Detective Comics #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Tony Salvador Daniel
Inks: Ryan Winn
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
This cog in DC’s New 52 machine has generated a lot of buzz and has a number of readers excited, apparently over the possible alteration of an iconic character’s status quo. It’s much ado about nothing, though, and those who dazzled by what Tony Daniel has done here have been drawn in by a Kewl factor. Everything about this comic book — from the script to the art — is about flash over substance. Daniel doesn’t take any time to delve into characterization. Instead, the writing focuses on gritty, stilted dialogue, and the art borrows liberally from some of the more popular interpretations of the Batman from the past three decades. I’ll give Daniel credit, though. The villain that’s introduced (off-panel) in this issue is intriguing, and I want to learn more about him. But the premise also allows him to indulge in some over-the-top, gratuitous gore that I found off-putting. Though judging from the reported sellouts of the issue in comic shops, I’m in the minority on that point.
Once again, the Batman is on the trail of the Joker, and as he rushes to keep the clown-faced killer from murdering others, he mulls over the many deaths for which his nemesis is responsible. At the scene, a surprisingly naked Joker has just killed another victim, but this one was someone who was trying to hurt him. Though the madman escapes because a little girl was in need of rescue, another clue leads him to his prey. Little does the hero know that the Joker wants to be caught, because only then can he arrange a meeting with an equally twisted mind.
Daniel’s art is generally serviceable, and it takes a number of cues from Jim Lee, but one can also see he’s trying to draw in version of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. Miller’s influence is even more apparent in the depiction of Commission Gordon, who somehow looks both like Gordon from The Dark Knight Returns and from Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One. Certainly, some of the art is attractive, but a close inspection shows the mimicry. The action doesn’t always flow as smoothly as it could. I had to read Page 4 through several times to figure out that in the last panel, the Joker rips out a man’s jugular (or carotid? Not sure) with his teeth, even though the panel right before that assault shows the Joker in distress, his mouth nowhere near his target’s throat. The script also tells us the police can’t see a young girl in a fiery crime scene, as they’re focused on Batman, but the first panel featuring their infiltration into the premises has them facing the girl, not the Caped Crusader. And when the police do “notice” her, I can only assume it’s Gordon who grabs her, instructing a detective to get her to safety. Of course, there is no detective present; it’s all S.W.A.T. or E.R.T. cops, or whatever they’re called in Gotham. Daniel’s work here is all style; there’s not enough storytelling going on.
Just as Daniel borrows from other Batman artists, he borrows (or tries to borrow) from some classic Batman writing. “I own the night.” “I’ve always been in Gotham. I am Gotham.” Such bits of dialogue made me wince and smirk at the same time. Sure, Frank Miller used the same sort of lines in The Dark Knight Returns, for example, but such flourishes in the writing tended to be in the narration, in the title character internal monologue. Here’s an example of Daniel’s narration, in Batman’s voice: “I turn on my binocular thermo-imaging lenses. I see the Joker immediately.” Not quite the same thing. The problem is that Daniel just can’t pull off the same tricks as Miller or other writers.
I was in a comic shop other than my regular haunt a few days ago, and the clerk and I were discussing the New 52 briefly. He started talking up Detective #1, claiming the shocker reveal at the end of the issue was riveting and had people snapping it up like crazy. I hadn’t read the issue at that point, though I heard there was something at the end of the issue that was turning the comic into a “hot” commodity on eBay. Well, I’ve read it now, and I had a couple of reactions to what’s depicted on the final page. First of all, I didn’t understand what all the hype is about. The plot development that seems to have fuelled interest promises a change in the Joker’s status quo, but I don’t believe for a moment the antagonist won’t be reverted back to his familiar self before long. Furthermore, I thought the visual was gratuitously grotesque. I didn’t really get how a depiction of mutilation such as the one we see in this comic book could be included in a comic book rated T for teen, whereas far less gruesome fare in Men of War #1, for example, gets a slightly higher rating of T+.
I found the overall tone of Daniel’s script to be a bit confusing as well. At times, it seems as though this is set in the early days of the Batman’s career. While there’s a clear cue he and the Joker have been skulking through Gotham for six years, the hero’s relationship with the police and the commissioner seem more like early Batman than a point at which he’s a fait accompli in Gotham. There’s no reference to Batman Inc. (even though we know elements from Morrison’s retooling of Batman’s corner of the DC Universe will survive into the New 52 relaunch). There’s no reference to Robin or the extended Batman family at all. Even the Joker’s death toll, as noted in the narration early in the issue, seems kind of low.
Daniel really doesn’t tell the audience much about the new villain who will drive this opening story arc, but we get enough of a taste to whet our appetite. The hint at a familial operation is intriguing, and I’m curious as to the connection between the crude surgery he performs and his “Dollmaker” moniker. The awkward path leading to those little mysteries, those little revelations, though, doesn’t make for an enjoyable stroll to the destination. 4/10
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