After 74 years of continuous publication, Detective Comics begins a second volume with a new number one issue – this time with Batman as the star. You would expect this historical occasion to be marked by a standout issue. You would also expect this because its part of a companywide relaunch. You wouldn’t expect more of the same.
The DC new 52 is arguably the biggest event to happen to comics (at least recently). A major publisher, for right or wrong reasons, scrapped its entire catalogue to start over (mostly). The new books would have to be something special to hook new readers and reverse the downward sales trend of the industry. Go for broke guys.
Tony S. Daniel, writer and artist for Detective Comics number one, goes for broke in the first three pages. That’s commendable. But what follows is a myriad of chunky dialogue, uneven art and the same old, same old.
Detective Comics is one of DC’s flagship titles, at least it was. Maybe it’s not anymore. What’s presented in the first issue of its second volume certainly doesn’t match the bravado a flagship title should have. It doesn’t match the bravado of a debut issue either. There is some shock (at the end), but from page one to twenty-two, there is not the hint that this is a new era for Batman or for DC.
The opening panels show us the Joker, an iconic villain. A villain who has also been used so much across several DC titles over the last several years that the intended effect of his appearance is very weak. Is he overexposed? Maybe. (Save that argument for another time). He feels the same, as if nothing had happened prior to his last appearance.
The same can be said for Batman, though his relationship with the city he protects has changed. The Gotham City Police and particularly Mayor Hady don’t care for the Batman. It’s a fine narrative tool to keep the pressure on your protagonist. He still has allies though. Commissioner James Gordon is still there and is still his friend. So, he’s got that going for him.
This is not Daniel’s first trip to Gotham City. Since Battle For the Cowl, Daniel has had an extended run on Batman. Those issues were fine. Nothing too terrible, but certainly nothing memorable…aside from parts of Jeph Loeb’s and Tim Sale’s Long Halloween becoming part of cannon (if it hadn’t been). This first issue of Detective Comics feels and looks like a continuation of that run. Rather underwhelming.
From an execution standpoint, one of the biggest flaws is the dialogue. Less is more when it comes to Batman. Daniel instead scripts some rather clunky dialogue. At one point Batman says, “I own the night,” to the Joker. It’s a cheesy line with no dramatic effect. It also pretty much sums up the narration and remaining dialogue for the issue. It’s workable, at times, but remains somewhat banal.
Visually, Daniel delivers a very competent issue. There are moments where Batman is leaping and springing from page to page, each panel having a kinetic energy. Then these is page thirteen, bottom panel, where Batman is out of proportion and looks like a lump of silly putty spread across a newspaper. It’s uneven with the rest of issue. As are some of Daniel’s style choices: modern one panel and throwback the next. The connectivity of panels to story is fine, but the overall cohesion of the pages is suspect and not in keeping with the monumental nature of the book.
Then there is the last page and all its gore. It’s striking. Shocking. Grotesque. It’s part of an uneasy undertone that haunts the issue. There is a level of gore that never rises to the surface, but skims just below the line. It’s unsettling, and while provocative, does nothing to enhance the issue.
The bottom-line about Detective Comics number one is that it’s more of the same. If you’ve read Tony Daniel’s previous run on Batman than you haven’t missed much – well aside from this being a different Batman under the cowl, but even then you couldn’t tell the difference. And here in this one issue of DC’s new 52 you can’t tell the difference either. Maybe that’s a good thing for longtime fans who were hesitant about the new status quo? But that wasn’t the point of the relaunch, was it? The point was to make comics fun and exciting again. The point was to try things differently. When is that going to happen in Detective Comics? All we have here is an average Batman comic with a gory last panel.