Detective Comics #1012 was a study in pacing and tone. Each scene was deliberate, permeating a sense of dread that was intensified by the relatively slow pace. The action that punctuated the story was made all the more shocking and visceral by this, which in turn made Freeze’s plan all the more sinister and despicable.
Issue 1013, on the other hand, is non-stop forward momentum, with dread and atmosphere replaced by frenetic action and thrills. If the previous issue could be compared to a psychological thriller, this one is more akin to a slasher flick or a monster movie.
The twist, though, is that Batman himself is the unstoppable creature in pursuit of his prey, flipping the trope on its head.
That’s not to say that Batman is the villain and Freeze, his quarry, is an innocent victim. No, Freeze is still decidedly in the wrong, and Batman is right to try and apprehend him. The bulk of the issue consists of an escalating chase scene, though, and Bruce is cast in the role that is typically filled by a malevolent force. He even fulfills the monster movie staple of “not being dead the first time,” in one of the issue’s more delightfully insane scenes.
One of my few complaints about the previous issue was that the ending was kind of abrupt, so thankfully this issue picks up right where it left off. Batman was lying in wait for one of Freeze’s goons so he could… extract some information about Victor’s plan and whereabouts. The establishing shots here are from said goon’s point of view, as he awakens in a stupor to find a considerably angry Batman hovering over him. It’s a really effective sequence, with some great layouts by Mahnke. It was so effective that, when Batman mentions one of the thug’s dead colleagues and we’re shown his bloodied corpse in the dumpster, I was kind of taken aback. I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t put it past Batman to use this as an intimidation tactic, but… where did the body come from? Surely Tomasi wouldn’t go that far, would he?
Of course he wouldn’t. Why I doubted him for even a moment, I don’t know, but it did make the punchline of the scene land all the better. It’s one of two great, great scenes where Batman and Alfred trade some excellent banter.
Which then leads to what I was talking about earlier, with Batman being the unstoppable pursuer from a monster movie. Freeze is just chilling in his lair, minding his own business, lamenting that the “restoration experiments” haven’t yielded the results he wanted, when Batman shows up in this:
This is ridiculous. I love it.
Tomasi really does have a knack for taking these really outlandish ideas and making them work in the context of his story. Strangely enough, this isn’t the first time he’s gone to the well of “have Batman show up in a crazy suit,” yet he’s managed to wring some gold out of it each time. The Hellbat was a definite highlight of his Batman & Robin run with Patrick Gleason, for one, and while the concept itself may not have been his idea, his Detective Comics stories with Gordon-Bats were some of the best of the era.
Now here he is with Doug Mahnke, pitting Batman against Mister Freeze, with the Dark Knight donning some inherently goofy armor. I mean, just look at that mask! It looks like it should be an action figure, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it already is. There are a lot of Batman toys out there, after all. It’s an idea that teeters precariously close to “look at how awesome this is!” just for its own sake, and they still manage to sell it. I don’t know how, exactly. This should be too much, even for me. Yet Tomasi and Mahnke and Champagne and Alamy and Baron and Leigh have an essential trait for this kind of storytelling: conviction.
You believe it because they believe it, too. This story is self-aware enough to say that, yes, we know this is inherently silly, but what Batman story isn’t? You have to suspend disbelief right out of the gate when you have a story about a billionaire who fights crime while dressed like a bat, so why not push it a little further? A balance is struck here that’s similar to the Sixties Batman TV show: yes, the creative team knows it’s beyond silly and are totally in on the joke, but they play it completely straight. They never talk down to the reader or try to have it both ways, with dialogue that’s knowingly self-aware about the situation’s goofiness. Instead, Tomasi has Batman show up in this suit, and makes it work within the story because– silly as it looks– it’s practical for the situation at hand.
What really helps is the overall tone of the story. Freeze’s plan is at once desperate and despicable, and you do kind of feel for him even though the ends in no way justify his means. Despite the fairly grim subject matter, though, the story is still told with a light efficiency that manages to be thrilling, kind of frightening, and even funny. Bruce and Alfred have some absolutely brilliant repartee, which is par for the course for this book, but really, who’s going to complain about great dialogue and character interactions? There’s a brilliant gag dealing with a disguise Alfred wears that I’m still giggling about, which is a hilarious bit of comedy that never undermines the more sinister aspects of the story.
Even setting aside the fact that they’re able to sell the goofier aspects of this issue, the visual storytelling is phenomenal throughout. That shouldn’t be a surprise, what with the brilliant team assembled, but it bears repeating. Mahnke just knows how to realize Tomasi’s scripts, and veteran letterer Rob Leigh complements Mahnke’s style. Take that sequence directly above: Batman is trapped under ice, and the glowing red of his chest-piece gets larger and brighter the closer he gets to the surface. It could have been left at that and still been effective, but Leigh’s gradually ascending sound effect captures the slow breaking of the ice. These stylistic choices can sadly be taken for granted, so I’ll gladly point them out.
Like the previous issue, this ends on a cliffhanger that feels more abrupt than anything. Given the context it’s more intriguing and, in a way, more terrifying, but it still feels like this arc is meant to be one long-form story rather than a series of chapters. It might flow better in the trade, sure, but on an issue-by-issue basis it does leave me a little wanting. Still, I’ve grown weary of trade-based storytelling, so the fact that they’re doing something different here is welcome, even if it doesn’t totally work.
Despite that, this issue continues the pretty remarkable trend of great storytelling in Detective Comics. It’s been a relatively unbroken streak over the past year, so here’s hoping they can keep it up for the foreseeable future.
- You like strong comic storytelling.
- You also like a confident sense of silliness in your comics.
Overall: For an issue that’s effectively a prolonged chase scene, there’s a lot of great character work here. Freeze is tragically grotesque in his actions, carelessly experimenting on innocent women in the hope of restoring his wife. Batman, meanwhile, proves that he has the right tool for any job, and adds a sense of welcome goofiness to what could have been a dour narrative. Factor in some wonderful dialogue and a pitch-perfect team if artists and this is another winner from Detective Comics.