Physician, Heal Thyself: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics’ #1048
by Scott Redmond
Shadows of the Bat’s second week adds needed context to the overall storyline and some new characters, revealing more pieces to the overarching puzzle that is Arkham Tower. Both stories of this book showcase a deep knowledge and love for the Batman-related portion of DC Comics, painting a beautiful picture of this flawed but still hopeful city they call home.
After kicking off its big twelve-part ‘Shadows of the Bat’ storyline with a bang, Detective Comics slows things down just a big as the many layers surrounding Arkham Tower, Doctor Wear, and what events led to the moment where it will all come crashing down.
Often when a story goes from zero to one hundred right off the bat, taking a moment to put on the brakes a bit in order to dive into backstory can be seen as detrimental to a big bombastic storyline like this. That’s very much not the case when one is talking about a book like this coming from a writer like Mariko Tamaki. As noted in previous reviews, Tamaki has deft handling of character work, and these glimpses into the far back and the recent past of the universe don’t slow things down at all. In fact, they 100% enhance what we already saw in the first issue.
It was already clear that something was up with this Doctor Wear and the way he was going about Arkham Tower, shifty and cagey about how they were supposedly helping their patients, and here we begin to see just who this character truly is. Setting things up here to make us potentially feel sympathy for the man, who met and will meet a grisly end during the flash ahead events we saw in the last issue, only to rip it all away at the end was a perfect move. Wear’s motivations and mindset regarding those under his care and the shady way that Arkham Tower is going about it begins to make more sense, even as many of the pieces of this puzzle are still hidden to us.
We get another really great issue from Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson who continue to set the right ominous mood for this story. Even the pages where things are lighter and brighter (like when Batwoman is undercover) add to this ominous tone because we know that something is wrong with Wear and this tower, and we can feel how fake the brightness is supposed to be here.
I really like the way that the panels are set up here, not just in the heavy amount of great closeups that allow for some really good facial expression work but in where the panels are positioned. The way they are different sizes and shifted around to allow for a lot of white space (or in this case gray space) is really neat because it makes things stand out more. It feels different in a good way.
Even with the aforementioned ominous tone, helped by Miki’s inks that bring even more weight to the proceedings, there are still a ton of really popping colors here. Including the red, yellow, blue, and other sorts of filters that are put over some of the cutaway/flashback panels that pop up on some of the pages.
Another way depth but also fun is added is Ariana Maher’s lettering work within the issue. I’m very partial to the very Harley-like colorful outlined ‘Hi’ that we get from the patient we’re introduced to that believes themselves to be Harley Quinn. It fits the energy needed but also just the type of energy that Maher brings to the various books where her lettering can be found. Little bits here and there that make the dialogue flow and stand out even more and feel personalized alongside the SFX that just fit into the world seamlessly every time.
Capping off the issue we get the second part of the “House of Gotham” backup story from Matthew Rosenberg, Fernando Blanco, Jordie Bellaire, and Rob Leigh. Fittingly, the mentions up above about Doctor Wear and his past and what we saw for him and how what happened to his mother and this city took a toll on him, we see some mirrors of that in the second entry of this backup.
The unnamed boy that had his life changed because of encounters with Joker and Batman, continues to have life sort of dictated to him by force so far beyond him. Rosenberg nicely pulls together logical threads here with appearances by Clayface, a pre-Harley version of Harleen Quinzel still working at Arkham, and various little other elements. We get a timeline of this being during the first few months of Batman’s time, and honestly, the beginning moments with Alfred and Bruce had me missing Alfred so much in the present-day stories.
Blanco and Bellaire just keep presenting such a gorgeous but also ominous and somewhat terrifying vision of Gotham and those within it. There is color and brightness don’t get me wrong, but the way they bring things together matches the overall somewhat dark tone of this story. One of the most colorful elements (as colorful as a shapeshifting mud-like being can be) is Clayface, which matches the fact that he’s the one showing the most actual kindness to the boy.
Arkham is a drab and scary place not just for the boy but anyone, while at the same time the Joker and Harleen, and even Bruce Wayne are elements that are seemingly trying to dictate things to the boy without him being an active participant in his future. There is so much detail to be found here, like an amazing level, and the world of light and dark mesh together so well. Even on the last page, where the orphanage from the outside is scary and there is one panel of it being lighter but still ominous within, it doesn’t clash at all.
Across all the backups that he’s been part of, Leigh is really getting to cut loose lettering wise and it’s fun to see. There are changes to the bubbles and font for moments like the beginning where Bruce as Batman is heavily hurt, under Alfred’s care, next to a lot of ‘normal’ dialogue that despite looking the same seems to have some personality flares for each character. Then there is the font and color changes that accompany anything Clayface says, matching the energy of the altered dialogue style for Joker’s last issue, but presenting in a wholly different style befitting the character.
Detective Comics #1048 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.