Detective Comics #1017 has quite a few things going for it that, by themselves, would make this issue worth recommending. It’s a smaller-scale, more personally-focused story, which is always welcome. It has Bruce Wayne working to resolve a real-world problem in his civilian and superhero identities, which, again, is always welcome. And it’s a one-and-done, single issue story that isn’t tied into an ongoing arc, which is… you get the idea.
Oh, and it’s also written by Tom Taylor, one of the best writers in the game, and illustrated by Fernando Blanco and John Kalisz. All of these ingredients should combine to make this one of the best issues of Detective Comics… well, if not ever, then in recent memory at the very least. So that it’s “very good” and not “great” is disappointing, but still, this is a very good comic.
In a lovely little flashback, we find that Martha Wayne spearheaded the opening of an orphanage in Gotham City. She talks with a young Bruce, who laments that he doesn’t want to go, because orphanages make him sad. While his mother affirms his feelings, stating that their situations make her sad too, she feels that is what makes these institutions so important. “Every child deserves what we have,” she tells her son. “To have people who love them. Until we can find them a family, we keep them safe. We protect them. We care for them, and we care about them. We show them they’re worth caring for.”
This speech is brilliant for several reasons. It’s great seeing more of Martha’s personality and drive, which is often overlooked, and how her passions directly influenced Bruce’s desire to care for the downtrodden. There’s a direct line that can be drawn from “we show them they’re worth caring for” and Clayface’s eulogy in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Batman’s mission and crusade makes so much more sense if he thinks that “everyone’s worth it,” so having that view instilled in him at a young age further reinforces that view.
Martha’s speech is also just a wonderful piece of honest compassion, which should never be looked down upon. It’s earnest without being corny, but even if it was, it’s better than being overly cynical.
After this brief scene, we cut to the present where one of the orphanage’s young men is making an escape. This alerts Lucius Fox, who informs Bruce that this is the third runaway from the same institute this year. Moved to action, Bruce considers sneaking in under the cover of night, when Lucius reminds him that… well, he doesn’t have to, since it is his mother’s name that’s on the building, after all.
So, Bruce Wayne does what Bruce Wayne will do: he gives.
While I’m as much a fan of the “dingy playboy billionaire” facade as anyone, I do like the more subdued approach taken here. Bruce is still slightly aloof as an “out of touch rich guy,” with the great gag of giving the orphanage educational supplies and ice cream, but he’s still doing great things with his vast wealth. I’ve wanted to see more of a Bruce Wayne presence in comics for quite some time now, as I find it just as fascinating to read about him solving the city’s problems as a selfless philanthropist as I do seeing him, like, punch the Scarecrow after yet another fear-crime. Yeah, Batman is the main draw, but the Bruce Wayne part of his identity has been noticabely absent for far too long. Hopefully this sets a precedent for more stories to come.
Bruce is given the details of Miguel, the youth who ran away, and this sets him off on the young man’s trail. Damian tags along, and this is where my problems with the issue start: Damian’s upset that his own father hasn’t made time to connect with him after a recent tragedy, but he will call on him to help find a kid they don’t even know.
I completely understand where Damian’s coming from, and totally get why he would be so angry. It’s not the content that I have an issue with, or even the execution, necessarily. The main problem is that there are two great story ideas going on here, and neither one of them is fully realized. You have “Batman takes on a broken social system,” which is fertile ground for some great storytelling, and then you have “Batman and Robin need to reconnect and grieve after losing Alfred.” Both threads could have been an issue unto themselves, and a writer like Taylor is the perfect guy to write them both. His work here is good, don’t get me wrong, there just isn’t enough attention paid to either story for them to have the impact that they deserved.
Which isn’t to say that they lack any sort of impact and power at all, of course. Taylor’s dialogue is fantastic, as are his character interactions and voices. He knows how to write every member of his cast, which shouldn’t come as a surprise after Injustice and DCeased. Besides the great opening scene, Bruce and Damian’s repartee rings true, as the pair have so much they want to say to each other but they don’t quite know how to say it. The visual storytelling from Blanco and Kalisz is stunning as well, particularly a largely wordless sequence where Batman and Robin search for the runaway Miguel.
Their pursuit takes the entirety of a week, with each passing day getting colder and colder. It’s a clever twist on the “ticking clock” trope, where we see the temperature get lower and lower rather than the window of time getting smaller and smaller. Once they find Miguel, the page is largely obscured by snow, with even Travis Lanham’s word balloons feeling muffled by the snowfall. It’s beautiful work from the entire team, making Miguel’s eventual date all the more tragic, and fueling Bruce’s anger when he begins to piece the larger situation together.
Which is maybe the one weak point in Taylor’s script, aside from the split focus of the two main storylines. While I filled in some gaps on my own, it’s not made entirely clear what kind of sinister schemes were going on at the orphanage. It feels like Taylor is trying to say something about displaced children of immigrants, which could definitely work with his relatively even-handed approach. But, again, it’s never 100% clear why we should be mad at the individual behind the disappearances, besides the general and obvious point that they were exploiting the vulnerable youths of Gotham. Yes, that’s despicable, but there’s clearly something else that they were trying to say that wasn’t really conveyed well.
But still, this is a strong standalone issue. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been loving Batman stories from the Seventies and Eighties, where Bruce Wayne has as much to do as Batman. They were stories that worked as part of an ongoing drama, but they stood well enough in their own that you could read a single issue without feeling lost. What’s more, since each issue told a complete story, it felt like you were getting more for your money as opposed to keeping up with “Part 4 of 6” or what have you. “Orphans” here definitely tells a complete story, I just wish there had been a little more to it.
BONUS: Joshua Middleton has absolutely been destroying the variant cover game lately, and this one is one of his best.
- You like a story that tackles real-world issues.
- You like a good one-and-done story.
Overall: The creative team is great, the concepts are intriguing, and it’s a “done in one” issue which is always welcome. Surprisingly, Taylor’s script is maybe a little too ambitious, as his two main story threads never feel fully realized. Batman confronting the problem of displaced and marginalized youth is a great idea, as are the ongoing family dynamics between Bruce and Damian. There’s good stuff for both here, but neither plot gets quite enough focus, so the stories don’t have the impact that they could have had. Still, this is a more than good issue of Detective Comics, and an example of the types of comics I want to see more of in the future.