This Week in Comics: The Return of Detective Work

Reviews and the discussions they inspire are a big part of why you come to the Batman News comics section. So an article in which all of our reviewers engage in a discussion? Why, you’d think that would be a no-brainer! And yet it took several years for the idea to cross our minds… We missed the entire purple cape phase! Anyway, here’s the new plan: at the end of every week you can come back here and see what it’s like when all of your favorite reviewers let their hair down and talk about all the Wednesday Bat-books. And I mean all of them. The ones they reviewed and the ones they didn’t. Even that one that everybody hates! You know the one. Even if Batman News dropped a title from its review rotation ages ago, it’ll be lauded or lambasted right here. It’ll be fun. Should be, anyway. Some of the most well-versed Bat-fans praising or debating the merits of your pull-list? That sounds like a great way to cap off a week in comics! 

So here it is: the weekly roundup. Think of it like a peek into the Batman News breakroom or, perhaps more accurately, as a copy/paste of a chain email or an overcrowded podcast that you have to read. Personally, I will be imagining Jay’s commentary in the voice of the Animaniacs character Pinky and Brian’s as Brain, and I suggest you do the same. So remember: Brian = Brain and Jay is Pinky. Annnnnd go!

Detective Comics #994

Josh: Can we all hug Tomasi? We got a Batman story, where Batman actually feels like Batman, and he has friendly interactions with characters he’s supposed to appreciate and respect! Thank you, Jesus!

Brian: I thoroughly enjoyed this. I thought there were a few moments of dialogue that were a bit off, but this was good, solid comics fun overall. And I think Mahnke’s work looks amazing.

Jay: This lacked any pretension and lofty ambitions.  Nothing groundbreaking or earth shattering, just good comics.  That’s all I want, and Tomasi and Mahnke delivered in spades.

Josh: What are you trying to say, Jay? Are you implying that King’s Batman run is pretentious? *whispers* Because it is…

Elena: It’s narratively messy as hell, but so full of comic-booky goodness you can forgive a lot!  

Josh: Really? You think the narrative is messy? I feel like we were thrown in with little context, but I didn’t necessarily think it was a mess. However, I will admit that I’m not a fan of Gordon working the murder of Thomas and Martha. I just feel like he isn’t old enough for that. I don’t need everything to be connected back to Bruce all the time.

Casper: I love this Batman! This Batman is calm and methodical, even when things get hectic, and that is the Batman I prefer. I’m also really happy that the comic opens with a crime scene and some detective work. I hope to see more of that. I don’t always need the big fight scenes, you know? Although, I must say, Mahnke draws a fantastic action sequence in this issue. In fact, Mahnke is fantastic throughout the entire issue.

Josh: Yeah, I’ll piggyback the praise for Mahnke. His work is excellent here! I’m hoping he can remain consistent with it on a double-ship schedule though. That, or hopefully Tomasi has a plan in place that is similar to King’s concerning his rotation of artists.

As for the story, it’s clear that Tomasi distinctly intended to establish Batman as a detective, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed that!

I think my biggest gripe would be Bruce’s extremely detailed recount of the night of his parents’ murder. That and the “my… Martha” slip-up felt forced. Gordon would totally pick up on that. But seriously, that’s my only legitimate complaint. I didn’t even mind DC’s Venom/ Carnage villain knockoff.

Dan: I also really appreciated getting an issue of Detective Comics featuring actual detective work.

Josh: Yes!!!!

Dan: I’d additionally like to spotlight the deliciously moody palette from David Baron. Usually, Mankhe’s work is coloured much brighter than this so it was a nice change and it fit the story.

Elena: Great observation, Dan! I actually thought Baron was his usual colorful self, but you’re right, this was toned down a bit, but without it turning into a total muddy noir. It actually reminded me a lot of Dick Giordano’s work before colors went AWOL in the late 80s-90s.

Dan: I wish we could see Aquaman’s face when he discovers what Batman did to the aquarium.

Josh: Probably something like this…


Batman Annual #3

Elena: Tom Taylor is my hero. Holiest of cows this was awesome.

Brian: I remember a few years back when Tom Taylor wrote that amazing Batman/Superman arc with Lobo. I thought “why don’t they just get him to write JL, after this and Injustice?” Now I’m sitting here wondering why the heck he isn’t writing Batman. This was easily the best issue of this title since last year’s “Date Nights and Last Rites,” and it’s probably better than that one, too.

Josh: Right!?! Why isn’t Tom Taylor writing Batman? I know Tom King has another two years or so before he finishes his run, but Taylor seems like the perfect choice to follow.

