Someone Old, Someone New: Detective Comics #1
Say what you will about the recognizability or historical significance of any other DC Comics character, but there’s only one whose book the company named themselves after. And it ain’t this one. After Detective Comics #27 introduced “The Bat-Man” in May of 1939, he soon became the star of the title and, arguably, the company’s most successful character. As much as we were looking forward to, and have been pleasantly surprised by, several titles in DC’s The New 52, there was never any doubt that the entire endeavor would succeed or fail based on the strength of one comic. Haven’t checked it out yet? Leave it to Someone Old (Tom) and Someone New (Jon) to convince you why you should.
Jon: Whoa. See, it is issues like this that give me more and more of an appreciation for comics as a whole. Of all of the new 52 that I have read (and reviewed) so far, this one is far and away my favorite. It reminds me much more of the intelligent (and often brutal) writing seen in Watchmen, Wanted, and Sandman.
Now, this is the first time I have seen the Joker in a comic. I loved Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and was blown away by the depth of character, controlled insanity, and chaotic desires. Yet in this one short issue, so much of that same character is revealed. The Joker’s inappropriate laughter, his brutality, his lack of regard for human life, his plans within plans within plans – all of these are prevalent in these few short pages. The art really does compliment the writing – with the use of darkness and shadows on the Joker’s face, the blood, the slashing knives – as I was reading, the Joker actually gave me the chills. And with zero knowledge of what is going to happen, the ending has me hungering for the next comic morsel. I can really see why Wednesdays are some people’s favorite day of the week.
I realize I have spent 90% of my review thus far discussing the Joker. But, that is how awesome (-ly terrifying) that character is. OK, onto our hero. Batman really is
one of the best superhero we have. He is human – he is worrying about a missed date that he has, he gets fed up with inane political games, poisonous gas affects his muscle movements, and knives to the chest hurt like hell. He doesn’t shoot fireballs out of his arse eyes, nor does he have a little green ring that does all things magical and crazy. This portrayal of Batman was spot on – he’s a beast, but not invincible. He wants to do the right thing, but lacks patience. He notices things others would not, but still falls into the Joker’s traps. We do not know that he is going to win. And that is why we love him.
In terms of this visual depiction, Batman is enormous – the dude is ripped out of his mind, and his bat suit is high-tech, sleek, and downright sexy. I really enjoyed the art surrounding the hologram and the bat-cave, and Commissioner Gordon was visually stunning. That one scene on the roof where he and Batman are having their discussion was brilliantly depicted, and showed the stark contrasts between the two of them. There were images that could not have been done justice by even the best writers’ descriptions alone, but were beautifully and perfectly done here. OK, I swear, I am done gushing.
Tom: And I’m just getting started. I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t happy about this whole thing. DC decided to end one of the longest running comic books in history, starring my favorite character, while it was the best it had been in years. And, if you didn’t check out the Scott Snyder/Jock run that concluded the previous incarnation of Detective Comics, please go do so. But that was then, this is now.
There were for this title, as there always are, concerns that letting one person handle the writing, the interiors, and the cover art, might not be a great idea. At best, it’s not exactly conducive to getting a book published on time. At worst, it’s a disaster. There is a fairly long case history to back up the notion that artistic talent in one medium (drawing) doesn’t necessarily translate into talent in another medium (writing). A one man creative team also eliminates the checks and balances process that can prevent the train from going off the rails. For a recent example of just how weird these things can get, check out the Neal Adams helmed Batman: Odyssey. But, seriously, don’t.
Thankfully, Tony Salvador Daniel doesn’t have that problem. Yes, the art here is amazing: interesting and variable panel layouts, judicious and effective use of gutter breaking (drawing outside of the lines), and a meticulous level of detail that makes almost every page poster worthy. In one sequence, Batman is reaching for a little girl, trying to save her from a burning building. And, while she reaches back, they never make contact. But, in the corresponding panel on the opposite page, a different hand reaches from the same angle. That hand belongs to Jim Gordon, the man who actually gets her out. In addition to being visually striking, that sequence alone gives me great hope that Daniel will put a premium on the Batman/Gordon relationship, which, for my money, is one of the most interesting aspects of the Batman mythos. The character design is also top notch. The short-eared, tactically geared Batman is incredibly imposing, and The Joker looks suitably creepy without ever crossing the line of physical unreality that Jim Lee’s version of the character does. But here’s what’s really surprising: as impressed as I was with every aspect of this issue’s art, it’s the writing that converted me to the new Detective Comics.
While it’s unclear exactly when this all takes place, it’s safe to say Bruce hasn’t been wearing the cape and cowl for too long. This is a Batman still trying to establish his own reputation. He’s frustrated by his relationship (or lack thereof) with the GCPD and the time that wastes in critical situations. When he says “I’ve always been in Gotham. I am Gotham”, he’s not only trying to convince Commissioner Gordon, a man still unsure of Batman’s capabilities, he’s also trying to convince himself. He’s unfamiliar with The Joker’s behaviors, still trying to profile him by making detailed notes of the minutiae in their every bloody encounter. While lines like “Forget about it, Joker. You can’t run. I own the night” might sound cheesy coming from a more experienced hero, they’re immediately justified by the painfully naive thought “He’s mine now. After all these months…”.
This is Batman at his best. This is the world’s greatest detective, analyzing every scenario and learning from every mistake. In what is perhaps the best moment in an amazing comic, Daniel makes fresh what is perhaps the most used line in Batman history. But, for the first time (of which I’m aware), that line isn’t said to anyone. It’s a thought. It’s Bruce saying it to himself, trying to force himself to focus over the incredible pain of paralyzing nerve gas and multiple stab wounds. “I’m Batman”. Yes, my friend, you are.