A Batman: Night of the Monster Men Review – Hollow Monsters

Batman #7, 2016, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #79Nightwing #78Detective Comics #941942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts some extremely talented creators, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Running through BatmanNightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.

Batman #1, Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters, 1940, Bob Kane and Bill FingerAll this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better than this book.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. Chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made sense. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.

Instead, we just get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.

Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel on the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who gives us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes. There’s little or any substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)

Detective Comics #942, monster two-page spread, 2016So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.

“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.

Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.

batman-clayface-suit-detective-comicsOn the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.

“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Detective Comics #941 Review – The Dead Robin Trope

Detective Comics #941, 2016, coverTITLE: Detective Comics #941
AUTHOR: Steve Orlando, James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Andy MacDonald. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 28, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Thus far, “Night of the Monster Men” has left me uninspired. Certainly not what I was hoping for after what happened with Tim Drake last issue.

The plot of this Batman/Detective Comics/Nightwing crossover is pretty straightforward. Professor Hugo Strange is unleashes a bunch of giant monsters on Gotham City. All the while, a hurricane threatens to hit the city during the attack. Batman, Batwoman, Nightwing, Gotham Girl, and various other members of the surrogate “Bat-Family” are truly in a battle against he elements. But in the wake of Tim’s “death,” the Dark Knight is having trouble allowing others to take the risks necessary to save lives.

Before we get into this issue, or “Night of the Monster Men” as a whole, let’s talk a little bit about what happened to Tim. Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. During the events of Detective Comics #940, he attempted to sacrifice himself in the battle against Jacob Kane and the Colony. But the mysterious Mr. Oz, who we’ve previously seen interact with Superman, captured him. Now everyone, including Batman, believes Tim to be dead. By and large, the whole thing was well done. The art was engaging. The writing was impactful. It was a nice way to put the character on the shelf for refreshment, while also paying tribute to him.

Batman #1, portrait shot, Greg CapulloBut part of me really wishes they hadn’t done it.

I understand there are only so many routes to take with these  superhero characters. At some point, everybody’s going to have a brush with death. But now, all four characters that have been the official canonical Robin have either been killed off, or thought to be dead by almost everyone in their universe. Even Stephanie Brown, who was only Robin for about a month, has “died” and come back. What’s more, most of it has happened in just the last five years.

Let’s look at the timeline…

* 1988: Jason Todd is killed by the Joker in “A Death in the Family.”
* 2004: After a short stint as Robin, Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. the Spoiler, fakes her death.
2013: Damian Wayne is killed in battle by Heretic.
* 2014: With Batman’s help, Dick Grayson fakes his death and joins Spiral.
* 2016: Tim Drake is captured, presumed killed after a fight with the Colony.

The concept of Robin is pretty hard to swallow. It’s always been fun, but if you look at it in a real world context, there’s a definite creep factor to it. This Dead Robin trope ups that creep factor considerably. What we have here is a man continually enlisting aids from these boys, who eventually age out of their role, and all have the same black hair style. And eventually, they all die violently.

Detective Comics #941, 2016, Nightwing, Gotham GirlAm I getting carried away? Maybe. But at the very least, the storytelling in these Bat-books is getting repetitive. I’ll at least credit Tynion and the Detective Comics crew for doing it better than it’s been done in awhile.

“Night of the Monster Men” feels like it’s going to be an examination of the trust Batman puts in his partners, which he’s reconsidering after what happened to Tim. At one point in this issue, Batwoman tells him he’s in a situation he can’t control. Our hero’s response is: “I refuse to accept that scenario.”

What’s happening in Batman’s head is, thus far, the most interesting element in all of this. The trouble is there isn’t much more to latch on to in terms of meat. At least not yet. The monsters look cool enough, but we see they’re somehow created from cadavers. So while they’re obviously very threatening, we’re not invested in them much more than we would be mindless foot soldiers or zombies. Thankfully, that changes at the end of this issue.