Jay: Yes, Tom Taylor for Batman.  Absolutely.  And Alfred: The Comic here was excellent.

Josh: Speaking to the issue itself, this is simply a beautiful issue that highlights the incredible relationship between Alfred and Bruce. I walked away from this story loving and appreciating both characters so much! I can only imagine what it’s like to read this as a father. I’m just a dog-dad and this book gave me the feels big time!

Casper: You know, when I started reading this I was wondering if this was going to be completely from Alfred’s perspective. But Taylor ended up balancing both Alfred’s and Bruce’s perspectives and it was just getting better and better. Schmidt did such an amazing job, too. I’ve enjoyed his artwork since Green Arrow, and his style really fits the tone that Taylor’s going for. It just works, all right!

Josh: Agreed. I was hesitant about Schmidt doing Batman, but I was more than happy with the end result!

Brian: I also didn’t think I’d dig Schmidt on Batman, but I thought he did an awesome job!

Dan: This annual was funny and heartwarming and I loved it. I wish Alfred would leave a mint on my pillow.

Casper: When I got to the final page and saw the title, this is probably the first time that I think having the title/credits in the last panel actually contributes to the story/theme. Alfred’s asking what’s so special about that day, and the story’s title is “Father’s Day.” I love everything about this issue. Both Taylor’s and Tomasi’s writing, but especially Taylor’s, was really what I needed to remind myself why I’m a Batman fan.


The Batman Who Laughs #1

Dan: This was so much fun! I absolutely love the multiverse and all the story possibilities it offers. With no less than four iterations of Bruce Wayne in this issue, we’re shown several interesting ways his life could have gone. Jock’s version of the Joker is gloriously terrifying.

Brian: Yeah, this is pretty engaging and interesting. I don’t think it makes any sense whatsoever that Bats would be cool with the Joker strolling into the cave, or surprised that he’d pull a stunt once he got there, but eh…it was still a decent read and I love Jock’s stuff.

Elena: I love Jock’s stuff too, but he hates cars and it shows–ha!

Casper: I actually really love this issue. The psychological horror and body horror elements made this so unnerving. I think it’s a great start to this miniseries and I’m excited to see where this goes. I hope that Snyder and Jock will continue to focus on those horror elements — I just think Jock’s style works better for that type of stuff than the big superhero action. And Snyder is a really good horror writer.

Josh: Yeah, there was a lot that I liked about this issue, and I’m definitely eager to see where it goes. And seeing the attention that was given to the dead Bruce Wayne, especially considering Batman’s examination of the scars, when he would’ve received them, and when he would’ve stopped his turn as Batman, made me interested to learn more! I hope this wasn’t just a flash in the pan for this character because there’s so much I want to know. Which world did he come from? How did he get here? Did he encourage a Bat-family there as well? Etc.

Jay: The “Dark Knight Returns” joke was so groan-inducing and I absolutely loved it.

Brian: Groans of joy, man.

Josh: I… just groaned. That was honestly the only thing I found groan-worthy, though. I do, however, find it interesting that the titular character was easily the least interesting aspect of the book. I’m curious to see how they deal with Joker though. Will they pull a “classic Joker” and he’ll come back one way or another, or will this lead into Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s Three JokersGoing back to Jock’s art, am I the only one who thought that Jock’s art looked a little different than usual? There were panels where I felt like he was emulating Miller’s artistic style.

Brian: Jock was colored by David Baron (same fellow who did ‘Tec this week). Doesn’t he usually color his own stuff?

Casper: I’m not entirely sure if Jock usually colors his own stuff. I do know that his work was colored by Matt Hollingsworth on Wytches. But for some reason Jock does strike me as the kind of artist that would color their own work in general. Could be wrong, though. But what I am sure about is that I agree 100% with Dan: Jock’s Joker is gloriously terrifying!

Josh: It looks like he colored his work for All Star Batman and Black Mirror. Maybe that’s why it looked different. I’ve never read Wytches. Someone let me know if I’m missing out!


Batman Damned #2

Elena: Just a reminder that this one is not for the kiddies. Probably not for some adults either.

Josh: Yeah… For whatever reason, this is the book that I decided to read on my lunch break while in public… May not have been the best decision.

Brian: What did I just read? Azzarello’s writing here is so over-cooked.

Elena: The narrative especially is not just over-cooked, but burned. Just look at the pretty pictures. To be honest, we don’t even need the narration; Bermejo carries it: tone, mood, action.

Brian: He’s a good storyteller, no doubt, but I’ve never warmed to his aesthetic—too much going on for my taste.

Elena: But that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. It’s definitely provocative for the sake of getting people riled, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous, which is a problem I’ve had with Azzarello’s stuff in the past. Also, can I just say that Etrigan as a satanic rapper makes the best sense ever?

