With the players all in place, James Tynion’s Detective Comics run really begins here. Here we see the focus on character and connection that made the last issue, slow-moving as it was, so exhilarating as a fan. And that really is a huge part of this issue’s success. With so many writers having grown up on the greats, it’s fashionable to liken modern comics to officially sanctioned fan fiction. But of course, every spec script is fan fiction and plenty of writers have gotten their starts in online communities.
James Tynion brings to this issue all the things that we love about fan fiction without any of the inexperience or inelegance we like to saddle it with. From a frantic battle worthy of the X-Men to character beats that feel like coming home, Tynion infuses his script with a love of comics and an infectious joy. All the while he keeps up his professionalism, creating characters for which these moments are natural and honest. Tynion seems to be taking the best of the early 2000s Bat family and filtering it through his own vision of Batman: The Animated Series and, given the massive popularity of those unique moments within the fan community, it’s not hard to see why it’s so rewarding.
But it’s not just fan service. Though Tim Drake takes center stage as Batman’s oldest and longest partner on the team, Tynion’s plot is setting up conflicts for each member of the team. It’s quickly becoming clear how beneficial Cassandra Cain can be in a team book, with her limited vocabulary and mysterious manner allowing her to solve problems and then disappear, silently building her own struggles without taking time from other characters until her moment to shine arrives.
Likewise, it’s interesting to see each character’s conflicts examined asymmetrically. Too often in comics there’s an attempt to look at each member of a team equally, giving each one an equal spotlight, but these characters all bring something different to the table and need different things for their arcs. Tim has a connection with Batman but he Cassandra and Stephanie are already a tight-knit team. That leaves Batwoman struggling to take on a leadership role where she not only is used to working alone, but is very much the outsider. The distinction between Batwoman and the newer heroes is both welcome and interesting, present in her scenes and those without her. Fans of Colonel Kane, however, may be disappointed to see that he seems to be playing something of an unintentional(?) villain.
And, while there’s not much to say about him this issue, suffice it to say that Clayface remains an absolute delight.
Though the plot still moves fairly slowly and the villains feel underdeveloped, the focus on character and the ease with which the issue weaves the various vigilantes of Gotham together helps the book stay engaging. Even so, one hopes that subsequent issues will give a more immediate sense of threat and offer more action that doesn’t pare down to familiar heroes fighting hordes of nameless enemies.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the conflict between the familial and the military in this book. It seems as though I was on the right track. The scene between Kate and her father is a firm move in that direction, as Colonel Kane berates Bruce Wayne for his poor military strategy. The balance between the personal and professional is not merely the subject of discussion, however, but the subtext, as Kane lectures his daughter about Batman’s lack of teamwork despite his grievance being that she’s left their two man strike team to join Batman’s network of vigilantes. “Wars are fought with armies, not with lone men,” he says.
The whole thing becomes even clearer when Batman is finally confronted by the mysterious colony. Clad in spandex and driving what could essentially be described as a bat-grilled variant of the B:TAS Batmobile, Bruce is attacked on all sides by a swarm of paramilitary ‘Sons of Batman’ who seem less than pleased with their metaphorical father. As if to drive the point home, the Colony Batmen seem to be driving copies of the Tumbler from Batman Begins.
I don’t think that I fully appreciated Eddy Barrows last issue. While I still feel like this run could have potentially benefitted from a less traditional aesthetic, after this issue Barrows’ strengths are much clearer.
The layouts in this issue are particularly notable. There are plenty of neat tricks, like bat shaped panels and tilted compositions that keep a reader on their toes, but that’s hardly the extent of it. There are also a number of two page layouts in this issue that help convey the feeling of connectedness and scope that the story is aiming for. On top of this, the polish that the art team has put into this book ensures that the pages feel electric, they just pop in a way that comics aspire to.
And, best of all, the painted panels return, and in greater numbers! I don’t know how much credit belongs to Barrows and how much should go to Adriano Lucas, but, regardless, they just look lovely and serve as a beautiful way to highlight the emotion of a scene. The level of detail in lighting and emotion is impressive and it not only gives the series a beautiful visual trademark but works wonderfully with Tynion’s script.
That said, one of the most tenacious problems from last issue remains, and that’s how Barrows depicts Batman. It’s not that Barrows can’t draw Batman, but that he just feels unusually 90s in so many of his appearances. Batman scowls like he’s ripped off a questionably armored action figure’s packaging art, with a nose on his cowl that occasionally looks sharp enough to be a weapon. There are fewer intense close-ups of Bruce’s chin, but it’s still distracting, especially towards the end of the issue.
- It’s not important enough to affect my grading, but I’m a fanboy and I will not be silenced. Jean-Paul is staying in a church with Leslie Thompkins! It’s too soon to say what their relationship will be, if any, but I love that Tynion is referencing that relationship. It makes me feel real good about where this series is going.
Detective Comics #935 is an immensely satisfying read. The art is lovely and the character work is deft. It’s still a little on the slow and talky side, but Eddy Barrows and Adriano Lucas keep that visually engaging while Tynion’s cast wins over fans and soon-to-be-fans alike. It’s not that this feels like a fantastic issue, but that it feels like a somewhat average issue of the fantastic Bat-series you’ve been waiting for.