This is my first exposure to Andy MacDonald’s work. But he and colorist John Rauch give everything a nice texture, and make solid use of splash pages and larger panels to show off these Godzilla-ish monsters. Our creators also don’t hesitate to use “They’re not alive? Let’s rip ’em to shreds!” logic when it comes to Gotham Girl fighting them.

“Night of the Monster Men” seems like a summer blockbuster that arrived late. Thus far, like many a summer blockbuster, it’s heavy on the action, but low on substance. As we’re halfway through, that doesn’t bode well. We’ve got some really good talent on these books, so I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t have high hopes.

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A Detective Comics #939 Review – Tim Drake’s Return to Glory

Detective Comics #939, cover, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #939
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Did any character get a more of a raw deal in the New 52 than Tim Drake? Not only was he put in a horrendous new costume, but his 20-year history was compressed and retconned to the point that we were essentially dealing with a new character. Almost four years later, and things aren’t much better for him.

That being said, Tim Drake fans should send James Tynion IV a thank you note. Detective Comics #939 is the best Tim Drake story I’ve read in years. New 52 Red Robin may finally become more than a shell of his pre-reboot self, and really set himself apart from his “brothers” in Batman’s surrogate family. Though in a way it’s a shame, as it’s looking like he’ll soon be either retired or dead…

The quaint team of heroes assembled by Batman and Batwoman have begun to mount a comeback against the military force Jacob Kane has dedicated to eliminating caped heroes in Gotham. But as drones prepare to swarm the city, Kate Kane suspects Batman knows more than he’s letting on about her father’s efforts. Meanwhile, Tim Drake ponders a future without superheroics. But he may not live to see such a future, after he makes a drastic choice that terrifies his teammates.

Detective Comics #939, Tim and Steph, Eddy BarrowsSince Tynion came aboard Detective Comics, Tim has been debating whether to leave Gotham to attend Ivy University full time. This is consistent with the Tim Drake we often saw in the late ’90s and early ’00s. At that point, Tim was unsure of his future as a superhero, often insecure when comparing himself to Dick Grayson and the like. This college storyline seems to play off that idea. As much of a Tim Drake fan as I am, seeing him walk away might not be the worst thing at this point. Batman has a lot of legacy characters that tend to simply drift in the status quo, serving no real purpose. Letting Tim hang up his cape might freshen up his character, and his relationships with the active heroes. And as a bonus, things would be a little less crowded in Gotham.

But of course, Detective Comics is really about Batwoman these days, giving her the spotlight she deserves. What stands out prominently about Tynion’s take on her is the relationship she has with Batman. They’ve been established as cousins, and early in the issue we see a young Kate try to comfort Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral. Because they have that deep-rooted connection, she’s able to talk to him in a way few people can. Her words have weight with him, as illustrated when she calls him out for keeping something from her, and he’s forced to admit fault. How often does that happen to Batman? She may be his cousin, but Kate often acts like his big sister.

I’ve been mostly pleased with Eddy Barrows’ work on this series thus far. In recent issues he and the other artists have emphasized certain panels, usually those that transition to another scene, by adjusting to a more painterly style. The above image of Stephanie is an example. Often it will occur when something dramatic or important is said. Other times it just enhances a nice character shot. It takes some getting used to. But it’s a fun way to liven up dialogue scenes, and can leave lasting impressions.

Clayface, Detective Comics #939, 2016Barrows is also very good at showing us the dichotomy of Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface. Case in point, the page at right. On one hand, we’ve got a great shot of this bulky, gooey monster. But in the next panel, that same monster almost looks like a sad puppy. Here’s hoping this book devotes some more time to Basil in the near future. We could potentially see some really good stuff here.

Barrows does love that legs spread and knees bent pose, doesn’t he? We saw Batman in this pose in issue #934, and now Tim. On the cover, no less. I opted for the Rafael Albuquerque variant.

