By James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson & Marilyn Patrizio
The real struggle facing any run of Detective Comics is that it’s always going to feel a little like “the OTHER Batman book.” The title works at its best when it finds good, independent footing to strike out on. Case and point: during Grant Morrison’s epic tenure on Batman there was a period where writer Paul Dini handled Detective. Whilst Morrison’s Batman was a broad, impressive tapestry of long-form story lines requiring hardcore dedication from fans to follow, Detective was fun shorts, normally a mere issue or two long.
This is a fantastic example of how to write Detective: look at what Batman is doing, then do the opposite. That way what you have is not a mere second Batman title, but something that feels deserving of being its own series.
Since Rebirth this is exactly what James Tynion IV has been doing. He has turned Detective into “the gang show”. This is ‘Batman & Friends.’ Whilst Batman serves as the book to explore Bruce Wayne himself, Tynion’s turned Detective into the stories about the people around the bat. So far, Detective has had one arc and a brief crossover with Batman and Nightwing. Tynion’s approach has worked fantastically, but as we steer into its next story the question was “Will Detective suffer difficult second album syndrome?”
If this first ‘track’ of the second album is anything to go by: no. Success continues. And with style.
Tynion’s gang approach invokes Marv Wolfman & George Perez’s legendary time on Teen Titans in that the emotional and personal problems of our cast are given as much weight and worth as the ‘bad guy punching theatrics.’ In this issue Spoiler is really struggling with the events at the end of the last arc. In this moment Batwoman brilliantly serves as the voice of Tynion’s approach. She actively tells Bruce he needs to give Spoiler time to grieve. So often stories of this nature will brush over these moments. Batwoman feels like Tynion himself reaching out to the reader and saying “No. The action can wait. We’re going to let our characters FEEL.”
This is not to say the action comes to a grinding halt so we can watch Spoiler have an emo moment. The fantastic thing about this exchange is that it’s part of an issue-long juggle. This issue sets up a new story, deals with the aftermath of the former story, throws us intrigue and action, but gives almost every main character a nice, brief emotional beat.
Martinez and his team have more fun and experimentation with the art than you might expect from a Big Two book. There are some fun layouts at play. The pages follow a normal and rigid format, that breaks down into something more sporadic when The Victim Syndicate (NEW VILLAIN ALERT) rear their ugly heads. In particular, an early two-pager gets over the difficult hump of delivering exposition by presenting it as a series of police evidence videos. You know a villain is someone to be feared when their very presence can tilt the panels of a book.
This idea of using the art to reflect the villains is at play in the colors as well. The palette is accurately muted to portray the grimness of Gotham, but when the titular villains of the arc finally arrive they are rich in colors; bright reds and deep greens. A perfect and simple way from colorist Anderson to remind us that the most colorful aspect of Gotham City is its villains. The city is grey and brown until the villains roll in and liven everything up.
This issue breaks down into a string of conversations with little action. Not typical Batman fare. Martinez’s pencils keep these dialogue exchanges rich & engaging. A panel of Clayface coming face to face with the monster the world sees him as is as captivating as any fight for the pain Martinez captures in his eyes. Martinez structures his work so there is as much tension to be read into any page of conversation as there is in one showcasing an epic brawl. When reading, keep a look out for whether characters look each other in the eyes or not. Great time and care has been taken to expertly craft body language. Batwing carries himself with calm and collection. Stephanie Brown is arch backed and insecure. These subtle details enrich the book and keep us invested in every member of Batman’s new little gang. Characters often avoid looking each other in the eye. The art team capture Wayne’s gang of heroes with a nuance that lets us into their heads without relying on awful, self confessional dialogue.
Detective Comics launched as one of the better books post-Rebirth and now takes a brave first step in what looks to be a great second story. Rest assured, it’s growing into the Batman & Friends book the creative team promised, with each player as worthy as Bats himself of being the lead.