Well, “Shadows of the Bat Part 1” is here, for better or for worse. Before I even start reviewing this issue there’s something we have to talk about. In the past, I didn’t really factor price points into my comic book reviews, but now that DC is pulling this stunt and I’m not sure how many people are aware of this, I feel like I have to bring it up. See, it’s all well and good that DC wants to publish Detective Comics issues on a weekly basis for three months, but they’re not lowering the price of admission.
All of the A covers are $4.99 a pop, except for the oversized issue #1050, which is $5.99. If you were to buy every single issue of this event, you will end up spending at least $60.88. The 2021 Annual was marketed as a prelude to this event, so if you were to add the $5.99 A cover, you would spend a total of $66.87.
Bear in mind that all of the B covers are a dollar extra, meaning that you could be spending $72.88 (without the annual) or $79.87 (with the annual). Of course, all the prices I’ve listed here are cover prices—copies will probably be a bit more expensive when you buy them at your LCS.
This is way too expensive, if you ask me, and as such I already can’t recommend this event to anybody, especially when you consider how inconsistent the quality of Tamaki’s Detective Comics run has been. Lastly, I want to say up front that I will be subtracting a full point from my final scores for the entirety of “Shadows of the Bat” because of this insane price point.
All right, without further ado, let’s have a look.
This issue is all over the place. It starts on the seventh day since Arkham Tower’s opening, and we see Dr. Wear giving a press conference that lasts for 5 whole pages. Dr. Wear, who I don’t remember being fleshed out or well-developed at all and therefore remains a bit of a bland character, talks about how he will rehabilitate villains with humane and holistic treatment and will even bring the best of mental health to all citizens of Gotham. The speech is a bit wonky and hinges on clichés. In all fairness, Tamaki might have intentionally written the speech this way because Dr. Wear probably isn’t supposed to be trustworthy, but even then the dialogue is so dry during this section that it doesn’t manage to pull me into the story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: if I wasn’t reviewing this book, I might not have finished reading this issue.
What’s especially questionable here is how Dr. Wear intends to bring the best of mental health to Gotham. Seeing as most of the villains locked up in Arkham aren’t just mentally ill patients but full-on serial killers, mass murderers and terrorists, I don’t think that the exact same treatment can be applied to these maniacs and regular citizens, and yet that’s how it’s being presented. Furthermore, if regular citizens are supposed to visit Arkham Tower for treatment, then that means that they are in the same building as the psychos, and we all know how atrocious Arkham’s security has always been. It should also be noted that we—the audience—don’t know anything specific about this treatment, so we don’t really know exactly what it is that they’re trying to do inside that tower. As such, the subject matter remains unclear, which keeps readers at arm’s length. In short, there are holes in the Arkham Tower concept and the story that’s crafted around this concept is already starting to show cracks.
What’s more, about halfway through, we jump to Day 24, and Arkham Tower is immediately in trouble. I actually really like the contrast between the quasi-optimistic tone in the opening pages and the absolute chaos during these later pages. However, whereas this could have been a great narrative technique to wake up the audience and snap things into focus, I think this sequence is accomplishing anything but that. Yes, the action is pretty cool, but the whole situation is so messy that the storytelling itself becomes unfocused. We don’t know what’s going on exactly and we don’t know how things went to hell. We know that some of the Bat Family members are in and around the tower, but we have no idea what their plan of action is. We also know that one of the bats is apparently missing in action, but of course that character is going to be fine because they are the star of an ongoing series that just launched, so I’m not feeling any suspense, either.
Look, this just isn’t working for me. We had an entire annual that was supposed to set up this event. Then we had last week’s issue which was essentially another setup for this event. Now we have the actual first chapter, and it’s a setup for this event. I get that the creative team was trying to go for a bombastic cold open to get people excited about what’s going to happen next, but if you don’t establish who the main characters in this story are and barely hint at what the direction of the story is going to be, then all we’re left with is a dull speech and a few unclear action scenes, and I’m not sure why I should care anymore.
Moving on, this time the artwork is created by Ivan Reis (pencils), Danny Miki (inks) and Brad Anderson (colors). Even though I don’t like the story, I can appreciate this comic’s visuals. There are some cool horror sequences here, where we see an Arkham inmate stalking through hallways, following a trail of blood, carrying a knife. Even though it’s literally just a figure walking from A to B, the way that she moves and draws nearer to the reader makes this a pretty scary image. I also like all of the character designs a lot. Everyone looks great here—detailed and lifelike and realistic. Especially Reis’ rendition of Kate Kane/Batwoman is pretty awesome and I hope to see him draw a Batwoman story at some point in the future.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the visuals in this book are all the background details. For example, we get to see the Arts & Crafts room in the tower, and even though it’s not a very big panel, the amount of detail that these artists pack into this is a lot of fun and impressive. We see an inmate at a table working on an artwork, and the table is littered with art supplies. Arkham staff members are observing the room and other inmates are engaged in their own activities in the background, talking to each other or working on art as well. The page layouts throughout aren’t too crazy, but they’re all solid and functional, which is all I want, really. The overall aesthetic is very cohesive, whereby pencils, inks and colors all enhance each other and create this dark Gotham world.
Finally, this issue comes with another backup feature. I’m glad that this time the backup doesn’t seem to be merely an ad for another book, and I really dig Blanco and Bellaire’s artwork as they create a very eerie horror atmosphere. That said, I don’t like how Joker is written in this backup one bit. Once again he’s depicted as a homicidal maniac in clown paint, and that isn’t the character. Joker doesn’t just go around randomly killing people—he goes around making jokes and maybe killing people if it’s funny to him. The homicidal maniac angle reduces an otherwise great character to a generic psycho-killer, and I imagine that’s the last thing you’d want for Joker. As for the story, it remains to be seen where this is going, because for now they’re not giving us much to chew on.
Overall: For me, the writing really isn’t up to par. The comic is too unfocused and chaotic and it feels like we barely got a story out of this first chapter. Unfortunately, the art is once more the only true selling point for me, but even art this good can’t justify that price tag. My advice is to stay away from Detective Comics for the foreseeable future and save your money. If you really must pick up this story, then no doubt you will be able to get the eventual trade with a nice discount at some point.
If you’ve come this far you’ve spend at least: $4.99 (or $10.98 with the annual).
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.