Detective Comics starts 2020 with a brand new arc, written by Peter Tomasi and illustrated by Scott Godlewski and David Baron. So far, I’ve been enjoying Tomasi’s run on the series, and I appreciate that Tomasi writes Bruce as a more likeable guy who’s trying to do the right thing, as opposed to the brooding, emotionally immature version that has appeared in other recent publications. But is this one of the first comics you should be buying in the new year? Let’s have a look.

While there isn’t really any bad stuff in this issue, it’s mostly just setup for the current arc. It raises a bunch of questions and doesn’t provide many answers yet. This is what a setup for an arc is supposed to do, because the point is to get people invested in the story so they’ll come back next time to see how it all unfolds. However, while I’m definitely interested in finding out what comes next, I’m just not exactly invested yet. I think this is because the issue is somewhat unfocused as the creative team tries to tackle several things at once and ends up not spending enough time with each.

For example, the issue opens with a brief prologue that’s set in 1639, which introduces the villain of this arc: a pagan warrior that’s conducting a ritual sacrifice of sorts. Minimal context is provided so as to keep this a mystery, and after this prologue the villain doesn’t appear until the issue’s cliffhanger. I’m okay with not yet knowing who this character is, but so far I’m not feeling a sense of threat yet. Had Tomasi provided more of a glimpse of what the villain is after—and not just presenting the corpses of several people in a ritualistic crime scene—the stakes would’ve been clearer, and I think that would’ve made for a more powerful hook.

Another example is Batman’s first scene. While it reminds me of the cool street level stories of yore, in which Batman would go after bank robbers and drug dealers rather than big threats from across the multiverse, I don’t think that this scene is essential to the story (unless the one named crook has a bigger role to play in coming episodes). While this scene is fine in itself, I think it just takes up space that could have been used to expand on the villain’s introduction and creating that more powerful hook. I’m also wondering if this scene is included because there isn’t a lot of fighting in this book otherwise. I don’t think that superhero books should require a fight every single issue to be entertaining reads.

One more example is the scene where Batman returns to the cave, and reference is made to Alfred’s death. While I do appreciate that Tomasi doesn’t delve into melodrama by keeping this character moment concise, at the same time I don’t really get the feeling that Alfred’s death has that big of an impact here. In other words, I’m glad that Bruce doesn’t lose himself to a fit of rage for the umpteenth time, but the reference to Alfred’s death is so brief that it feels more like an editorial mandate, than a moment that’s organically integrated into the story itself.

Had the panels, story beats and character moments been distributed more economically and carefully, I think this story would’ve flowed smoother rather than turning out as a collection of separate moments that are fine in isolation, but which just don’t gel that well together. Most importantly, I have not yet been given any reason to care about the villain or any (potential) victims yet, and my interest in seeing what happens next mostly stems from my own curious mind and my faith in the writer based on his previous publications, than from the actual material presented in this book.

On the flipside, I definitely enjoy the detective work. While it’s usually fun to see Batman’s martial arts, I personally think that seeing him work a crime scene is a lot more interesting. My only complaint here is that the detective work only lasts for three pages. Had the aforementioned scenes been shorter or distributed differently, more room would have been created for detective work, which could easily be the main attraction in a book called Detective Comics. I don’t know about you, but when I imagine this book focusing more on Batman and Bullock working hard to solve the murder instead of spending so much time with other stuff, I can’t help but consider this a bit of a missed opportunity.

The artwork is brought to us by Scott Godlewski (pencils/inks) and David Baron (colors). Godlewski’s work is a lot of fun to look at. He puts in little details that make characters seem just a little more lifelike; for example, when two cops see Batman using his earpiece to make a call and ask Batman what’s going on, and Batman puts a finger to his lips and says, “Shhh.” Another example is when Titus and Ace await Bruce’s return in the cave: Godlewski doesn’t neglect to add a bit of an empathetic touch to their faces, like they can read or feel Bruce’s emotions and try to show their support in their own way. Godlewski is also able to seamlessly switch from these details to bigger dynamic art when, for instance, we see the Batmobile racing from panel to panel, or when Batman is swinging through the night.

However, as much as I appreciate how Godlewski renders his characters, I think the backgrounds can be a bit bland as there’s just not much to look at. What’s more, I feel like, for a story about a pagan warrior that’s doing ritual sacrifices, Godlewski’s art might be just a touch too light-hearted, which takes away from the “horrific” (as Batman calls it) qualities of the crime scene.

On the other hand, Godlewski’s layouts are crisp and easy on the eye, which makes for clear and effective storytelling. His inks are smoothly applied to his pencils and create a nice contrast between his shadows and Baron’s varied colors, which, in turn, match Godlewski’s overall aesthetic well.

Recommended if…

  • You are always ready for some detective work in Detective Comics, even if it’s just a brief scene.
  • You like it when a Batman story incorporates supernatural elements.
  • You want to see more of Titus and Ace.

Overall: This is an entertaining issue. I just think it could’ve been better had some of the scenes been longer and others shorter or cut entirely, because now it feels like it’s just a collection of individual moments that don’t really mesh well together. I also don’t think that the creative team has given me an actual reason to care about the villain and what he’s doing yet. That said, the emphasis on detective work, however brief, is most welcome and the cliffhanger is effective in that it makes me wonder how Bruce is going to react to the villain’s sudden appearance. Despite some of these shortcomings, this is not a bad issue to start off the new year.

Score: 7.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.