All right, it’s been a hot minute since we’ve read Detective Comics #1021. The story so far has been about Harvey Dent’s internal struggle with Two-Face; Two-Face’s cult; and Batman’s attempts at unraveling the mystery behind the cult and helping his old friend Harvey. Last issue ended on a cliffhanger where we saw Two-Face shooting Batman several times in the chest. So far the story has been good. Let’s have a look and see if it’s still at that level of quality.

This is a strange issue. It starts off with an inconsistency: we saw Batman getting shot in the chest last time, but now we see him hanging above a vat of acid, completely restrained. The gunshots to the chest are all but forgotten. Sure, Batman wears kevlar that can withstand bullets and all that, but these were pretty huge slugs from up close, so at the very least, he should be in a lot of pain. That said, the vat of acid makes for an exciting opening! Not because I fear for Batman’s life, but because whenever an escape artist scene comes up, I’m always really excited to see how Batman manages to get away. This is where both writers and artists can get really creative, and it’s generally a lot of fun to see such scenarios play out. However, the execution of this is somewhat confusing.

The perspective, angles, shots and various actions are very chaotic. I can follow the actions from panel to panel, but it’s not super easy, and the panels don’t always connect as smoothly. There’s an overabundance of green color and acid that get in the way of the flow. It’s also not always clear where everyone is, relative to one another. There’s also a lot of visual input that can be slightly overwhelming. Had this scene been drawn and colored more clearly and straightforward, I think the action would’ve flowed a lot better, and it might have been more enjoyable. I’m all for artists trying to find interesting angles and trying out certain layouts, but when it gets too disorienting, it gets less entertaining too.

Furthermore, the various scenes in this book feel kind of tacked on. After Batman’s escape from the acid and Two-Face, he finds some of Two-Face’s men on a rooftop and beats the crap out of them. There’s a cute moment here where Batman waves to a few kids in front of a window in the building across. But other than that this scene ends as quickly as it began, and there’s barely a transition from the escape artistry to this rooftop fight. After this, Batman talks to the wife of one of Two-Face’s henchmen, and then returns to interrogate one of those henchmen. While the scenes are fine in and of themselves, they also are very generic. Maybe it’s just me, but they feel a little uninspired, too, like there’s not a lot of energy to these scenes. They just start and then cut off, and then the next scene begins, but they don’t connect well. It’s like Batman’s teleporting from location to location, just going through the motions.

But I suppose the real elephant in the room is Joker’s involvement, which was spoiled months in advance by solicitations and the announcement of the Joker War crossover. Joker’s involvement in this arc confuses me. For one thing, Joker ends up overshadowing Two-Face, which I really do not like. He just barges into this story and steals Harvey’s thunder, and he’s only in this issue for a handful of panels. Moreover, Joker’s appearance upsets the focus of the story. It was a cool Two-Face arc, and I liked that. Not only because Two-Face is my favorite character, but also in large part because I think there haven’t been enough great Two-Face arcs in recent publications. Of all the classic rogues, Joker has received the most attention, and to see him come into this story like this is just not very interesting.

For one thing, within the context of this story, it’s like he appears completely out of nowhere. Perhaps Tomasi had planned this all along, but his appearance is no longer shocking nor intriguing because it was already spoiled, and also because it makes for a very jarring shift in tone. I also think that, in general, a surprise reveal of “the real villain who was behind everything all along” can only work when everything has been set up super carefully beforehand, and you can actually feel that it has been set up carefully. There has to be some kind of organic buildup, even when the reader isn’t aware of that buildup yet. That isn’t the case here. Joker is shoehorned into the narrative instead, as if editorial made Tomasi change his story at the last moment so it could match the upcoming Joker crossover.

But on top of that, I think Joker’s very appearance also points to another problem. See, the situation is that two dudes—one of whom is the henchman that’s telling Batman all this Joker stuff—one day found Two-Face on the floor of his house with a bullet in his head. These two dudes then decide to ransom Two-Face and spread word on the street. After two days, the only person to show up is Joker. But you’d think that more people would be interested in Two-Face once they hear about him. What about cops? Detectives? Criminals who ended up in prison because of Harvey Dent, when Harvey was still DA? Other super-villains? And what about Batman himself? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and for that reason, and those mentioned above, I don’t like this scene at all. As a result, I end up not enjoying this comic as much as I’d hoped.

Before I wrap this up I want to add this: I dislike that DC is trying to—or at least seems to be trying to—make Joker Batman’s ultimate nemesis. I don’t think that’s what Joker is. I love Joker, of course, but to me he’s always been a member of the rogue’s gallery, not the member of the rogues gallery. Yes, Joker would see himself as Batman’s ultimate nemesis, much like many other rogues would see themselves as such. But in recent history the stories themselves, the way they’re structured, have started suggesting that Joker is indeed Batman’s greatest foe. The problem that I have with this, specifically, is that other rogues deserve the spotlight as well. This arc seemed to be a great appearance for Two-Face. The previous issues established him as a conflicted and dangerous figure, but when it turns out that he’s been a pawn in Joker’s game all along, all of that fantastic buildup and the intrigue surrounding Two-Face’s madness is undermined, and that’s a real shame.

Recommended if…

  • All you need is Joker.
  • You’ll give Tomasi and Walker the benefit of the doubt.

Overall: Honestly, it’s not a bad issue at all. It’s just not as good as the previous installments. Maybe Tomasi deliberately wants to pull a 180 to shock us here, but it feels cheap and too sudden. It takes me out of the story that I’ve been enjoying up to this point, as it’s a hard break from the established tone. I just hope that the next issue will prove me wrong. Maybe this is actually building up to a fantastic Two-Face versus Joker showdown that will redeem this issue? Either way, I can’t fully recommend this comic, but I guess I’m willing to give Tomasi and Walker the benefit of the doubt for the time being. Next issue better be really good.

Score: 6/10

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