If a cover alone made the purchase of a comic worth it, then Detective Comics #1006 would certainly apply.  Just look at the composition of that amazing cover: the Spectre, looming large against the Gotham City skyline, the Batsignal projected on his chest, and Batman himself below, on his guard against the physical embodiment of God’s vengeance.  It’s incredibly dramatic, has a bit of Gothic spookiness to it, and even the somewhat corny bellowing of “YOU’VE FAILED THIS CITY” has the appropriate dramatic effect.  I dare say that this cover would catch the eye of even a brand new reader, what with its promise of more fun comics within its pages.

So yeah, it’s great to be able to say that this issue delivers on the promise made by its cover, as this issue of Detective Comics may very well be Peter Tomasi’s best yet.  It’s creepy without being overwhelmingly scary, a “street level” mystery that manages to perfectly balance elements of the supernatural.

At its core, this story is a murder mystery.  Most welcome?  It’s a murder mystery that’s discovered by the police.  I’m sure there are more examples from recent memory that I’m just forgetting, but it feels like it’s been too long since we saw a member of the GCPD who isn’t Jim Gordon do something.  Not to say I have anything against Gordon by any means, or that I dislike it when Batman comes upon a mystery on his own.  I just like seeing other members of the force get involved, because it makes Gotham feel that much bigger and more lived in.

No spoilers here, but it’s not just any cop who becomes involved with this investigation either.  Jim Corrigan, human host of the Spectre, is one of two cops who are called in to inspect a grisly murder in a back alley, and since the Spectre is kind of on the cover, you’d kind of expect Corrigan to be featured in one way or another.

Frankly, I would have been entirely satisfied had this been a simple procedural, with the police working alongside the Dark Knight to solve the case.

Instead things get weird.

Really weird.

A group of hooded and cloaked figures encroach upon Corrigan and his partner Tony’s investigation, chanting “the host must die!  Long live the host!”  That they’re dressed like the Spectre does not go unnoticed by the embodiment of God’s vengeance, who is… not happy.

From there, Corrigan is kidnapped and somehow hidden from the Spectre’s cognizance, so what started as a murder mystery has turned into a manhunt.

To be clear, I loved this issue, pretty much from start to finish.  The writing is pretty sharp and involving, and the art is absolutely incredible.  If I had a complaint it’s that I kind of wanted to see Tomasi’s take on a down to Earth murder mystery, which is what it looked like this was going to be.  I’m all for a team-up between Batman and the Spectre, don’t get me wrong, and the story evolves organically instead of feeling forced.  Really, it’s reminiscent of the old Brave and the Bold series, where Batman would work with a different hero each issue.  That could just be because I’ve been reading quite a bit of BatB stories, sure, but I think it fits, and I also think it works.

So, far be it from me to complain about what I felt a story should have been instead of what it is, especially when what it is is a flat out great comic.  Do I want to see some “street level” crime stories?  Absolutely.  Am I willing to go along wherever Tomasi takes us?  Without question.

Strong as the writing is, it’s Kyle Hotz and David Baron’s art that really sells it.  It’s dark and moody without ever being muddled and incomprehensible.  In the best way, Hotz’s style reminds me of Kelley Jones and Sam Keith: excellent use of shading and shadows, with Batman’s long, exaggerated cape and ears enhancing the frightening grotesqueries of his costume, and the bricks and gargoyles on Gotham’s buildings evoking the Gothic atmosphere.  Baron’s coloring also reminds me a bit of Brian Bolland, particularly when characters are stationary, yet the aesthetic is never derivative.  There’s even a bit of Tom Mandrake in the way Spectre (literally) takes the matter of vengeance into his own hands, so yeah, you could say the visual influences on this issue are top rate.

The best sequence in the book is the first meeting between Batman and the Spectre, and the lead-up to it.  Look at that page above: Batman runs across his city’s rooftops, and the gigantic figure of the Spectre lumbers between the buildings.  It results in the double-page splash of the title page, and it’s just amazing visual storytelling.  There isn’t any dialogue in this scene until the Spectre reveals himself to Batman, with Rob Leigh’s gorgeous lettering making Spectre’s words practically boom off of the page.

This run has yet to truly misfire well into its first year, though given the pedigree of the creative team it’s hardly surprising.  Tomasi is one of the best superhero writers in the biz, and he’s been spoiled by an embarrassment of riches with the artists he’s paired with.  Detective Comics has been a bit of a paradox: old-school storytelling that manages to feel fresh and new.  It’s kind of hard to describe, so yeah, go ahead and read it and enjoy it yourself.  You’ll see what I mean.

Recommended if:

  • You like a nice, old fashioned murder mystery… and then a twist.
  • You love the Spectre and DC’s other supernatural characters.
  • You miss seeing Batman interact with the GCPD.

Overall: Reminiscent of classic Brave and the Bold stories with some clear artistic influences, this issue of Detective Comics manages to remind you of great comics of the past while still feeling fresh and new.  This is weird, moody, atmospheric comic storytelling of the best sort, with a tight script and amazing visuals that truly set the mood.  Even if it went a different direction than I originally wanted, I love the ride that Tomasi takes us on just the same.

SCORE: 9/10