Josh: Ok, so that is Etrigan! I wasn’t sure. I thought it was, then I thought, “no, he’s just a rapper that’s a fan or worships Etrigan” because he said a rhyme with the word “Etrigan” in it without changing into Etrigan. I wasn’t completely sure what the intention was, but he sensed mystical aspects. Yeah… I think the bad rapping threw me off. That, or I just don’t like rap music.

Jay: Etrigan as a rapper makes sense, yeah, he just didn’t spit good verse.  Weak flow. Some third rap term.

Casper: I agree that the raps could’ve been better. But the idea of him as a rapper, and especially how Bermejo draws him, is still pretty hilarious. But yeah, the raps themselves were a bit weird…

Dan: I felt like Etrigan rapping was a bit embarrassing but I’m glad you guys enjoyed him! The art is as amazing as ever but the voices and actions of the cast are infuriatingly far off what we’d expect for these characters. Reading Damned is like stepping through the looking glass into a nonsensical nightmare. Its principal legacy will be the introduction of the recurring character, Bat-Wang.

Jay: I guess I’m one of the adults that this isn’t for, because I found this to be the most unintentionally hilarious comic I’ve ever read.  Even though I don’t really like this at all, the scene with Bruce, Martha, and the pop gun was excellent.  Very nice twist on Bruce’s abhorrence for guns.

Josh: I don’t mind the book as a whole. It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. However, I liked that scene with Martha quite a bit! It was one of the better reasons I’ve read pertaining to Bruce’s disdain for guns – one that only becomes more grounded when his parents are senselessly killed by a gun. That being said, I’m over the recent trend of making Thomas Wayne a “bad guy.” I feel like it diminishes Bruce’s desire to become Batman.

Casper: I can’t say that I like this issue. I mean, Bermejo is great and that one panel with Bats in the center and all those guns trained on him reminds me of the movie poster for John Wick 2, and it’s kinda awesome. I also like that Etrigan is that rapper dude. But I just don’t see why I would reread this. It’s a weird comic. I find it hard to stay focused while reading this, too. I don’t want to go as far as to say it’s a bad book, though. Lastly, does the swearing seem kind of forced to you guys as well at times, or is that just me?

Elena: You definitely have to be into the aesthetic for this. I like it because I like all the ghoulies and I like the weirdness of it. Also, I just enjoy studying the pictures, so it has a high re-read value on that level for me. As for the swearing, I guess I didn’t really notice it much. It’s Azzarello, so I just expect overblown foul language…and sex for no real narrative reason. It’s his schtick.

Josh & Casper (together): Yeah, that definitely is his schtick.

Casper: And I’m not against swearing in superhero books (or any kind of fiction in general)… it just kind of felt like he was forcing these characters to swear rather than just let them be people that swear occasionally, if that makes sense.

Josh:Yeah, some of the cussing reminded me of kids when they’re trying to be cool, so they throw in cuss words when it isn’t needed or effective… Definitely got some of those vibes here. I wasn’t a fan of Harley’s over sexualization. And was she going to rape Batman? That’s where that was headed, right? It took me back to the whole Nightwing/ Tarantula scandal. Also, that was Spectre in the fire, right? I like the characters being used, but I would like to get some sense of where the story is going in the next issue.

Elena: Yes, that’s Spectre. Not sure I liked what they did with him here, but it’s interesting. I do like that he’s basically wearing the outfit from his first appearance–or what that outfit would actually look like if it was rendered in a more realistic fashion!


New Talent Showcase: Leap of Faith

Brian: I wouldn’t say this was amazing, but it was solid and I enjoyed it. An angry politician blaming Batman for his freaks isn’t new ground, but Johnson’s dialogue mostly avoids the sorts of ridiculous statements that writers usually put in the politicians’ mouths. Nahuelpan’s storytelling is decent, too, though stylistically not especially distinct. Love the ‘89-style Batwing.

Casper: I mostly agree with you, Brian. But what I dislike is that Batman’s mask won’t detach from his cape. It seems like a trivial detail, but I’ve seen a masked Batman without a cape so many times that I wonder why it won’t detach now. It seems the only reason is because the creative team needs this to make the plot work and have the theme come full circle. Now, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care that much about this detail, but it just seems a bit weird to have a plot/theme hinge on this. I just think there are better ways to handle this stuff. As a talent showcase, though, I do think it’s an entertaining short story so that’s fine.

