Before coming on to this title as reviewer, I had always felt that the biggest issue with V’s Detective Comics was its pacing. It had plenty of cool characters and concepts, but the narrative peaks and valleys were stretched out so that instead of a traditional “exposition, rising action, climax, denouement” narrative structure, it would bounce between them and lose focus. I believed, then, that when I started reviewing the series I would have an opportunity to express that critique in real time. But that’s not what happened. It’s true that this issue has very little in the way of plot progression, but I think the way it executes that approach works better than it has in the past. The result is one of my favorite issues I’ve read in a while.
Batman actually features very little in this issue. The focus, instead, is placed on the detectives investigating what happened to him (weird for a book called Detective Comics, I know). After the events of the previous issues, Batman has become an enigma – a ghost whose existence can only be confirmed via hearsay and dubious reports. The readers know that his mind has broken, but none of the other characters seems to know what’s going on. As a result, they fear what they don’t know and his erratic behavior only produces more concern.
It’s an approach to Batman’s relationship with the GCPD that’s usually reserved for stories set during the “Year One” era. They’re tracking him down, debating whether he’s dangerous or not, and each sighting takes on the framing of a possible hoax or delusion. The twist is that instead of Batman being a new player in Gotham, he’s already well established and known. It creates a sort of parallel structure which implies a degradation and regression for Batman. What’s occurring around him is a reflection of his deteriorating mental state.
The investigations into Batman’s whereabouts include interviews with witnesses who claim to have seen him. Jumping between wildly different descriptions of what’s going on disorients both the police and the reader. From random civilians to supervillains like Killer Croc, everyone has a different perspective, and none of it seems very reliable. In many ways it reminds me of the classic story “The Batman Nobody Knows!” from Batman #250 (also adapted in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Legends of the Dark Knight”). There, a group of children all give their stories of the time they claim to have seen Batman, each with their own version of what he’s like. In both instances, it’s through other’s view of Batman that we learn about his character rather than from any first hand depiction.
Part of what sets these sequences apart is the way that Dustin Nguyen’s art gives each their own personality and style. It’s a treat to have Nguyen back on Detective Comics, and he doesn’t disappoint with his return. The unreliable narration of the first witness, a self-aggrandizing tenant in an apartment that blew up, is coupled with distorted and exaggerated body proportions. Croc’s testimony makes him look almost like an incorporeal demon. Both instances reflect both the events and the person telling them. Nguyen’s style is always pleasant to look at, but stories like this let him flex the amount of range he has an artist when it comes to tone.
Through a series of dream sequences, we see what’s truly happening in Bruce’s psyche. His existential crisis over who he is, and what role the “darkness” should play in his life manifest through mental avatars like Dick, his father, and the wolf that has been haunting his visions. We see his struggle through the lens of the tragedy in Crime Alley which has haunted him his entire life, as well as seeing how people like Nightwing have grown with their tragedy yet still manage to not isolate themselves. It’s all an extremely well done series of sequence that manage to shine a new light on a well trodden internal struggle in Bruce’s mind.
Backup: The Hole in the Skull of the World
Dan Watters returns for the backup in what seems to almost be a follow up to his story Arkham City: Order of the World. It’s exciting that I get to review this because that’s actually the first review I ever wrote for Batman-News as part of my application process (though it was never published). You don’t need to have read that story to understand this one (but if you haven’t, you should because it’s great), but it brings back one of the highlight characters: Ten-Eyed Man.
Just as in Arkham City: Order of the World, Ten-Eyed man is unsettling yet innocently weird. His design borders on surreal body horror, and his actions often end up killing the people he interacts with, but none of it ever seems malicious. He’s curious, but never means to hurt people. In fact he’s one of the few Batman villains who could actually be granted the insanity plea as opposed to Gotham’s legal standard which seems to be “if you commit a crime but have a fun gimmick/outfit, you’re insane”.
The story here revolves around him going out to try and find pizza after failing to exorcise the bad smells from his fridge via trepanning. Over the course of this journey, in addition to accidentally killing a few more people with his powers, he stumbles upon the “hole” in Gotham through the strange psychic connection he has with the city. Similar to the structure of the main story, it acts as another vignette through which the reader can follow the events of Batman’s mental crisis and the effect it has on Gotham. No one around him seems to care about what he has to say because of the very apparent delusions he suffers from, but at the same time he’s able to see what others can’t. It’s definitely an extension of the main plot, but with Watters’ distinct and wonderful sense of the bizarre.
- You want to see Gotham react to an unhinged Batman
- Dream sequences where Batman struggles with his identity are your cup of tea
- You were a fan of Arkham City: Order of the World and want a follow up
Detective Comics #1074 leans into its atmospheric storytelling by using setting to explore the central characters. It makes little headway in terms of plot progression, but its diverse set of characters and perspectives keeps your attention the whole way through regardless. No one in Gotham quite understands what’s going on, and the story pulls the reader into that same mindset as conflicting accounts coupled with surreal art paint both a city and hero in chaos.
Overall score: 8/10
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.