Detective Comics #817

[22 May 2006]

By Greg Oleksiuk


Commissioner James Gordon lies in bed, restless and unable to sleep. The phone rings and as he answers, we see from his alarm clock that it is 2:45am. We don’t hear who’s on the other side of the call, we only hear Gordon reply: “Yes, it’s good to hear your voice too.” After which he falls asleep with a smile on his face. This is the opening page of Detective Comics #817 which kicks off DC Comics’ “One Year Later” event, and this issue will leave you with a smile on your face too.

As the event is named, this issue begins one year after the final issue of Identity Crisis (to be released in April), and while perhaps not re-setting DC continuity, it does re-set the tone of the DC Universe, and in this case, Batman and company. The best way to describe this “reboot” is that everything old is new again. James Gordon is once again Commissioner of Gotham City (for the third time according to his narrative), and Detective Harvey Bollock is back on the case solving murders in Gotham. The big news however for this issue is that Batman has returned to his city after a year of absence. What exactly he’s been doing during that time will be revealed in DC’s weekly series, 52 over the next year. In the meantime, he is back along with Robin, who is sporting a new costume very similar to the one worn by the Tim Drake of the final season of Batman: The Animated Series.

James Robinson made a name for himself writing the now classic Starman series in the 1990’s and since then has been relatively quiet in the comic world. He returns with a vengeance here as his depiction of the return of Batman is superb, including a beautiful moment of Gordon taking the tarp off of the Bat Signal and turning it on. The citizens themselves react by howling and honking their horns, cheering on the return of their protector. And in classic Batman style, he appears with Robin seconds after it is turned on.

Those worrying that this Batman would be more akin to the 60’s version or a “Batman Light”, as DC had been vocal that he would not be as dark as he had become over the last few years can breath a sigh of relief. He may be telling Gordon how much he missed him and how he’s glad to be back, but Batman still is all about business and doesn’t appear phased when a young officer tells him how she idolizes him. This is where Robin comes in as he breaches Batman’s coldness and is almost Batman’s bridge to the rest of the world.

Leonard Kirk and Andy Clarke’s artwork for this issue is also excellent and very fitting with its gritty depiction of Gotham, as well as depicting Batman similar to the way Alex Ross does. My only wish is that this art team could continue after the eight part storyline (crossing over with Batman for the next four months). However, it has already been announced that Rags Morales (a fine artist as well) will be taking over the art chores.

The relationship between Batman and Gordon is one of friendship, and reminds me somewhat of the relationship between the two at the end of the film Batman Begins or even classic comic stories such as Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. It is definitely something that has been missing from the Bat titles for some time, and a pleasant return. Another major change that has occurred over the year of Batman’s absence is that Harvey Dent (no longer Two-Face as his face and apparently his psyche have been healed) has become Gotham’s saviour. However it is hinted that he may be taking things too far: a villain known as the KGBeast dies within the first few pages, possibly murdered by Dent. This plot-line will undoubtedly be dealt with over the coming months.

Reboots or new beginnings are always a tricky thing to do. Most of the times they feel gimmicky or forced and that can still happen even if they’re done well. The Batman reboot may not necessarily be original, but it is a welcome one and feels needed as both Batman and his city were becoming unrecognizable. This is bound to happen when dealing with a medium in which things must constantly be changing in order to attract readers. It is nice to see a DC Universe that might be a bit simpler and show us these iconic characters at their best, at least for now as over the next few years, those cracks will begin to appear again as a result of writers and artists constantly trying to entertain the masses while pushing forward in a medium that likes to stay still.

Detective Comics #817 not only meets and exceeds expectations for the reinvention of Batman, it leaves you wanting to read the next issue of the storyline, continuing in Batman #651. James Robinson clearly knows who Batman is, and shows us a version that we have not seen in a long time; Kirk and Clarke’s artwork gives a noir look to the book that tells us that while Batman may have lightened up a bit, they are in no way returning to the campy days of yonder. Batman begins once again, and all is right in Gotham City once more.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/detective-comics-817/