Like Tim Drake, Detective Comics is better than it’s been in quite some time. In terms of consistency, we’re talking pre-New 52. This book isn’t simply housing for Batman’s legacy characters. It’s in contention for the best Bat-book on the stands. My only question now is whether it’ll be down a Robin going forward…

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A Detective Comics #934 Review – Rebirth and Redemption

Detective Comics #934, 2016, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #934
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 8, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I dig this issue for no other reason than it rights a wrong that’s been present since 2011. It fixes the Red Robin costume. That thing had been far too ugly for far too long. It was a damn embarassment.

But there’s plenty more to like here. A mysterious force is targeting Gotham’s heroes, some of whom are not prepared for this new threat. Batman comes to Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman, to help train the next generation of heroes. Red Robin, The Spoiler, Orphan, and (of all people) Clayface are chosen to train under The Dark Knight and his new partner. A partner who knows more about Batman than he suspected, and is hungry for more knowledge. Such as what Batman isn’t saying about this new threat to costumed heroes.

This “reborn” Detective Comics has a feel-good vibe to it by virtue of its cast, which consists largely of characters who were screwed over creatively during the New 52. Tim Drake lost so much of his depth and backstory in the reboot, and given that silly costume. I’ve got high hopes that James Tynion IV, an accomplished Batman writer himself, can do some justice for him. And of course, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain were wiped from continuity and didn’t return until later. With their respective backstories altered, of course. Fans may remember the shakeup in 2013 over DC not allowing Kate Kane to marry. The road to this title has been frustrating. But there’s a nice opportunity for redemption here.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, ClayfaceOn the subject of redemption, the addition of Clayface to this team is surprising. He obviously doesn’t qualify as a costumed hero. But it plays to the idea that on some level, Batman really is trying to rehabilitate the villains he fights. The smart bet is this goes bad at some point. But in the meantime, the dynamic Basil Karlo will have with his more virtuous teammates is intriguing.

This issue is also particularly noteworthy for the return of Jean-Paul Valley, the original Azrael, and the man who replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman in the early ’90s Nightfall storyline. How he connects to the Michael Lane version of Azrael (if at all) remains to be seen, and I can only assume Knightfall is no longer canon. But longtime fans may get a kick out of seeing him again, and hopefully not for the last time. As we open the issue, Batman seems to be trying to recruit him. I’d love to see him return as either a part-time ally, or even an enemy.

It’s not often you see Batman playing the good cop. But that’s exactly what we get here, with Batwoman in the bad cop role. She comes off as a hardened drill sergeant, while Batman plays the supportive mentor. It’s a side to him that don’t see quite as regularly. At least not since Batman & Robin ended. What’s more, Batwoman gets put over really well. Especially when she surprises Bruce with the knowledge of his secret.

Eddy Barrows has earned this run on Detective Comics. He’s had memorable runs on both Nightwing and Superman and recently spent some time on Martian Manhunter. He’s good with acting, and emotion, which shows here. From the fear in Azrael’s eyes as Batman closes in, to the intensity and anger from Kate when a mysterious figure appears in her apartment. He’s able to inject sympathy into the otherwordly Clayface as well as any artist I’ve ever seen (shown above). He connects you to the characters well in that sense.  Barrows’ rendering of Batman’s cowl evokes memories of Michael Keaton’s costume from the Tim Burton movies. Inker Eber Ferreira and colorist Adriano Lucas also deserve credit for making the presentation so clean, and beautifully shadowy.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, BatmanIt’s Barrows’ body proportioning I’m not certain about. There’s a panel in which The Spoiler is looking down on a crime in progress, and it looks like her legs are separated from her torso. There’s an otherwise beautiful shot of Batwoman swinging through the city in which our heroine looks just a bit too lanky. Barrows also has a weird thing about leg positioning, as we see in a shot of Batman swooping into a building (shown right). It’s a similar bizarre position to the one we saw on his Nightwing #1 cover.

Part of what made DC Universe: Rebirth #1 such a feel-good issue was the combination of story intrigue, and justice finally being done to characters that had gotten a raw deal in recent years (Wally West, Ted Kord, etc.) Detective Comics #934 is similar in that respect. The two issues also weren’t afraid to show us some emotion and humanity. Between Kate’s often volatile nature, the villainous tendencies of Clayface, and the presence of the younger heroes, I suspect there’ll be no shortage of those things going forward. That’s a good thing.

