The Orghams’ plan moves into its final stages as Batman loses his last grasps on sanity and Gotham itself turns on him. I’m reminded immensely of the Room 101 scene at the end of 1984. By all reasonable accounts, they’ve won. They have Batman locked up in a cage and are preparing the means of his execution. However, that’s not enough. It’s important that they achieve total victory in mind, body, and soul. When Batman is reduced to nothing in the minds of the people of Gotham and even himself, that’s when he can die. He must truly love Big Brother.
Inside of his mind is a manifestation of the conflict that has been raging for the past few issues. The avatar of Batman fights to keep him from succumbing to the power of the Azmer demon. Setting up the tone of this coming arc, that fight seems to be one of attrition more than anything else. Every confrontation is implied to lose more and more of Batman’s memory until there will eventually be nothing left. It recontextualizes the flashbacks we saw in the previous issues as possibly the dying gasps of these core memories as one by one they slip away. This is, however, possibly unreliable narration, as all the information is presented in the same way as the voices trying to get Bruce to surrender to the Azmer.
What sells the whole sequence more than anything else is the art. Such an abstract representation of the battle of minds is appropriately drawn as an almost abstract symbolism. Rather than your typical pseudo-realism, the imagery evokes a deco art style that emphasizes bold shapes over motion. It makes the whole thing feel like an idea being presented divorced from any restraints of physicality. There are remnants of this style throughout the rest of the comic that takes place in the real world, especially during the Catwoman sequences, but it’s in its purest form here.
Of course, the Orgham plan cannot just be to break Batman himself, but rather to break the symbol of what he represents to the people of Gotham. It’s a fascinating angle, but I wish it was more fleshed out. As it stands, all we get is a brief mention of how they are using social media blame Batman for everything that’s happened. The rest of it is explained away using the magical influence of the reality engine. This isn’t a plot hole or anything like that, but rather that it feels like it’s glossing over a core part of the conflict. It would be far more interesting to see how they manipulate the people of Gotham aside from “I dunno, Twitter and magic I guess”.
The bulk of the issue is devoted to setting up this “Outlaw” arc through a series of recruitment scenes. It’s a necessary element of the story now that Batman has been completely sidelined and we need to introduce everyone else who will be our protagonists for the next few months, but it still kills the pacing. What exacerbates this is the way the recruitments are structured. Instead of your typical “have the main person go and get everyone”, all of the interactions are chained together. First Arzen has to go and recruit Catwoman, then Catwoman recruits Jim Gordon, then Gordon (sort of) recruits Montoya, and then we get back to Catwoman so she can (sort of) recruit Poison Ivy.
It’s not that any of these individual scenes are bad. They’re mostly entertaining and the conversations themselves can even be gripping at times. It’s just that every time a new scene starts it feels like it’s starting over. Ultimately, the stop and go pacing of this issue acts as a microcosm of the entire run. You have well written characters and scenes, but when taken as a whole it can be a struggle to maintain a cohesive whole.
Backup: The Question in The Scream
So far the highlight of Detective Comics have been the backups by Dan Watters. That’s why it was such a disappointment when I read this one. At first glance it should be perfect for me. It’s a detective mystery starring The Question – all things I love. The problem is there isn’t actually any detective work in a story ostensibly all about it. Rather than investigations and interrogations, it’s just Montoya following a suspect around until she figures it out from nothing. She has no leads or even any reason to suspect him aside from one incredibly self-incriminating recording of victims’ screams that he made and left out for some reason. There’s never a motive aside from that he just likes killing.
The whole thing is structured very strangely and leads to a disappointing story. By the time there’s enough info for the reader to go on, it’s over. The art is simple and colorful which is pleasing to look at, but doesn’t lend itself to establishing any sort of tone for this murder mystery.
Backup: Azrael in the Sword of Batman
I hope you read Sword of Azrael, both because it was a great miniseries and because you’re going to be pretty lost here if you didn’t. In many ways it feels like a bridge story. It follows up on some lingering plot threads from Sword of Azrael, bringing back old characters and addressing Jean-Paul’s personal failures while setting up future conflicts. For those of you who have read that series, this can feel a lot like a recap. There isn’t a lot of new story being told except for revisiting old ideas so as to pivot towards whatever V and Watters have planned for the future of the character. While the narrative might be a non-entity, it’s all still beautifully drawn by Liam Sharp so as to be appropriately moody and unsettling.
Backup: The Summoner’s Lament
It’s not uncommon that artists decide to try their hand at writing to be the total comics package, but here we get the reverse in Ram V’s first art credit. It’s only two pages, but V does a great job creating a sequence absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It complements Jason Shawn Alexander’s style from the main story, similarly evoking that same art deco aesthetic.
V continues the themes he established earlier by focusing on importance of magic’s ancient nature. There is a deep respect for the aspects of the arcane which has been around for centuries. There’s even a crack at magicians like John Constantine who have never had reverence for anything. Batman is treated as simply a piece of ritual that has been in preparation for far longer than he’s been alive. Everything is planned and preordained.
When removed from any concerns over pacing or larger plot structure, V’s writing talent gets to shine brightest.
- You’re excited to see what’s in store for the “Outlaws” intermission
- Azrael making his return promises more of the great character work established by Watters’ work on the character
- Bold, almost abstract art makes for a striking depiction of magic and mind
Detective Comics #1076 is in many ways a transitory comic. Both the main story and the backups seemingly exist to wrap up the previous events and set up what’s to come. It’s mostly all very well drawn and consists of individual scenes with good character moments, but there’s a sense throughout that the story itself is incomplete. The series’ pacing issues continue to plague the overall narrative.
Overall score: 6/10
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.