Dan: The story reminded me of half a dozen previous stories too, not least the excellent animated series episode ‘Trial,” and the recent comic series, White Knight. Nonetheless, though I’ve never agreed that Batman creates his villains, Johnson makes Carson very convincing. I loved the Batwing too, and there were several other retro thrills besides; Zsasz has his original hair and demonic eyes back, while the blue text boxes and oxygen mask put me in mind of the time Batman kidnapped Talia during Hush.

Getting Batman to narrate your story is a risk because he’s not a natural storyteller; he’s gruff and mysterious. Here, it pays off and we get some decent insight into the mind of the dark knight. There’s also plenty of exciting action for an 11 page story. No idea how Batman knew Zsasz was going to show up, though.

Josh: Yeah, while there are some definite holes and liberties, overall I thought it was a solid story. If anything, it shows that Johnson has promise and potential, and based on his dialogue, I’m willing to bet he could craft a great story if he were given more time/ pages to do so. He clearly chose his words carefully, and when you have limited pages, that can say a lot about a writer’s ability to craft a worthwhile narrative.

And I agree with Brian completely concerning Nahuelpan’s art. He did a good job, but his art isn’t distinct enough that I’d recognize it without knowing he was credited for the book. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just that sometimes is an artists quirks or trademarks that help take a book from good to great. Aesthetically though, I enjoy what he brings to the table and wouldn’t mind seeing more of his work on other titles.

Jay: It was ok.  I liked the art more than the writing, though it wasn’t poorly written.  Nahuelpan had a David Finchian aesthetic, which isn’t a bad thing, I just hope he develops it into something more distinct and unique.


New Talent Showcase: Pedigree

Josh: So… Penguin has started an underground fight club for cats, and he’s doping them with venom and fear toxin, huh? *rolls eyes*

Brian: Meh? I didn’t hate it, but I don’t think I’d ever read it again.

Dan: Yeah, same here. I wanted to enjoy it because Selina acting maternally towards Damian is an idea I like but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters. Stanton has a cute, manga-esque art style which might be the perfect fit for some readers but it wasn’t for me.

Josh: I won’t say I hated it either, but I definitely disliked this story. Everything felt juvenile – from the plot, to the dialogue, to the art… I feel as though it could work well for a title like Teen Titans Go!, but I didn’t care for it here. And while I enjoyed the themes and heart of the story, the vehicle used to tell it damaged the end result.

If this story did anything though, it made me miss what could have been, had Selina and Bruce gotten married. I love seeing Selina and Damian together. I think they relate to each other in the best and worst ways. Their purity shows through at its strongest when they’re dealing with animals – creatures they view as innocent… but they both have an understanding that they’ve done bad, perhaps terrible, things in their past. As good as Bruce has been for Damian, I think Selina is able to connect with Damian in ways that Bruce never will. This story in particular doesn’t necessarily touch on this, but it reminds us that that potential is there, and it sadly isn’t being explored.

Jay: The most interesting thing about this was that it made an attempt to take place within continuity.  Most of these shorts exist as their own kind of thing, so I thought that was kind of cool. Otherwise, the whole story was completely forgettable.  I’ll throw it a few extra points for addressing Damian’s affinity for animals.

Josh: True. Bat-Cow for life!

Casper: It was okay. I also don’t think this story will stick with me, but it offered a few minutes of entertainment and that’s all right. The art wasn’t really for me, though.


Suicide Squad #49

Dan: I liked that we finally got an explanation for why Flag was incarcerated at the beginning of Rebirth but that was all I liked about this issue. Flag (who appears as a stout guy with long hair on the cover and a skinny emo kid inside) is behaving like a crazy supervillain while Croc is inexplicably walking around on fire when he’s knee deep in water. The art is pretty ugly too; Croc looks like a kid’s drawing of a monster, covered in a checkerboard pattern in place of any actual detail. Plus this issue had the second most ridiculous ending of the week (first place goes to Batman: Damned).

Josh: I haven’t read Suicide Squad since the Aquaman crossover. I had the intention of catching up, but now that I know the book is ending, I don’t know if I’ll be doing that. And given your lack of enthusiasm for the issue, Dan, I don’t feel any inklings to talk myself into reading them for the sake of being a completionist.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that when Rebirth first launched, Suicide Squad was one of the strongest titles at DC. It makes me wonder how much Jim Lee was dictating the narrative, because it felt like the title started going downhill after he departed. Then again, maybe Jim Lee wasn’t dictating the narrative, maybe his presence protected Williams from mandates from editors. I mean, an editor isn’t going to tell their boss (Lee) “no.” Either way, the book is a far cry from what it used to be.

Jay: I read it and have since forgotten everything about it.  I think Cosmonut was in a few panels? I like that guy. He should get his own book.

