DETECTIVE COMICS #19

By: Too many to list—check out the review.

The Story: Gotham’s always had a bat problem, but now they have a bat problem.

The Review: In the grand scheme of things, the number of issues a series has under its belt isn’t really important—quality over quantity and all that—but it does quantify a title’s longevity, which sort of says something about the title’s popularity.  Obviously, reaching 900 issues is a pretty big achievement, and you know the most painful thing DC had to accept when they relaunched their entire line was resetting Detective Comics’ numbering back to square one.

Here, they make an attempt to have their cake and eat it too by incorporating the 900 number into the story, which John Layman faithfully does.  Unfortunately, the number has no real value or purpose in context other than as an ominous reference, and the story itself is just yet another variation on the virulent transformation premises that have been infecting the DCU lately: Rise of the Third Army, Rotworld, Demon Knights (not to mention I, Vampire, in which you literally have murderous creatures spreading across Gotham’s citizenry).

Setting aside the lack of originality, Layman writes a successful tale that also serves as the re-introduction of Man-Bat into the DCU (though why Kirk Langstrom has to transform himself to release the antidote escapes me).  Along the way, Layman continues to incorporate details from other Bat-books in impressive fashion, particularly Bruce’s shut-out from the rest of his family.  This forces him to rely on Alfred for logistical support, and displaying the butler’s incredible competence in that respect.  I was particularly excited to see Batwoman enter the scene, but to my disappointment, she winds up doing nothing beyond serving as Langstrom’s escort.

Mark my words, Jason Fabok is a rising star among DC’s purely mainstream artists, right up there with Ivan Reis or Tony Daniel.  While he’s not particularly innovative in anything he draws, he’s an all-rounder who excels at all the fundamentals: detail, texture, perspective, proportion, action, emotion.  He also has a good instinct for changing up POV from panel to panel to keep you visually interested.  Just as Rod Reis is Ivan Reis’ perfect foil, or Tomev Morey is one to Daniel, Fabok has a great ally in Jeromy Cox, whose even tones seems tailor-made for Fabok’s full-figured imagery.

All in all, I would have appreciated more space dedicated to Layman’s main feature instead of getting eaten up by various back-ups and a few pieces of tribute art.  In particular, I’d single out James Tynion IV’s Bane back-up as the most pointless addition to this issue, seeming more like set-up for his own storyline over on Talon than anything else.  The only thing you really get out of it is some fine art by Mikel Janin, who may have found his ideal colorists in Dave McCaig and Brad Anderson, who manage to give life to Janin’s art without calling attention to its artifciality.

Far more useful are the Layman-penned back-ups, fleshing out the main feature on the one hand and showing how it ties into his overarching arc with Emperor Penguin in the other.  Langstrom, in contrast to the martyred figure seen earlier in the issue, is actually a little more complicated in terms of his moral compass.  Good intentions aside, his experiments on deaf children and his cover-up of their “considerable” side-effects are noticeable stains on his character.  I also enjoy Layman exploring some of the minor, colorfully named villains in Gotham (Mr. Combustible, Mr. Mosaic, Hypnotic, Imperceptible Man), and their relationship with the major Batman rogues, whether acknowledged or not.  Andy Clarke (with colorist Blond) and Henrik Jonsson (with inker Sandu Florea and colorist Juancho) provide fine, but unremarkable art, the kind that honestly do belong in a back-up feature if anywhere.  The limited space does restrict the artists’ storytelling, however, leading to some distracting, funky moments, like Jonsson showing thug Rizzo* going from perfectly normal to man-bat in exactly one panel.

The final feature is one of those would-be sentimental tales, used to honor the hero in question through characters specially created for the task.  The Gotham cops adequately summarize the divisive impact of Batman; some have faith in his heroism, others wonder if he simply draws more trouble to the city.  The feature ends on the right note: whether he’s ultimately a benefit to the city or one who brings greater harm, he is a force for good.  Jason Masters never impressed me with his fill-in work on Batman Incorporated, and with colorist Brett Smith, his flat and plain art here leaves me even more nonplussed.

Conclusion: The quality is solid enough for a regular issue of Detective Comics, but for an oversized, celebratory issue that sets you back eight bucks, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I do like that Layman uses a Grease reference there.

Grade

Conclusion