The Gotham Nocturne Begins: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics’ #1062
by Scott Redmond
Detective Comics’ new creative team kicks things off with a dark, moody, operatic, but ultimately still very human in nature gorgeous and chilling first issue. Everything about this is perfectly Batman to the core, hitting all the right notes to entice readers for the long haul. Even the backup with its heavy noir vibes carries much of the same energy as it turns an eye towards what is next for one Jim Gordon.
Having been around the block for over eighty years, there have of course been a great number (hard to count based on the sheer number of books) of takes when it comes to Batman. Some are grounded, some are wild and off the wall, and others are memorable while taking a more status quo, which changes often, approach.
Doing Batman as a gothic opera approach within the pages of one of the oldest establishment titles at DC Comics? Now that is some inspired stuff.
One of the key things creators are trying to accomplish within a first issue, doubly so when it’s the first issue for a storied series/character, is capture the audience attention right away. Sure, a first issue can somewhat get a reader, and then through the series, they begin to catch on more as things play out, but getting them from issue one is surely something most would hope for. This issue is something, at least from this reviewer’s perspective, that Ram V, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave Stewart, and Ariana Maher easily accomplish.
Gothic horror was the stated direction for this run and that is felt right away with the opera scenes that open the issue, as Albuquerque and Stewart set the moody tone with such dark shadowy but colorful panels with sparse backgrounds that highlight the figures that are before us. That tone is important to make clear, but what is also important is what Ram V pulls off within the next handful of pages. Batman can be this force of nature many times, sometimes made to be too powerful for someone without powers, but personally, the best stories are those where he might be a force of justice and fear in the city but is still just a human character. We see this clearly from the conversation he has with himself at the start and his interactions with Nightwing later in the story.
Showing who Bruce is as Batman and who he is as a person is important since this story is about how there is something wrong with him, and he has to figure out what is causing this. To set up that something is wrong, one has to know what the normal is and we get this here. We also get just enough of an introduction and tease of the new foes that are coming to Gotham to intrigue but not give too much away. Despite that, even as part one of a story, this feels like a very complete issue that takes us through quite a journey. Hard to imagine what highs we’ll be taken to through what Ram has stated is a planned “sprawling run.”
Tapping Albuquerque and Stewart to pull this story off was a fantastic choice. I love that through the various books featuring Gotham, various artists are able to bring out entirely different visions that all actually match the city and don’t contradict. With this run we’re getting a more down to Earth almost rustic or simplistic looking Gotham that fits within the confines of this gothic horror realm. It’s still a big city with brightness and personality, but that personality shifts to fit whatever the story needs and that is just great.
All the paneling choices that Albuquerque employs are some of my favorites, where we have panels stacked on top of one big page image, characters popping out of panels, and panels shifting around to fit the nature of whatever is happening (more frantic but ordered for fight scenes is one example) and not having to stick to any standard sort of format.
Stewart employs colors that shift from the bright to the darker or heavier, but all of them are still wrapped up in the shadows while being more grounded in a sense. There are bright hits of greens or blues or yellows, but they aren’t slick or shiny, they are toned down and almost gritty to match with the darkness that permeates this story.
Hitting the right tone or energy for such a story means that every element within the comic needs to be hitting the right notes, and Maher is the perfect choice for a story like this. Right away we see her great lettering work and energy with the bubbles/font of the opening scene being wavy and almost dreamlike, followed by the later captions/words for Barbatos shifting into rectangles instead of bubbles and taking on a more formal style to the font. Even the tiny details like having Batman’s voice over coms being in a black bubble and Nightwing’s in a blue bubble, are neat things that speak to who these characters are and what represents them.
This ominous almost spooky tone carries over to the first of a three-part Jim Gordon backup story from Simon Spurrier, Dani, Stewart, and Steve Wands. Jim Gordon has been in an interesting place as a character since leaving the force, and after his recent trek around the world following Joker, he’s back to Gotham and is sort of drifting. Spurrier really nails this grizzled sort of look at Gordon, and really hits noir-like vibes with Jim’s narration and him being pulled into one more case.
This noir aspect is picked up by the really different and creative work that Dani brings, which has all the right aspects to feel rough and grimy and pulpy like this story is asking for. It’s an art style that screams Gotham noir and that’s what we get here, which is very welcome. Especially how white space is creatively used to frame the panels and leave space for Jim’s narration to break out of boxes and take up some of that white space. In the panels, we get tons of close-up shots, like the proverbial camera lingering and focusing on characters or elements making the reader feel like they are right there on the ground with these characters.
Stewart’s colors have the same heavy darkness from the opening story but are also quite different here because they complement the art styles in question. Here there is the darkness but it’s also brighter and has a more open feeling to it, rather than the more enclosed sort of feeling the first story is meant to evoke.
Wands does a great job with the lettering here to match the story tone, making the dialogue feel just as rough in some cases as the overall story but also making the captions look and feel perfect for a noir story. Captions looking like they were typed on torn yellowed paper or typed to fill the white space as mentioned above hit all those noir/detective feelings. There are various ways to make volume/tone clear and the way that Wands does it by having the quieter parts shrink but be a grayer color than the black of the normal text is such a cool way to do that.
Detective Comics #1062 is now available.