Detective Comics #1044 review

Rather than forcing a connection to the “Fear State” story in Batman, Tamaki, Mora and Bellaire continue to do their own thing with Tec. This means that you can avoid Batman altogether and enjoy Detective Comics by itself, which is greatly appreciated. And now, without further ado, let’s have a look!

Sometimes you pick up a comic, and the whole thing is fine but otherwise a little bit bland…and then you get to that one scene that’s going to stick with you long after putting the book down, and it elevates the entire issue. That is exactly what happened when I was reading Detective Comics #1044.

Tamaki is rather hit or miss for me. The issue opens with an entire page dedicated to Deb Donovan, who’s sitting in a bar talking to a random dude about water. Tamaki attempts to use water as a theme and a metaphor to foreshadow what’s going to happen later in the issue, but this completely falls flat, the main reason being that if you were to cut this stuff, it would not have mattered at all. In that sense, the opening page is wasted. It’s brought up again on the final page of the main story, but it still doesn’t change anything. I can appreciate a writer trying to create a deeper layer or add a second meaning to their story, but here it just feels pretentious and it gets in the way of narrative flow.

In fact, this comic is pretty over-written in general. This isn’t a new problem; it’s been Tamaki’s pitfall since the start of her Tec run. Case in point: there is a scene that takes place in the Gotham sewer, where Batman has to find his way through the dark. Mora and Bellaire—who are still the best Batman art team in recent history—absolutely nail the visuals. The panels tell the story perfectly: Batman’s moving around, trying to find a way to get to Nakano, and a bug comes crawling toward him. Batman aims his flashlight at the bug, and in the last panel on this page, he shouts, “Vile!” I love everything about this. It’s eerie. It’s immersive. Or it would have been had Tamaki’s narration boxes not completely gotten in the way of the sequential flow.

See, I like my comics best when they’re as silent as possible. Comic book writers should trust their artists and let the art speak for itself. There is absolutely no need to explain the obvious. There’s no need for constant exposition. Stop forcing each and every one of Batman’s thoughts down our throats. It interrupts the pacing. It takes away from the experience instead of adding to it. Of course there are writers who excel at writing lengthy narration boxes, but those are exceptions, and I don’t think that this kind of stuff should be standard practice in comics. Please, writers—less text and let art flow!

One last critique before I get to praise the good things: Tamaki’s writing can be slightly clunky at times. This is not as big of a deal as my previous point, but it still bothers me to an extent. Tamaki writes lines like: “Following an attempt on his life, the man elected to keep Gotham alive, Mayor Nakano, is trapped beneath its streets.” This line is overcooked. First of all, “life” and “alive” in rapid succession is very jarring. Secondly, this could be so much more concise and to the point. From time to time you’ll see lines like these throughout Tamaki’s issues and they always make me pause, meaning that these, though more subtle, disrupt the story’s pacing, too.

But this is not a bad comic. In fact, I really enjoyed this a lot. Mora and Bellaire find brilliant angles and color schemes, as always, for each of the scenes. For example, when one of my favorite Gotham characters of all time arrives, we first just see a silhouette of somebody walking through a hallway, which immediately has me wondering who this could be. On the next page, all the colors are dark and muted, except for Bellaire’s bright reds. Those who are familiar with this character will instantly pick this up as a cue and will be able to guess which character it is, but since Mora has the character act somewhat insecure—through facial expressions and body language—those less familiar with the character might still doubt their identity. When we flip the page again, the character is presented in full costume, ready to kick ass and take names! The only critique that I have here is that Nero XIX—the villain in this scene—is immediately cut down, which makes his inclusion in the story feel like a waste of time, like he was only around so this other character could be introduced. But that’s fine—if we get to see more of this character in the coming episodes, I’m not complaining.

Saving the best for last, the scene that I was referring to above, the one that will stick with me for a long time, takes place near the end. It involves Batman and Nakano, and it’s set in the sewer. I won’t go into specifics, because that’s for you to discover, but I will say that Bellaire’s creepy colors, Mora’s fantastic rendition of a terrified Nakano, the excellent pacing that comes from Tamaki’s script, the countless of disgusting bugs, and Batman’s desperate attempt to save Nakano, makes for a near-perfect horror moment. It’s gripping. It’s tense. It’s edge-of-your-seat action. This is what scary Batman comics can be. This is what scary Batman comics should be. To boot, Tamaki also uses text sparingly here, which is exactly what this scene needs. Had she overwritten this, inserting countless boring narration boxes like the previous horror scene, none of this would have even worked half as well. I want more of this, and less of the things I critiqued above. This issue is entirely worth it for this scene alone, that’s how damn good this is.

This month’s backup is also a horror story. It’s fine. The opening scene is pretty in-your-face, with lots of blood and gore on display, and to me this is the strongest scene of the backup, because it makes me want to read on. What follows isn’t as exciting, though. Nakano gives a speech about the new Arkham Tower and, to be honest, I think it’s really dumb that the name “Arkham” is still being used. Thankfully, the creative team is aware, so they have a bunch of reporters and none other than Bruce Wayne challenge Nakano on this topic. Nakano’s arguments as to why he wants to keep using the Arkham name are forgettable and weak, and I think this even hurts the character a little bit, because he’s seemed pretty thoughtful throughout Detective Comics up till this point. The art is fine, too, but the mundane, day-time scenes aren’t that special, with bland backgrounds. The horror scenes, however, are pretty awesome: especially the gory visuals are detailed and well-developed.

Recommended if…

  • You want to read a good horror comic with Batman in it.
  • You aren’t afraid of bugs.
  • You aren’t afraid of the dark.

Overall: Detective Comics #1044 is good and I recommend this one! Sometimes Tamaki’s narration or dialogue is a bit stale or overwritten, but Mora and Bellaire’s amazing visuals, along with Tamaki’s excellent story about Batman and Nakano, more than makes up for all of that. The backup is all right, too. And yes, this can entirely be enjoyed without having read the main Batman series. And honestly? Just stick with Detective Comics, anyway. Trust me.

Score: 8.5/10

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