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicbookmovie.com.

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A Detective Comics #44 Review – Robo-Bat vs. Mecha Joker

Detective Comics #44TITLE: Detective Comics #44
AUTHOR: Brian Buccellato
PENCILLER: Fernando Blanco
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 2, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, so…”Robot Suit Batman vs. Giant Robot Suit Joker” happened here. The issue has a lot going on beyond that. But that’s the element people will remember about this issue, and perhaps this story as a whole.

Using the power core from Batman’s suit, Joker’s Daughter has somehow created a giant Joker-bot to terrorize the city. Naturally, Gordon and the GCPD are there to stop her. In our villainess’ own words: “Nothing says Gotham more than Joker and Batman!” But there’s also a battle being fought within the GCPD over Harvey Bullock’s partner Nancy Yip, and her connection to Stefano Falcone. Are Bullock’s romantic fillings for Yip clouding his judgment? And how has he enlisted Gordon’s help?

Detective Comics #44I suppose a robot fight like this was inevitable, given the transformation of the Batman costume. It’s not giant vs. giant, like one might hope. But the imagery is still cool. Seeing this giant Joker robot swat Batman like a fly is kind of cool to see. And Gordon does deliver a pretty cool line to Joker’s Daughter: “You’re not The Joker. You’re not his legacy. You’re just a crazed kid who bought herself a ticket to Arkham.”

As if not to be outdone, Bullock has a great line late in the issue. He definitely speaks for me when he tells Gordon: “Lose the mohawk. You look like a hipster.”

But the real meat of this issue comes from the Bullock/Yip stuff, and what they do about her. Last issue, Bullock asked Gordon to “Help me kill my partner.” That’s a heavy thing to ask from Batman, of all people. But Gordon does play his part, though not literally. Once gain, this book shows us the differences between Gordon’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s Batman. Their moral compasses are pointed in the same direction, but their means of getting there can be very different.

Detective Comics $44, Fernando BlancoWhat happens with Yip speaks to an inner pain that most writers give to Bullock. They weren’t soulmates, but Bullock doesn’t usually get romantic interests. So it’s sad to see things go the way they do. Bullock certainly isn’t the most charming guy we’ve ever met. But like all heroes, we want him to succeed and achieve happiness. Yip could have been part of that for him. But alas, she isn’t.

Detective Comics has been a solid supplement to what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been doing in Batman, and this story gave us a bonus with the New 52 introduction of Renee Montoya. Things may only get better next time, as Peter Tomasi and Marcio Takara bring the Justice League into the mix…

Image 1 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 2 from darkknightnews.com.

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A Detective Comics #43 Review – A Contrast in Batmen

Detective Comics #43TITLE: Detective Comics #43
AUTHOR: Brian Buccellato
PENCILLER: Fernando Blanco. Cover by Francis Manapul.
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 5, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Between Jim Gordon becoming the new Batman, the upped emphasis on Harvey Bullock and the GCPD, and the reemergence of fan-favorite character Renee Montoya, Detective Comics is starting to bear a mild resemblance to Gotham Central. You won’t hear any complaints about that from me. At. All.

We open the issue to discover the unthinkable has happened: The power core from the new robotic Batsuit has been stolen. As the GCPD rush to find it, the vicious La Morte gang continues to threaten Gotham. Plus, Renee Montoya, fresh from internal affairs, has her sights set on Harvey Bullock’s partner Nancy Yip. Given the two have become “partners” in more ways than one, this makes things personal for Bullock.

Detective Comics #43While this issue isn’t necessarily about him specifically, the most memorable element in Detective Comics #43 is the way Jim Gordon, in costume, is drawn in the opening scene. When Bullock and the others find him, he’s been ambushed by La Morte and is almost completely spent. We see him hunched over, almost as if he’s ready to vomit from sheer fatigue. Then he slides into a sitting position, and Fernando Blanco gives him an expression with traces of both relief and desperation. What makes this so interesting is that it’s such a stark contrast to how we’re used to seeing Batman. His posture is different, his expressions are different, he talks to people differently. This is a nice illustration of he contrast between Bruce Wayne’s Batman and Gordon’s Batman, without making it so obvious.

