Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 January 2009

Batman: Detective

Collects: Detective Comics #821-6 (2006-7)

Released: March 2007 (DC)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401212391

What is this?: Batman battles the predators and freaks in Gotham.

The culprits: Writer Paul Dini and pencillers Don Kramer, John H. Williams III, Joe Benitez, and Marcos Marz

I don’t keep up with DC continuity very much, despite a fondness for Batman. The impression I have received, hearing stories of Batman: RIP, the Battle for the Cowl, and Crises of various finalities and finiteness, is that if you aren’t into a DC in a major way, reading bits and pieces is not going to be productive. To be fair, those who don’t read Marvel regularly might get the same idea about its annual mega-crossovers.

But it obviously doesn’t have to be that way. The most popular characters — the evergreen ones, the ones that stay at the top of the comics world for years — don’t need events to drive their sales. Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers, Superman … the concepts are probably strong enough to support an audience, if the audience gets good stories. Even if those stories are a bit repetitive, they still have appeal; Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man didn’t break much new ground from a storytelling standpoint, but they’re entertaining because they simply tell a story about a character we already enjoy.

Batman: Detective coverThat’s what writer Paul Dini does in Batman: Detective. There are no surprising revelations. There are no events. There’s Batman (and Robin) beating the snot out of Gotham’s criminals, (mostly) new and old.

For the most part, the criminals are newcomers or smalltimers who haven’t earned a place in Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Dini still keeps some of those classic villains involved — Poison Ivy is stalked by her victims, the Riddler and Penguin seemingly reform — while telling these detective stories. At times, these stories seem to suffer from the time given to the rogues; the first couple of stories seem a little undeveloped as mysteries, while the Poison Ivy and Joker stories seem to need a little extra development. That doesn’t take away from their enjoyment, but it should cause comment in a book titled Batman: Detective.

Dini, a writer, producer and editor for Batman: The Animated Series, does impressive work with the old villains. The reformations of the Riddler and Penguin make sense, and each works with their characters, if not necessarily with their gimmick. (There are surprisingly few legitimate lines of work for a man with the Penguin’s schtick, unless you count his deformations.) The highlight of the book is the final story, in which the Joker captures Robin and torments him by killing innocent bystanders. I could almost hear Mark Hamill’s voice from the animated series laughing throughout the story.

Despite the multiple artists, the art is of high quality. Don Kramer does half the book and does a great job, although perhaps a little smooth for the gritty nighttime underworld Batman inhabits. Still, he tells the story well. John H. Williams, who drew Detective Comics #821, might have a style better suited for the character, but his work is marred by some monochrome coloring; it’s not as bad as what they tried with Detecive Comics a decade ago, but it doesn’t help. Marcos Marz’s pencils (#825) are given the look of a painted style, which works well for a story featuring the perpetually on fire Dr. Phosphorus — the artistic highlight of a book with consistently good art. That story was written by Royal McGraw, although the story doesn’t match the distinctiveness of the art.

Joe Benitez, who drew #823, is a little cheesecake for my taste, enjoying drawing Ivy as a long-limbed, voluptuous lady. This isn’t unusual in comics, true, but it clashes with the tone of the rest of the TPB, especially a full-page Poison Ivy clad in the remains of an Arkham jumpsuit that has been strategically torn to ribbons without revealing anything that would give the Comics Code a coronary. I can’t deny he draws a good Batman, though I don’t care for his juvenile-looking Robin. (Especially given Kramer’s much more mature and appealing Robin in #826.) In another book, Benitez’s work would go unremarked or draw praise, I must admit.

If you just want a straight Batman story — something in short supply, given the last year or two of Batman under Grant Morrison’s control — this will serve the purpose admirably.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol (3.5 of 5)

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