[12 May 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
There’s this moment, dead in the middle of the opening chapter of ‘Hungry City’, the new storyarc just kicked off by writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock in their run on DC’s flagship title Detective Comics. There’s this moment, you’ve seen a dozen times before in your life, and always hoped would return to ‘Tec Comics. An it has.
Remember The Matrix: Revolutions? It’s the moment when Neo and Trinity vault beyond the scarred atmosphere that prevents daylight reaching the machines. And there’s this moment of pure delight. They see the sky, they see the sun.
Snyder and Jock’s Moment in ‘Hungry City’ is as beautifully poignant, but even more artistically complex. It takes back to a time when Detective Comics was good again. To the 80s-90s when Alan Grant wrote and Norm Breyfogle illustrated. But Jock’s layout takes you back even farther. To Frank Miller’s Daredevil, when something that you can no longer see in comics, the visual game of transitioning from vertical to horizontal points of view, was invented.
And the moment is deeply engaging emotionally. Remember Dick Grayson’s journey to becoming Batman outlined in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin last year? Remember Alfred’s counsel to treat Batman as a great role, and for Dick to think of himself as a performer? Remember the pulsing moment at the end of ‘Blackest Knight’ when Dick failed to apologize for getting his team into trouble. “I work without a net”, he’d said.
Snyder’s moment is no less raw, no less powerful. Dick has reached an understanding about Bruce, his predecessor as Gotham’s Batman. Bruce loved to swing thru the city, and hated flying over it. Dick has grown to love that for exactly the same reason Bruce despised it—because the city changes beneath you.
Dick’s come into his own, he’s building his own kind of Batman. And it’s not hard to see that Snyder has done and continues to do the same.
Two issues back, the closing chapter of the back-up story ‘Skeleton Cases’ came as a complete surprise. The moody, bluesy art of Francesco Francavilla had rendered beautifully the story of police commissioner, Jim Gordon tracking down his missing, psychologically damaged son. But this was a back-up story, so Francavilla’s immersive artwork appeared only for a few pages after the main story during the first issues of Snyder’s run.
It wasn’t hard to feel cheated when the closing chapter of ‘The Black Mirror’ omitted the final chapter to ‘Skeleton Cases’. ‘The Black Mirror’ was the main story, and there’d always be the next issue. But what a next issue. No main story, ‘Skeleton Cases’ and Francavilla’s art stood alone in the issue. And Batman himself was pushed to the edges of the book, taking down some relatively minor poachers and exotic pets smuggling ring.
And if the #874 was superb, the following issue, ‘Lost Boys’, was sublime. The coda to ‘Skeleton Cases’ saw Gordon chase down one of the cases that got away from him. And in an unexpected twist, a case that had repercussions for the only case that was haunting his thoughts—trying to decide if his James was truly a psychopath or not.
So we’re in the presence of an evolving storyline here. Something grander is being woven. Dick Grayson’s is the story of a performer about to be consumed by the role, just as he is about to be eaten by the audience. But Dick’s isn’t the only view of Gotham. There’s also the Commissioner’s. The story of a man on the morning of a war.
Fatigue and dread are palpable on every page. And what’s more, the Moment’s have returned to Detective Comics. Moments that will stand the test of time. It seems like there haven’t been Moments since Grant and Breyfogle left. And it feels very much like, with Snyder, there won’t need to be any gimmicks to promote sales. No more earthquakes and abandoned cities. No more killer viruses. No more Angels falling from heaven on a mission to assassinate mobsters. Just good solid storytelling. Just what it feels like to be fed to a city that never sleeps.
My get-list for superhero comics very short. Just Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, Geoff Johns’ The Flash. And over the past six months, and ongoing, Snyder’s Detective Comics. If you’re reading superheroes, if you’re participating in producing the apsirational by engaging the inspirational, then you should be reading Detective Comics too.