While I know I’m not alone, I was positively beside myself with joy when it was announced that Peter Tomasi was going to start writing Detective Comics. I’ve yet to read a single thing from him that I didn’t at least enjoy, from his stellar work with Patrick Gleason on Batman and Robin and Superman to his underrated run on ‘Tec just before Rebirth hit, and even (especially) historical works like House of Penance and The Bridge. Opinions may vary on how his “Mythology” arc ended (I loved it), but by and large I think we can all agree that it was at least an interesting character study with some insanely great art.
The revelation that Tomasi would be bringing the Arkham Knight into main DC continuity was met with some trepidation and even confusion, though I’m certainly optimistic. After all, Tomasi took what could have been a throwaway video game tie-in comic and made the Batman: Arkham Knight series a genuinely good and oftentimes great read. That the identity of the Knight would be changed from that in the game was almost a given, though it is curious that this would be the second arc in Tomasi’s run. His contribution to Detective Comics #1000, which ostensibly served as a prelude to the Arkham Knight story, was… fine, if underwhelming. The Knight showing sympathy towards villains was an interesting idea, and again, Doug Mahnke’s splash pages were out of this world, but the “Batman/bad man” word association was maybe a little too on the nose.
Still, Tomasi is a pro, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. So how does the first official issue of his second ‘Tec arc shape up?
It’s pretty good. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less either.
What really works right off the bat is the different direction Tomasi seems to be taking the Arkham Knight character. I think I can be forgiven for thinking that he (at least, it’s safe to assume) was going to be a grim, focused crusader, a single figure waging a righteous war against the Dark Knight. Sure, that potential is still there, and there are definitely shades of that in his character. Within just a few pages, though, we see that the Knight is something more: he’s… kind of a nutjob.
Seriously, the first time we see him, he’s espousing symbology and contrasting darkness from light, which he intones in some delightfully robotic lettering from Rob Leigh. Rather than being a lone, solitary warrior, the Knight has amassed an army of acolytes, each of whom he commends for having “left behind the darkness and embraced the light.” A villain that leads a devoted cult is hardly an original idea, what with that being Deacon Blackfire’s whole M.O. And… yeah, Deacon Blackfire is pretty far down the list of “Batman Vilains Jay Likes to Read About.” There’s something different here, though, with the medieval (that is literally the first time I’ve ever correctly spelled that word on the first try) imagery and quirkier aspects of the Knight’s plan. It’s way too early to say he’s a welcome addition to the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery, but I’m definitely more interested in him now than I was when I came into the issue.
From a storytelling standpoint, Tomasi’s script is solid and relatively workmanlike. There are some good lines, and I definitely appreciate the weirder, goofier aspects of the scenes with the Arkham Knight. Ultimately it’s all just setting the table, putting pieces in play and introducing mysteries that will play out in future issues. That’s by no means a bad thing, it just keeps the issue from being anything more than “just” good.
But it is good, and that’s what counts. What’s more, every single plot thread at play is plenty interesting on its own. There’s the introduction to the Arkham Knight and his faithful acolytes, with the Knight tinkering with a device that is revealed to be an artificial sun. He seems fixated on “coming out of darkness and into light,” but what drove him to taking a metaphorical phrase and making it literal?
A seemingly unrelated sub-plot involves the mass deaths of thousands and thousands of bats. Bodies are dropping across Gotham’s streets and playgrounds, and even in the Batcave. There’s a brief but welcome scene with Commissioner Gordon and a patrolman who I could have sworn was supposed to be Chief O’Hara at first glance, showing that Tomasi knows how to write Batman’s supporting cast even in small doses. Is this tied into what the Arkham Knight has planned? Are these two stories completely unrelated? Or even worse, are these events part of an overarching plot that is being perpetrated by an even bigger threat? Could there be an unrevealed presence controlling the puppet strings? It’s a possibility.
And then there’s the question that almost supersedes everything else: who is the Arkham Knight? He’s skilled and charismatic enough to amass a loyal following, and he has resources to spare. What’s more, he has access to supplies that can fell Batman. Arrows pierce Batman’s armor-plated suit, and in a scene that mirrors Hush, the line he is swinging from is cut. Bruce notes that this is practically impossible, evoking Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s story. Could the Arkham Knight be Tommy Elliot? Honestly, I hope not, but the pieces are there and that reference surely can’t be a coincidence. No matter who it is under that helmet, though, I’m along for the ride.
Every one of these stories could carry an arc by itself, yet Tomasi parcels out enough information to keep each intriguing on their own without overshadowing anything else in the issue. Honestly, the structure felt more like that of a thriller, with a type of cinematic quality that made each scene flow together well. The opening serves to introduce the Arkham Knight and his legions, which leads to Commissioner Gordon and Batman individually investigating the dead bats. Batman then consults Francine Langstrom, who panics and injects herself with the Man-Bat serum, giving us the issue’s main action set piece.
Let me tell you, the visual storytelling in this sequence is phenomenal. Batman and Francine go from an indoor laboratory to the skies above Gotham, crashing through windows and into buildings, only to end up in the open air again. Brad Walker nails Francine’s desperation and fear before her transformation, the almost feral savagery of her bestial persona, and Batman’s determined and focused demeanor in the midst of it all. Walker really knows how to tell a story through movement and perspective, making the action just jump right off the page.
Their fight leads right into the “artificial sun” being activated over Gotham, which finds the Knight’s army ambushing Batman and leading the Caped Crusader right into his hands. There’s a lot going on in this issue, but nothing feels extraneous or underdeveloped, and the art is mostly successful in its storytelling.
By and large I loved the look of the issue, don’t get me wrong. As you can see in the pages above, Walker draws some absolutely stunning spreads, and the clarity of his action scenes are second to none. There are some smaller details that slip by, though, like confusing dialogue placement on the title page and an oddly cropped panel here and there.
My main complaint about Walker’s style is that Batman’s cowl lacks a consistent look. At times it’s blockier and sculpted, more akin to the live action helmet seen in The Dark Knight, and others it’s much smoother and form-fitting. It’s the ears that threw me off the most, though:
Those are all fine and acceptable stylistic choices on their own (though I think the ears in the first panel are definitely the best), but I wish there had been more consistency throughout the issue. It wouldn’t have been too bad, except to say that there were times when the silhouette and profile of Batman’s cowl changed between panels on the same page. It was a bit distracting, especially considering how great the rest of the book looks.
In the end, though, the issue is a grand entertainment. It zips by without feeling too short or shallow, and it got me more invested in the Arkham Knight’s story than I anticipated. More than anything, though, it presents us with mysteries. Given that this is Detective Comics, I love the idea that Batman is investigating, following leads, and using deduction. After all, he is the World’s Greatest Detective. Hopefully this means he’ll start living up to that title again.
An eccentric villain with a medieval theme, brandishing a shield shaped like an ‘A’ and creating artificial suns? That wackiness is just a nice bonus.
- You’re in for the long haul with Tomasi.
- The idea of the Arkham Knight being in main continuity intrigues you.
- You just want an all around strong, well made comic.
Overall: While the Arkham Knight himself is still a cypher, he’s but one of several intriguing mysteries going on here. I really appreciate the pacing of this story, with scenes progressing logically from one another. Walker, Hennesy, and Fairbairn’s art is positively gorgeous, and Tomasi’s script is devoid of unnecessary exposition, with just enough information coming to light as needed. For the first time in a long time, Detective Comics feels like it has an actual mystery worth solving, and we’re on the case right alongside Batman.
For a second opinion, check out Brian’s thoughts over at Comics Now