Josh: Peanuts.

Casper: Yeah, as the reviewer for this comic, I can’t really recommend it. I see what Williams is trying to do with the story, but for me most of it feels kind of superficial, even though there are scenes that are meant to give more context to the characters’ (and in particular Flag’s) struggles. I just wish that the final arc of this 50 issue run would be great, but I’m afraid it’ll just peter out…

Titans #31

Dan: This felt like an in-between issue to me. It was a chance for the team to recover from their previous mission and prepare for the next one. Unfortunately, that isn’t very exciting. There are lots of pages where the team just recap what’s happened, or explain their plan to each other, which doesn’t entertain the reader or advance the story. A few plot threads kind of come together here, but it feels forced. Henry’s artwork makes Peeples’ look really strange by juxtaposition. The proportions on the faces are strange; Donna looks like a guy in drag while Batman and Steel’s foreheads make them look like Egghead. An opportunity for an epic shot featuring several Green Lanterns comes off looking static and dull because they’re posed like mannequins, all profile or facing us.

Batman is kind to the Titans for once, Kyle is a positive presence (even occasionally making callbacks to 2014’s ‘Lights Out’ storyline) and the mess hall contains a robotic waiter, a minotaur chef and a squid creature but none of this is enough to save the issue.

Josh: I strangely found this issue more enjoyable than the previous issues…. I agree that there was a transitional vibe, but I’ve desperately been waiting for something to change in this book. Ever since  Nightwing formed the new team, I feel like we’ve gotten the same beats over and over again. Donna’s anger, Beast Boy’s transformation, Raven’s soul-self being lost, Miss Martian’s acceptance with the team… They’ve all just been reminders with no actual progression. Every issue was just a “Raven can’t do ____ because her soul-self is lost.” And then we got that exact same conflict for the next but this issue finally addresses the problems in a way that sets up some progression. Also, Kyle Raynor’s inclusion does so much for this book!

Jay: Kyle almost made me pick this up.  If he’s really breathed some life into the book I may have to circle back to it.

Josh: He just brings a positive energy to the book… Something Dick usually brings, and should’ve brought, but the narrative was so focused on everyone’s drama that it never did. And it looks like he’s sticking around – at least for now. In general though, this issue feels like the title is beginning to transition out of all of the angst that’s been plaguing it. I consider that a win.

Casper: I haven’t really been keeping up with Titans. I like the idea of this group of friends that are here to save the world, but I don’t think the current iteration of this title is for me. I do find Kyle joining the team intriguing, but at the same time I’m not super excited to get this issue. I think I’m just going to let this one pass me by.


Justice League Dark #6

Jay: I didn’t read the previous JLD series, but I did read Shadowpact, so this was just a Ragman away from being my favorite comic. 

Josh: Why isn’t Ragman involved in JLD? Missed opportunity…

Jay: Tynion’s scripts are still a little overwritten, but I genuinely like this book.  He has a good feel for the characters (save Man-Bat, who’s kind of obnoxious), and writes the magic aspects really well.

Josh: Completely agree! And I agree with you on Man-Bat, but I self-consciously thought I may have been the only one feeling that way.

Dan: I don’t mind Man-Bat so far; the one who troubled me in this issue was Bobo. The whole instant recall memory thing feels like Tynion painting himself into a corner. Apart from that, this issue was a pleasant surprise after the lacklustre issue #5. I thought this mini-arc would be a non-essential side mission but, true to form, Tynion managed to use it to set up several interesting new plot threads.

Josh: Yeah, most of this story felt a little forced, but it did set up some interesting plots that I’m eager to explore.

Dan: My favourite parts of the issue were the compassionate pep talk Diana gave Bobo and the first spread of the Phantom Stranger and Doctor Fate, in which Sampere, Albarran and Lucas pulled out all the stops.

Josh: I’m actually loving everything with Fate, Phantom Stranger, Constantine, and Swamp Thing. Like, sign me up! When does the Spectre get involved? Unleash heaven and hell… Or, don’t because I have a completely separate, non-DC related story that I’m writing with a friend that deals with this topic. Haha!

Casper: I’ve been hearing good things about this book, but haven’t had the time to read all of it. Maybe I’ll read it in trade at a later time. But it’s nice that you guys have so many positive things to say about this one.

Elena: Man, it feels like I’m missing out on this one. Will try to catch up soon.

And there you have it. We don’t really have a way to wrap up this article in a way that makes it feel like a natural conclusion just yet… so here’s a sticky note drawing I did of Walter Sobchak. I think it’s pretty good, and after reading all that Batman talk, a palate cleanser is in order.

Until next Friday, everybody. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-site.