if the rest of the tale is executed well, it can make this initial chapter much more enjoyable in context. Right now, by itself, and with its flaws, it’s just okay, but I’m rooting for Tynion to multiply its value as we learn more.

Recommended if…

  • You, like me, are a huge fan of Tynion’s Clayface.
  • You, like me, think Alvaro Martinez is the best artist in this title.
  • You, like me, love well-detailed shots of Gotham. And troll-men. I love troll-men. A lot.

Overall

Future installments may elevate this arc-starter, but Detective Comics #958 isn’t compelling enough—or tight enough—to get me too excited just yet. It looks great, thanks to Martinez, Fernandez, and Anderson, and it has some bright character moments, but if you’ve dropped the title, you may want to wait for a stronger incentive for jumping back on. If, however, money is no object, it’s worth picking up for a decent read and a delicious Gotham.

SCORE: 6.5/0