Detective Comics #997
By Peter J. Tomasi, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin & David Baron
Detective Comics is nearing its historic issue 1000 in a short few months, but, in the meantime, Peter J. Tomasi (Superman: Rebirth, Batman & Robin) and Doug Mahnke (Superman: Rebirth, Green Lantern), along with the other talented artists included in this issue, continue to bring a story delving into Batman’s and really Bruce Wayne’s origins…or his mythology, if you will. People influential to Bruce’s upbringing and identity are being systematically attacked or killed. It’s made for a compelling narrative so far and this issue revolves around the man who trained Bruce in escapology, the original Mister Miracle, Thaddeus Brown!
As one would expect from these veteran storytellers, the comic is crafted in a focused, contained fashion that efficiently delivers some of the key elements expected in a Batman story. Some may ignorantly argue it’s “simplistic,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The execution almost feels like it’s a reflection of the circumstances and central characters involved in the book – perfect symbiosis of content and form. The whole premise is entrapment and escape; that’s what Thaddeus taught Bruce on his journey to becoming the Bat, so it absolutely makes sense that there are predominantly two settings and the illustrations are kept fairly tight, invoking a claustrophobic atmosphere.
Keeping the story lean allows for the characters, in particular their voices, to take center stage. Tomasi continues to show his deft skill in handling the Dark Knight. He’s one of the few writers, currently, who can really present all the character facets for Batman, he understands the emotional complexity of the character and how to transfer that into words on the page. Every line of dialog or inner monologue is spot-on, no exaggeration. This is not only a mystery Bruce must solve, but like any good Batman story, it’s also an emotional journey. Seeing him interact with figures from his past and remembering/using what he was taught is thematically and emotionally fulfilling. Tomasi also keeps the text succinct; there is nothing superfluous, which is also appreciated. So many writers fall in love with their own words that they lose sight of the true purpose of the work. The narrative pacing and story beats are handled excellently as well. He engrosses readers with the dire circumstances and then incorporates new threats to keep them on edge the entire issue, then delivers a potent punch of a cliffhanger. Sharp storytelling. Period.
Artists Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin and David Baron clearly understood the nature and tone that was wanting to be conveyed with this issue. The characters are constantly at the focus of the pages, even when threats are present. The first page shows the readers what’s important: Bruce and Thaddeus. It’s also a fantastic example of perspective when this page, in combination with the two-page spread that follows, is experienced. Mahnke, having worked on important events in key titles, understands the importance of the juxtaposition of the macro and micro to give proper scope and a sense of the moment. It’s a fantastic technique to immerse an audience and he knows exactly how to pull it out of his tool kit and onto the page. Also, how he can depict the entire range of emotional expressions on Batman through the lower half of his face is stunning and obviously important, considering he’s the central character.
This ties heavily into the inkers’ work. Two inkers worked on this book, which is a bit unorthodox, but it works for the material. There is a clear difference in the visuals between the two primary settings, if one pays close enough attention. Each artist serviced the nature of the scenes and characters well. The inks for the first half are little softer, but thick, which works for the panels taking place under water. The other half of the comic is highlighted by bold inking, which perfectly suits the heightened, intense content. The real magic trick though is that despite being having unique inking styles, the work oddly is similar enough to not disrupt the flow of the comic. This is an important factor that shows the skill of Alamy and Irwin. Ego doesn’t factor into the work, they just want to bring depth and detail to Mahnke’s pencils and do justice to the material.
The icing on this issue’s cake is, of course, the colors from Baron. Just like his fellow artistic collaborators, he seems to have the skill and intuition to bring the pages to life. Where the inkers bring depth to the panels, David Baron brings the much-needed texture, especially to this issue. The color work is what can make or break underwater scenes and half of this issue is comprised of that. Water affects the entire setting and the characters. Finding the right shade for the water and knowing how to adapt that choice to everything else in a panel, is daunting to say the least. Luckily, Baron makes every page a sumptuous feast, while keeping the eye drawn to the characters. Of course, Mahnke designs those leading images, but the color is key in making sure that action takes place with the readers. Also, he knew was able to bring such a ferocious vision to Batman and the stakes he was facing in the latter half of the book; it brought the sense of fear and pain to the forefront of the page.
This issue may be in the middle of the story arc, but make no mistake, it’s one to be noted for on every level of work and detail that goes into a comic. It’s a fantastic example of what honed, distinct storytelling is. Catch up with the past few issues, absolutely pick this one up and prepare for Detective Comics #1000!