James Robinson knows what he wants from Batman and he commits to it from the opening page. Though he touches on Batman’s ongoing girlfriend trauma, he doesn’t dwell (and neither does Batman). Because this is Gotham and someone is being murdered somewhere and the city needs it Knight.

In this first installment of “Deface the Face” we get a classy and classic detective-style murder mystery in the opener and it looks glorious. Everything from the seedy crime scene, Gordon puffing away on his pipe (no less!), and art from Stephen Segovia that just takes a wrecking ball the notion of too much gloss and gives us standout sequentials that give Gotham the depth and darkness it deserves. And my favorite part of this tight opener: Gordon’s showed up to the crime scene because Batman’s there, tipping the GCPD that there’s more to the murder than meets the eye.

And still better?  Batman says:

And fans everywhere rejoiced!

To be certain the best thing this comic has going for it is that it’s simply solid. It does the things a comic book should do, doesn’t aspire to break the mold or seek out uncharted territory. It’s not going to redefine everything as we ever knew it, and you know what? That’s just fine by me. Sometimes solid is exactly what you want.

And there’s so much fun character interaction throughout this book that makes it worth it. Gordon and Batman aren’t exactly bosom buddies, but they are sort of working together even though Batman is pretty terse with the commissioner (and Gordon doesn’t let him off easy for that).  I like that Robinson is showing Batman being hyper-focused and the other people around him (Alfred included) making note of his re-dedication and how it’s maybe driving some wedges between Bruce and his allies. But these aren’t wedges that are going to collapse anything and that’s what gives them an interesting tension. While Alfred gently chides and Gordon outright admonishes, Batman is reminded again and again of not only his duty to the city but also the networks he relies on to get the job done.

Best of all, while Batman does mention Selina’s name once, his cranky mood just feels like annoyance and betrayal for the most part. He’s not feeling sorry for himself; he has work to do!

And then there’s a Firefly (or two). Robinson teases some interesting conflicts for this arc when Batman’s investigation leads to revelations, including:

Spoiler
Robinson canonizes for comic books an apprentice for Carson named Bridgit Pike. The name will likely only be familiar to you if you’ve been keeping up with the Gotham TV series, where Pike has been both vigilante and straight-up hired killer since Season 2.

Firefly puts Batman in a hot spot

As mentioned before, Stephen Segovia’s artwork is phenomenal, and coupled with Ivan Plascencia’s colors, this is a book to read and re-read and just enjoy on looks alone. I know a lot of people hate the wrestling-style trunks and I know my own critiques can’t help but be driven in part by a nostalgia for the tone and temper of comics-past, but for me Plascencia makes Batman totally work: nothing about him seems out of place when talking to the GCPD, or fighting against Firefly. And the world of Gotham is so rich in both the palette and the details I just can’t see cause to complain. Everything from the rusty bridges to the pitiable look of a cowering little dog is rendered beautifully. Segovia’s faces are gritty but alive, and he uses shadows and silhouettes throughout to great effect. Also, I have to admit my own bias here: any time something’s on fire in a comic book, it sparks the happy latent pyromaniac in me, and Segovia makes the most of every one of his conflagration moments.

My one quibbling nitpick to creators everywhere (and I’m keeping it vague to avoid spoiling the tease at the end): that’s not how snakes work. That’s not how they move. More than 80 years of comic books and artists are still struggling with this one. And before anyone jumps down my throat, I’m mostly just amused by this.

Two parting notes:

  • If the covers and variants get any more awesome, I’m going to have to start framing them.  Both the Segovia/Plascencia cover as well as the variant by Mark Brooks are absolutely stunning!  Who’s excited about comic books when they see work like this? I know I am!
  • That said, I’m not all that excited about the tease at the end, but I’m definitely interested in Robinson’s treatment of these characters and his sensibility about Gotham as a city. I’m all in with hopes high once again.

Recommended If…

  • There’s been a murder in Gotham and Batman is on the case! No fabric-of-the-universe game-changing acrobatics necessary!
  • You’re a fan of lesser villains like Firefly being enough trouble nonetheless!
  • Jim Gordon and Batman together again: fighting crime and trading quips!

Overall

With the Outsiders on their way…out, James Robinson blows the manhole cover off the grimy streets of Gotham with this literally burning arc-opener. If you like mysteries, if you like mayhem, if you like mid-tier villains making of muck of things, this is a story-opener that’s sure to please. Stephen Segovia’s art takes a simple, but compelling set-up and elevates it to cinema-quality action. If you’ve had enough of the over-blown and over-hyped for a while, this is a no-frills lead on what looks like a great balance of the Dark Knight putting his detective skills to work right alongside his batarangs and backfists.

SCORE: 8/10