James Tynion IV’s Detective Comics is an absolute love letter to the Batman family and to fans of the Post-“No Mans Land” Batman comics. It’s full of broken, engaging characters and clashes between different ideas of what Gotham City needs. It is, in many ways, everything that fans have been asking for out of a Batman book for years. And yet, despite using the choicest ingredients and combining them just the way we like, it hasn’t shone quite the way that some of Tynion’s other works have. It has been a wonderful series, make no mistake, but something about it felt a little too theoretical somehow.
With the second issue of the “Intelligence” arc, everything comes together in just the right way. Most notably the character interactions, brilliant from the beginning but often appreciated rather than felt, connect with a force and sincerity that is pleasantly disarming. Zatanna proves an instant boon to the series, providing clear and interesting chemistry with Bruce and a welcome sense of levity amidst the increasingly solemn team.
This week’s issue also gives us a better sense of Luke Fox, some appreciated specificity in regards to Azrael’s programming, and a wonderful look at Batman’s insecurities. This last point is especially welcome, as Tynion has stated his intention to make Detective Comics feel like the primary title for each of its characters. Batman obviously presents the greatest challenge there, not only because of the sheer number of comics he headlines, but because the chance to see his teammates, many of whom have no other comics, can dull the excitement of spending time with him. It’s not often you see Batman admit that he doesn’t feel smart, but Bruce’s talks with Zatanna see him do just that and it seems like the most obvious thing in the world.
The Ascalon plot also moves forward at a pleasant pace. There’s certainly something for those looking to see Batman and company throw down with an eerie, endlessly adaptable robot, but Tynion wisely avoids spending too much time letting the two sides pummel each other before either one can score a meaningful victory. Instead the focus is on the mystery of Ascalon’s programming and the new intelligence’s attempts to understand the world around it through the lens of its inborn dogma. The resulting characterization is intriguing but quiet enough not to halt the action or distract from the rest of the book.
I also really appreciate that, while this is an Azrael-centric arc, he’s not dominating the book. Jean-Paul gets some lovely quiet moments, but he’s kind of off to the side dealing with his own issues. The last two pages put the spotlight back on him though and not only provide a point for readers to understand and relate to Jean-Paul, but build some serious excitement for next issue.
There’s an incredibly appropriate contrast between the ‘perfect’ and the chaotic in Alvaro Martinez’s art this week. Batwoman, Zatanna, and Batwing, among others, have an attractive perfection about them, whether that takes the form of shining, sculpted costumes or simple physical beauty. Bruce and Zee’s second conversation — featuring an iconic Batman and a gorgeous Zatanna, literally untouched by the rain — is just incredibly beautiful. On the other hand Clayface, Nomoz, the backgrounds, and even some individual moments, like Ascalon’s attack on Zatanna, are flooded with unflattering, if hardly unpleasant, detail.
Martinez’s characters also catch the eye because they all stand with purpose. In nearly every panel you can feel the emotion of the characters without needing to read the text. There are a lot of well-earned jokes about the tonal language that is Batman squinting, but any complaints of inexpressiveness in the franchise feel pretty flimsy when you’re comparing the awkward, almost physical weight in young Bruce’s shoulders with the airy control of his present day self. Ascalon is another particular beneficiary, as the drive and literal weight of the character is evident in its movements.
The biggest complaint about the art is simply that, stylistically, it’s nothing too different. The look of this issue is very much in fashion right now and, though Martinez displays a welcome knowledge of his fundamentals, there are still panels that are simply standard. The book is beautiful, but more in its care and thoroughness than in any overwhelming, immediate force.
Tynion is obviously giving his art team some fun toys to play with, filling the issue with all manner of robotic intelligences, magic, and illuminated cityscapes, and they are clearly making the best of it from lines to color and beyond. Combined with Martinez’s ambitious but never ambiguous layouts, there’s a sense of scope worthy of an entire Batfamily on display.
With issue #959, Tynion and co.‘s Detective Comics feels like it’s becoming the book that it was always meant to be. Zatanna brings a new side of Batman’s world into play and provides a perfect balance for the team while Ascalon and Azrael’s differing attempts to become human set up an ominous excitement for the series to tease apart in subsequent issues. And with Martinez, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson’s expansive layouts, subtle storytelling, and cinematic colors in play, the story comes to life with impressive vitality.
Detective Comics #959 combines wild, comic book fun with serious, character-focused drama. Respecting its audience without taking itself painfully seriously, this is the Bat book you’ve been imagining for years and this arc is just getting started. Jump on for this one.