Since the departure of Greg Rucka and Batwoman from Detective Comics, DC’s flagship title has sort of floundered amongst the monthly releases in that weird fill-in state. While David Hine’s work on the book was decent enough, it was absolutely run-of-the-mill filler while Detective awaited the next definitive run it so rightly deserves.
After talking with writer Scott Snyder at length about his plans for Detective Comics, his angle on Dick Grayson’s Batman, and the importance of Gotham City (amongst a crapton of other things) on The Book Report Episode #37, I had confidence that along with artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla, the series was close to returning to its former greatness. After reading Detective Comics #871, my suspicions were confirmed.
Snyder presents us with two intertwining tales with issue #871, the primary feature that follows Dick Grayson on a CSI-style mystery concerning a twelve-year-old kid committing murders after being exposed to a version of the Killer Croc mutagen. The other tale is the Commissioner Gordon co-feature that coincides with the main tale in subtle ways within this issue, but will hold a more prominent relationship in future installments. Gordon’s narrative is of particular interest as Snyder takes a bold approach in the return of an oft-forgotten figure of Gordon’s past, playing up the influence of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
As interesting as the mystery narrative is, it’s Snyder’s characterization and approach to Dick Grayson that elevates Detective #871 to a level of enjoyment that I haven’t felt from this series in years. Though Dick has been Batman for nearly a year and a half, he’s felt merely as a placeholder until Bruce Wayne returned from his journey through the timestream. What Snyder has done here is turn that notion inwards on Dick, suggesting that perhaps he himself, as a character, thought the exact same thing. The first arc of the run, titled “The Black Mirror” takes on the angle of Dick realizing that he’s legitimately stepping into the role of the Batman.
There are numerous great moments between Dick and the other characters that solidify the reader’s acceptance of Dick as the permanent Batman. Of particular note is a stellar scene atop the Gotham Central rooftop, where Batman and Gordon share a familiar sharing of information. After shutting off the bat-signal and looking up at Batman, Bats asks Gordon if something is wrong. Gordon says “I guess I’m just not used to it yet,” to which Batman questions, “used to what?” Gordon replies “to you still being there when I look up”. It’s a deceptively informative moment for both of these characters, with Snyder portraying Gordon’s astute attention to detail and Dick’s extroverted nature as Batman in comparison to Bruce. It’s these small moments that confirm Snyder’s solid grasp of the characters he’s playing with.
Along with this, Snyder has the beginnings of an idea that not only has Dick accepting himself as Batman, but Gotham City accepting it as well. Not to drudge up comparisons of Snyder’s work with that of his co-author on American Vampire and literary icon Stephen King, but Snyder’s Gotham City in the beginnings of his Detective run is comparable to The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Just as Dick, Alfred, and Gordon are key players in “The Black Mirror”, so too is Gotham itself. It plays to the weaknesses and fears of all of its inhabitants, presenting itself as a living character in the story.
Detective is having art duties shared by fan favorite artist Jock, who is handling the primary Batman feature, and Francesco Francavilla who is tackling the Gordon co-feature. We’ve seen Jock on Detective before, and once again his gritty, anarchic art style is a suitable fit to the brooding, ominous tone that Snyder establishes. Along with colorist David Baron’s work, the art contributes to the character of Gotham City, providing it with blood red skies set against the cold isolation of the concrete below it. Francavilla carries over Baron’s color palette to his self-colored work on the Gordon co-feature, giving the art a painterly quality that fits nicely in the street level crime style that particular narrative establishes for itself. All of Detective Comics #871, as different as the two artists are, comes together as a cohesive visual experience that paints a very clear picture of Dick Grayson’s Gotham City.
It’s hard to read Detective Comics #871 and not feel like a new era is upon us. With only one issue, Snyder and the team of artists have established a very new take on Dick Grayson, Jim Gordon, and their relationship with Gotham City. If you don’t love absolutely everything the new Detective Comics, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way you view art.