My favorite thing about the latest issue of Detective Comics, without question, is how it highlights Bruce Wayne’s selflessness in his war on crime.  He, Alfred, and Lucius are hunkered down in the Batcave, tirelessly and relentlessly working to find some way to reverse the effect of Mr. Freeze’s ice rays.  The trio believe they have come upon a solution, but need to run tests first.  Lucius offers to get some animals, or test it “on that cow off in the corner” (oh no you will not, Fox), but Bruce shoots that down.

“No cow.  No other animals.  We need to know if it works on humans, plain and simple.

Which is why you’re going to test it on me.”

It’s a great moment of empathy and compassion for Bruce, and one that doesn’t necessarily work in his favor.  Still, he’s not willing to let any innocent life– man or animal– be put on the line if he can help it.

This scene was a bright spot in an otherwise decent issue of Detective Comics.  I enjoyed it a bit more than the previous installment, but it doesn’t exactly fix the problems that were present before.

In fact, it kind of exacerbates them, by making Nora Fries’ heel turn even more drastic than before.  Where she was portrayed as a woman teetering on the edge of good and evil, she’s gone pretty far over now, past the point of no return into straight up villainy.  She’s given more to do here, so it at least makes a bit more sense than before, but it still feels like her transformation was rushed.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that this is a pretty drastic change to her character.  What makes it work is what made it so jarring to begin with: we don’t know much about Nora’s character, beyond Victor’s idealized view of her, so we don’t know how innocent and pure she really was before going into containment.  So in a way, that makes it easier to accept her relatively abrupt turn, but still, I kind of wish we had gotten a chance to truly know and like her before this happened.  For us to love Nora as much as Victor does would have made this all the more tragic.  As it is, we only know what we’ve seen through Victor’s eyes and memories, so it’s difficult to be truly moved when we’re kind of kept at arms length.

Given that it’s still Pete Tomasi writing this book, even a story that isn’t as moving as it could be still has masterstrokes of great craft.  His dialogue is, as always, top notch, with the aforementioned scenes between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius standing out in particular.  Their witty and snappy repartee is fun, to be sure.  Yet even the scenes where they’re working tirelessly at trying to cure Freeze’s victims have a sort of… I don’t know, a weary life to them.  You can tell that these men are tired and frustrated, yet they’re focused on helping others.  The tensions are high, and even when their emotions get the better of them in the moment, they still keep their eyes and minds on the end goal.

Fear not, though, because though hundreds of lives are at stake and our heroes are constantly feeling the mounting pressure to find a solution, there’s still a decent amount of levity woven in.

And yes, that includes Alfred and Lucius donning some hilarious masks.

The implication here, of course, is that Bruce doesn’t just keep cheap plastic masks of other heroes lying around “just in case,” but cheap plastic Batman masks too.  That’s amazing.  Honestly, I’d like to imagine it’s actually Alfred stocking up on these, just picking them up when they go on clearance right after Halloween.  That’s shopping smart, if you ask me.

Doug Mahnke takes the lion’s share of penciling duties, with an assist from José Luís.  Their styles are so similar that I didn’t immediately notice that it wasn’t Mahnke all the way through, chalking up the slightly different style in Luís’ section to the influence of one of the inkers.  But no, there’s a brief interlude where the penciling style changes, but it isn’t super distracting.  Luís’ pencils are close enough to Mahnke’s that it doesn’t stand out too much, yet it doesn’t feel derivative either.  Sure, I would rather have had the same artist throughout the whole issue, but this is the best way to do it.

As always, the visual storytelling is top notch, with the spreads in the first half of the issue being a particular highlight.  While I may not be totally sold on Nora’s turn, that double-page montage of their crime spree is positively breathtaking.  The sight of a particularly vicious Nora leaping from the center of the page, surrounded by their various capers, is skillfully laid out, as you’d expect from this team.  Credit to colorist David Baron and letterer Rob Leigh for utilizing various shades of blue to great effect, without the pages just becoming awash in that single color.  The icy blues of Victor and Nora’s weaponry stands out against the darker hue of their skin, and Leigh’s soft blue captions stand out without being distracting.

This is a good comic, made by some great creators.  Of that there is no doubt.  Knowing that this team is capable of greatness does make it a bit disappointing that the book isn’t better, but this is a story that has to be told because of the current goings-on in the wider DC Universe.  Disappointment in some rushed character work aside, there’s some great writing here, a strong visual style, and an amazingly insane final page that leaves me wanting more.

Recommended if:

  • You love Detective Comics.
  • You like some great interactions between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius.
  • You want to see some more growth for Nora.
  • You like to see Bruce be selfless in his pursuit of justice.

Overall: There’s lots to like here, and not really anything to truly dislike, though this issue isn’t as good as it could have been.  Tomasi’s dialogue is as strong as always, with some particularly great scenes exchanges between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius.  One moment in particular stands out as a perfect example of how Bruce’s crusade isn’t one of vengeance and anger, but sacrifice and compassion.  The art is as great as you’d come to expect from this title as well, with some exciting action and even a few bits of genuine humor.  What’s somewhat lacking is a good feel of Nora’s character, who has practically been a cypher for so long and is now quickly becoming an out-and-out supervillain.  Some more context and understanding of her actual personality would have helped and made her sudden change more believable.  As it is, Tomasi still makes her and Victor’s relationship interesting, with no shortage of sympathy for the couple.

SCORE: 7/10