23 March 2012

"Detective Comics" #4-7 (Feb - May 2012)

Detective Comics
Written and Drawn by Tony Salvador Daniel
"Russian Roulette" art by Szymon Kudranski (#5 back-up story)
Inks - Sandu Florea (#4-7) & Rob Hunter (#5)
Background Assists - Joel Gomez (#7)
Colors - Tomeu Morey
Lettering - Jared K. Fletcher
Cover - Daniel, Winn & Morey (#4); Daniel & Morey (#5-7)
Assistant Editor - Katie Kubert
Associate Editor - Harvey Richards
Editor - Mike Marts
Batman created by Bob Kane

Okay, my second of three catch-up posts on the New 52s I've been reading brings my attention to Detective Comics, which I almost didn't even begin reading. Then I indulged and picked up issue #1 and was drawn in by Tony Daniel's opening story arc and I've been hooked since. It's much darker than Batgirl, but that suits Batman. I maintain that the opening "Dollmaker" arc could very easily have been an old school Legends of the Dark Knight tale and that's considerably high praise from me. But what of the subsequent arc featuring The Penguin...?

#4 "The Main Event" (Feb 2012)
Date of Publication: 7 December 2011

The "Dollmaker" finale is kind of a perfunctory wrap-up issue and a bit of a step down from the previous issues. Until, that is, the last couple of pages when Batman is just about to nab the escaping heavy and BAM! Something pretty startling happens in a full splash page. What I love most about this page is that there  is absolutely no text. No mental reaction from Batman, no "sound effect." Nothing. It may seem trivial, but this is the kind of layout that you don't see often in mainstream superhero books (or, at least, you didn't when I was a regular reader!). I admire Daniel's willingness to let his dramatic art speak for itself. Less is more, y'all.

#5 Wheel of Misfortune (Mar 2012)
Date of Publication: 4 January 2012

A new arc begins, pitting Batman against The Penguin. What I liked most about this issue is that it opens by showing us a sort of Occupy movement protesting what they perceive as Batman's unilateral maiming and skinning of The Joker (see issue #1). It's the kind of continuity that is rewarding for established readers, but I think is still self-evident enough for newbies to find accessible. I like the idea of a Gotham City where people aren't sold on whether they can trust the Batman. When you're a child, you take for granted that you can trust your heroes but there comes a point where cynicism sets in and you begin to scratch your head at a city that would just sort of accept the existence of someone like Batman running around as a vigilante. Who does this guy think he is, anyway? I like that Daniel gives us that element here. It establishes Gotham as a more believable place for me.
As for the story, there's not a lot. Batman tracks an assassin to The Penguin's new Iceberg Casino, as Bruce Wayne's new girlfriend Charlotte Rivers is working on infiltrating the place for her own investigative purposes as a journalist. My favorite panel is on page 9. Batman has been mobbed by the pro-Joker protesters, thinking him merely a pro-Batman protester, and has to fight his way out. As he flies off, one guy says, "Hey, I think that guy was the real deal!" His buddy replies, "Naw, we're still breathin'." I like that partly because it's humorous, but mostly because it gets at something kind of peculiar about protesters. They can express really pronounced rhetoric while, as individuals, they're much mellower about the issue at hand or the people involved but feel they can't express it.

"Russian Roulette"
There is a back-up story here, too, in which a low level thief plays a game of poker with some Russian criminals. It turns out that their most recent score was actually taken from Catwoman, who is about as understanding about this matter as you might expect. I liked it alright for short fiction. I really liked the art by Szymon Kudranski. It's very dark and in keeping with the aesthetic established by Daniel for 'Tec. I'd really like to see more by Kudranski in the future.

#6 "Kill Game" (Apr 2012)
Date of Publication: 1 February 2012

Back to the Iceberg Casino, where Charlotte Rivers is approached in her room by a formidable woman with an eye patch by the name of Jill Hampton...her sister! It seems Jill is the bad girl in the family and is currently plotting with a guy who goes by the name Snakeskin to pull of quite a heist at the Iceberg. Meanwhile, The Penguin is busy convincing a handful of low-level crooks to entrust their funds to his safekeeping. If the opening arc was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then this one is Ocean's Eleven as it would have been made by Quentin Tarantino.

This issue is a lot lighter in tone than previous issues, but I like seeing Batman actually have to do the legwork of an investigation. It suits the nature of a book called Detective Comics. My favorite bit is page 6, where Batman interrogates a desk clerk at a low rate motel frequented by Gotham's criminal element. The guy pulls a shotgun on Bats, but winds up shooting his own foot. "I stand there and let his fear take over. No need to hurt him any more than he hurt himself." Batman just stares. It's not even a particularly mean look, but it's more than enough to make both the desk clerk and me a bit uncomfortable.

#7 "The Snake and the Hawk" (May 2012)
Date of Publication: 7 March 2012

Batman is trapped with an injured Charlotte Rivers in the bowels of the Iceberg Casino. Always an all-options-on-the-table kind of guy, he decides to escape by having his Batsub crash into the casino. Subtle? No. But certainly effective and it makes for a great splash page. Here, unlike issue #4, Daniel permits a "KACHOOOOM" sound effect that's in keeping with the lighter tone of this arc. It's this kind of nuance that I appreciate as a reader. Shortly thereafter it's a matter of Batman vs. Jill and Snakeskin, with The Penguin and his new clients caught in the middle. Or is it Jill and Snakeskin vs. The Penguin and his new clients, with Batman caught in the middle? Either way, I kept thinking of Clooney and Pacino in Ocean's Thirteen. Fun stuff, though certainly lighter than the opening "Dollmaker" arc. At least, it was until the last page! Daniel knows how to spin a yarn, that's for sure. I'm eagerly looking forward to issue #8, "Scare Tactics."

Three notes about Detective Comics.

1) There will be a major crossover story in most of the Bat-books in two months, "Night of the Owls," spinning out of a story arc in Batman. To my relief, 'Tec is one of the few Bat-titles not participating. I'd love to see it stay that way, with this series set apart from such events. I have no desire to "have" to buy issues from other series, and I like that this is a sign that Daniel has creative power to continue making this book his own.

2) Starting with issue #8, this expands to a 40-page monthly and the price goes up to $3.99. There will also be a $4.99 combo pack version that will include a code for a digital download of the issue. I personally am not happy about the price increase, but I'm hopeful this expansion is due to Daniel having some stories to tell that justify the new page count. It's only because of point #1 that I'm able to resist being entirely cynical about this.

3) The first seven issues will be collected in the forthcoming Batman in Detective Comics Vol. 01 "Faces of Death" hardcover ($22.99, 6 June). Also, Graphitti Designs will release a T-shirt featuring Daniel's "Joker Skinned." It's priced at $18.95 (Medium, Large or XL)/$21.95 (XXL)/$24.95 (XXXL) and will hit the racks at your local comic book shop 25 April. It's gruesome, but I like that there's no text. I dig it.

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