Generally speaking, I try not to repeat myself too much here. When I find myself reviewing the same title over and over again, I try to look at books that I haven’t talked about as much. But sometimes there are series that just demand your attention and issues that you just want to talk about.There isn’t a definable moment in issue #938 that’s different from what’s come before, but, somehow, Detective Comics leveled up in a big way this week.
James Tynion IV continues to write an utterly fantastic team book. The attention paid to each character is a breath of fresh air in the modern superhero environment and it never distracts from the greater story. The focus this month is on Batwoman and (Red) Robin, but, even if they aren’t directly in the spotlight, the rest of the team get some great moments as well. Tynion’s take on Spoiler is perhaps a bit cavalier, but its hard not to like her. Seeing Batman and Clayface working together is delightful, but loaded with potential for future conflict. Most of all, however, Orphan steals the spotlight. While Tynion doesn’t do all that much with her, he makes it absolutely clear that this is the Cassandra Cain that fans love and gives newcomers to the character a sense of the power and sincerity that has made her so beloved.
Perhaps just as amazing is the time that this issue spends on its antagonists. Whether for the sake of surprise or page space or authorial preference, a lot of villains these days appear very sparingly, in scenes that are often used to create mood rather that tell us about them. That’s just not the case here. Jacob Kane, easily making the jump to out-and-out villain, proves a natural foil for both Bruce and Kate as well as a somewhat obvious but effective commentary on the state of modern warfare. Even more interesting is the return of classic Batman villain, and frequent rival to Tim Drake, the General – going, amusingly enough, by TH3_G3N3R4L these days. Aged up just a pinch and free from his Napoleonic and Anarky guises, Ulysses Armstrong provides a fascinating secondary antagonist to the story, keeping the audience guessing as to which one will end up being the true threat. The General has been reinvented before, aged up before, but Tynion has really nailed what the character can say about us, what can really be terrifying about him.
Tynion juggles this cast effortlessly, bouncing from one to the other naturally. All of this time spent on character means that there isn’t a huge amount of plot progression, but the issue is entertaining enough to justify that and the time spent escaping from the Colony makes this jailbreak seem like event that Clayface, Batman, and four of his most trusted allies vs. an elite anti-Batman military force ought to be.
But more than just providing an exhilarating set-piece, Detective Comics #938 remains couched in the real human emotion of Batman. The loss and the protectiveness and the connection and the wanting to never feel this way again of Batman are embedded into the core of this story and it elevates it beyond a simple action issue.
I also wanted to mention one thing about Tynion’s dialogue. There’s a little bit of fluff left in it, and that’s actually a good thing. You don’t just get the purest concept of the characters in their dialogue but little hints of who they are off the clock as well. Many lines could have been cut out, and likely would have elsewhere, but Tynion knows how to keep them around, how to make them work for his story and it contributes significantly to the connection between book and reader.
Alvaro Martinez returns as penciller this week, a solicited replacement for Eddy Barrows. Compared to Barrows, Martinez’s compositions are less heady and experimental and his figures less uniform, but, at least as completed by Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson, there’s something more natural about them. Though there are a few technical flaws that appear here and there – abnormally intense shadows, minor perspective issues, etc. – Martinez’s work feels distinctly comfortable with itself and that confidence goes a long way. That confidence isn’t misplaced either. Martinez shows a natural affinity for working with the iconography of the Bat-family costumes and he also does some wonderful things with the new Clayface design, which has quickly grown on me.
Martinez really knows how to condense emotion into an image. Especially in the moments when the action quiets, you’ll always know what tone he’s aiming for. It’s almost like having background music. His panels are moody and his knack for picking the right moment is spot on. If you want proof, look no further than that one panel of Cassandra Cain that’s going around the internet. You know the one.
The one moment of this run that this issue just cannot top is Clayface’s introduction back in issue #935. That scene was gorgeous in writing and art and I’ve missed this series’ brief but memorable painted interludes over the past few issues. As if to answer that hunger, Adriano Lucas returns to color Al Barrionuevo’s pencils, even if he doesn’t get to be as bold as in previous issues.
Barrionuevo’s prologue are life-like and full of heart. The script doesn’t really call for much showing off from the penciller, but Barrionuevo manages to make his mark in the subtle emotion of his characters. There’s a real connection between father and daughter in this scene and it makes a huge difference.
It’s odd. While James Tynion gets me surprisingly excited about the return of the General, on paper, this issue is fairly standard. It’s almost the opposite approach that Tynion’s mentor, Scott Snyder, took with All-Star Batman, also released this week. And it’s definitely not in the same vein as The Vision or Saga or Wonder Woman or any of the biggest or most talked about comics in the industry right now. And yet, James Tynion’s Detective Comics continues to be fantastic.Shining moments for Tim Drake and Cassandra Cain combine with exhilarating art and great pacing to make this the most exciting and well balanced issue of the series to date.This rebirth of Detective Comics isn’t the flashiest book on the stands but it continues to astound, week after week, with its well-structured plots and lovingly full character work. Each issue is ‘merely’ strong, but, taken as a whole, James Tynion and a team of talented artists are putting out one of the best offerings of DC Rebirth.