By: John Layman (story), Jason Fabok (art), Jeremy Cox (colors)

The Story: It’s a rough night when you get your thunder stolen by the Penguin.

The Review: Another review, another Batman title.  I’ll spare you the lecture on how every series sharing a brand should at the very least bring something different to the party.  Instead, let’s talk a little about Detective Comics, the book which not only brought Batman to life, but from which DC Comics as we know it today took its confusingly redundant name.  In theory, at least, this title should focus on Batman as investigator, rather than avenger or superhero.

However, to write the world’s greatest detective, you need to be a fairly good one yourself—no small task for the ordinary, non-fictional person.  How else can you expect to set up clues amidst the plot with enough intricacy and subtlety that the reader doesn’t spot them and put them together with his commoner’s brain faster than the Batman himself?  With his experience on the unusual and surprisingly complex Chew, Layman seems up to the task.

The first move in his favor is the set-up of a fairly layered plot.  Penguin’s sudden desire for respect beyond intimidation may be entirely personal, but gaining it means stretching his reach across even more of Gotham, including its better institutions.  Even if Penguin’s intentions are harmless for now, his unscrupulousness will infect everything he does.

Adding Ivy to the mix complicates things further, as it always does when you have two Batman rogues in the same arc.  In this case, her presence adds a whole slew of unpredictable variables to the story because she is completely on her own side.  Though Bruce characterizes her “true colors” as “criminal,” he also doesn’t consider her “evil.  Just misguided.”  Even her eco-terrorism shows some concern for humans; her outrage over Penguin’s chemical-spewing businesses includes the fact that “[i]t will poison Gotham for generations.”  Exactly where on the moral spectrum she’ll wind up on this arc is of as much interest to you as anything else.

Actually, I should make that three Batman rogues in the same arc, as a very unexpected, muddy figure shows up to confront the Dark Knight at the end of the issue, demanding to know, “What have you done with my wife?”  Layman clears some of the hows of this twist in his back-up, adequately drawn by Andy Clarke with mild, dry colors from Blond.  Ivy’s reasons for choosing this particular hubbie make a lot of sense, and shows foresight worthy of a major Batman villain.

Another good sign for Layman’s approach to this title: an emphasis on Batman’s tactical, rather than purely physical, skills.  Seeing Bruce’s chess-like thought process as he figures out how to defeat an assassin while making it look like an accident is pretty entertaining, and the method he chooses to overcome Ivy’s mind-control is a clever use of seizure-inducing technology.  More of this, please.

It’s also worth noting that Layman brings his usual sense of humor to the title.  You don’t often think of Batman as a source of laughs, except inadvertently and frequently a result of some mean-spirited violence.  Layman actually dares to have Batman make a few jokes, pulling it off by delivering it with utter dryness.  As Bruce describes several criminal acts which left bystanders in the hospital, Damian guesses the Joker as the perp.  Bruce: “Negative.  I said hospital, not morgue.”

Fabok has long come into his own as an artist, and though he draws everything mostly straight, without too much flair or style or fanciness, he never gets in the way of Layman’s story either.  He has an especial knack at working the characters’ faces.  Even without his cowl on, every muscle in Bruce’s face is taut and tightened in Batman mode; even in a party suit, you can see the vigilante in action.

Conclusion: While the meat of the plot is still up in the air, and the back-up feels a bit superfluous, Layman offers a very different flavor of Batman, one you can appreciate among a whole stand of Batman titles.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Layman mostly remembers to write Damian as the erudite and elitist punk he is, but occasionally falls into some Gregg Hurwitz-like childisms.  I don’t believe for one second Damian would ever let the word, “Geez,” come out of his mouth.