Detective Comics #1002 is perfectly fine.  It’s a textbook example of an entertaining read, with a tense action scene standing out as a particularly effective moment.  There are some good lines, the art is strong, and it moves the plot along.

Which is all great, don’t get me wrong.  The biggest problem, if you can call it that, is that this issue doesn’t stand on its own well at all.  Anybody who hasn’t read the previous issue will be lost, and anything that is built up won’t pay off until future installments.  It’s definitely a small part of a greater whole, and has a clear sense of forward momentum.  I wouldn’t call this a “filler” issue at all, as everything that happens feels like it will impact the larger narrative.  Just as far as issues go, this is more like a fairly heavy snack rather than a full meal.  Sometimes, though?  You just want to gorge instead of feast.

But enough with the food analogies.  The action picks up right where it left off in the previous issue, with Batman under the boot of the Arkham Knight.  The defeated Dark Knight is at his mysterious new adversary’s mercy, so what does the Knight do?

Why, what any good villain does in such a situation: he pontificates.

Much as I hate to admit it, there are times when he… kind of makes sense too.  When Batman asks what’s been done to his city, the Knight retorts “I don’t recall anyone ever having given it to you.”  It’s a good line, and even if you’re not buying what he’s selling, he still kind of has a point.

Then he goes off on some pseudo-profound “who’s worse: the monsters, or the one who scares the monsters” tirade and sounds like a bit of a pompous loon, but I think that’s the point.  He’s dressed up in a fairly lavish costume, just like Batman, and decrying Batman’s methods of vigilantism… by engaging in acts of quasi-terrorism?  I could just be reading the character completely wrong, but from what we’ve seen, with all his grandstanding, the Arkham Knight seems like a big ol’ hypocrite, using a different flavor of theatricality to attempt to divert condemnation.

Another interesting wrinkle in his character is that he is conscious of innocent lives, and doesn’t want to take them.  Batman escapes his grip when the police open fire on the Knight, and this leads to the aforementioned action set piece.  The action itself only occurs over a few pages, but there’s an amazingly tense standoff between Batman and the Knight that is just pure brilliance.  With guns trained on the Knight and his army, arrows aimed at Batman, and pedestrians off to the sides filming their every move, the two foes stare each other down before declaring a stalemate.  Brad Walker’s use of repetition in this sequence is simply phenomenal, with panels bouncing between the costumed figures at the center of the conflict and the bystanders all about them.  With minimal dialogue he’s able to convey everything you need to know about both Batman and the Arkham Knight in this sequence: Batman is trying, desperately, to think of a way to save lives while also apprehending criminals, while the Knight knows that he has the upper hand.  All he needs to do is wait for Batman to call what we can assume is his bluff, and then the standoff can end.

The way Walker slowly zooms in on each character really ratchets up the tension.  Then there are nice little coloring touches from Nathan Fairbairn, like police lights reflecting off the Knight’s optic lenses.  While it may be brief, it’s a heck of a way to kick off the issue.  It also helps that, after the Knight and his minions leave the scene, Batman is sent back to the Batcave with a laugh out loud joke from Tomasi.  Let’s just say that it’s nice that Bats has enough trust in Gordon to have the Batmobile respond to the Commissioner’s vocal commands, and the Commish isn’t afraid to call his masked friend an idiot.

Great as the opening scene was, the rest of the issue just kind of hangs there.  The momentum never really nosedives, as the second half of the book is at consistently least interesting, but the energy never gets as high as it was in that standoff.  Nor should it be expected to, of course, especially given the direction the story goes.

I do like that Tomasi let’s Damian take the lead a bit here.  He’s been all but absent from the main Batbooks for quite a while, and as much of a little butt as he can be, I still like the kid.

In fact, Batman is completely absent from the second half of this issue, as Damian takes it upon himself to follow some clues and infiltrate the Knight’s compound while Batman recovers in the cave.  There’s a pretty cool underwater fight scene that, especially with Walker’s pencils and Fairbairn’s colors, looked like it could have come from Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Damian is ultimately apprehended and winds up a prisoner in the Knight’s homestead.  What’s most disappointing about this scene is that the Knight plays it off like some big, grand offer for Robin to join in his crusade, but he really doesn’t say anything.  The Knight makes some flowery comments like “this is a castle and a dungeon.  A place of happiness and a place of suffering,” a refuge for people “drowning in the darkness of the Bat.”  It’s grandstanding akin to his speech earlier in the book, charismatically delivered through Rob Leigh’s brilliantly mechanical word balloons.  There it could be read as a condemnation, though, whereas here it just… seems like he likes to listen to himself talk.  He invited Robin to join him, but he doesn’t really give him a reason why he should.

Still, the way I’ve been reading the character, it didn’t bother me too much.  I do wish there was more substance to his dialogue with Robin, yeah, but my interpretation of the Arkham Knight right now is that he’s a man who has lofty ambitions and a fair amount of charisma, but one who relies more on theatrics than anything.

Side note: Mr. Freeze makes a brief appearance and refers to Robin as “Turdus migratorius.”  Given that it’s Damian, I initially thought that this was an obscure-but-nonetheless effective burn, but no, that is the actual scientific name for the American robin.

Damian is still a turd, though.

But I digress.  This is a solidly entertaining issue, with some excellent artwork and a clearly defined sense of forward momentum.  The first half is decidedly stronger than the second, which is clearly meant to put the pieces in place for the next issue.  Still, I’ll take “entertaining” any day of the week, even if what we’re given never reaches the highs that I know the creative team is capable of attaining.

Recommended if:

  • You’re reading Detective Comics.
  • You want to know more about the Arkham Knight, even if it’s just a tiny bit.
  • You like to read about Damian even if you don’t necessarily like Damian.

Overall: A solid entertainment, at the very least.  Brad Walker’s standoff between Batman and the Arkham Knight is a definite highlight, full of tension and brilliant pacing that makes the relatively short scene pack a huge punch.  The story being told here isn’t filler in the slightest, as everything that occurs has a natural sense of progression and feels integral to the overall plot, but it certainly feels like a transitional issue more than anything.  It never drags, though, which is always a plus.  And while the Arkham Knight is clearly becoming a different character than I initially thought he was going to be, I’m having a blast reading his grandstanding and slightly overblown pomposity.

SCORE: 7/10