On the subject of differences, Gordon is still sporting his silly mohawk. The style choice obviously isn’t Buccallato or Blanco’s fault. I suspect that was a Greg Capullo design choice. What does fall on this team’s shoulders is in this issue, Gordon’s head appears to have a 5 o’clock shadow, in addition to the mohawk. Perhaps that’s a nitpick, but it drew my attention away from the story. If they’re trying to convey that some time has passed since Gordon first became Batman, that’s something we as readers already know. Yes, the mohawk look is dumb. But it’s the look we got, so let’s just stick with the damn thing.

Detective Comics #43, Bullock, GordonUnder pressure from Montoya (Damn, it’s good to have her back.), Bullock presents Gordon with a fairly drastic solution to the Yip problem. Like, drastic even by Bullock’s standards. It’s in character, though. For all his eccentricities Bullock has always put his police work first, even when it means crossing certain lines (Longtime fans might want to take a look back at the Officer Down story arc to see what I mean.)

In Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo seem to be telling a story about how being Batman changes Jim Gordon and those closest to him. There’s also the question of whether Bruce Wayne can live without being Batman. In contrast, Detective Comics seems to be about how a police-sanctioned Batman changes the GCPD. For Bullock and Yip, change isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Images 1 and 2 from usgamer.net.

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A Detective Comics #27 Review – An All-Star Let Down

Detective Comics #27 (2014)TITLE: Detective Comics #27
AUTHORS: Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Peter Tomasi, Francesco Francavilla, Mike Barr, John Layman, Scott Snyder.
PENCILLER: Francavilla, Bryan Hitch, Patrick Gleason, Neal Adams, Jock, Ian Bertram, Kelley Jones, Guillem March, Graham Nolan, Jason Fabok, Mike Allred, Sean Murphy. Cover by Greg Capullo.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $7.99
RELEASED:
January 8, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Oye. We’re barely into 2014 and DC has already put out another overpriced Batman issue. Well that’s just great…

At least this one is somewhat justified. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight’s first appearance in the original Detective Comics #27 in 1939. As such, the 27th issue of the New 52′s Detective Comics gathers numerous creators of note to pay tribute to the character with a 96-page collection of short stories celebrating Batman and his legacy. Among those along for the ride are iconic artist Neal Adams, current Batman scribe Scott Snyder, Identity Crisis author Brad Meltzer, as well as the book’s current creative team, John Layman and Jason Fabok. The issue also features pinups by Patrick Gleason, Jock, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, and Mike Allred.

Detective Comics #27 (2014), Francesco FrancavillaI can’t say I was blown away by anything I saw here, but Francesco Francavilla’s four page contribution to the book, “Rain,” is pretty cool. Ironically, from a plot perspective there’s really not much to it. Batman saves a mother and child from a car wreck during a rainstorm. But at the very end, Francavilla ties it into not only Batman: Year One, but also his own work on Detective Comics. As a longtime fan, and someone who’s still getting over the fact that Year One is being replaced in current Batman canon by Zero Year, I appreciated the respective nods. But it’s Francavilla’s art that really makes “Rain” the standout story in the book. His color palette in particular is perfect for Batman, and the tone of his world.

On the flip side, if you get a chance, Google the variant cover Frank Miller did for this issue. It’s…*ehem*…interesting.

I was sadly disappointed in Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch’s retelling of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the story Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced Batman with in the original Detective Comics #27. Via text boxes, Meltzer lets us read the first entry in the “Journal of the Bat-Man,” as we move through the story. That’s an awesome idea, but the execution gets old after awhile. Most of the entry is just Bruce listing the various reasons why he’s becoming Batman. “I do it because people are afraid. I do it because the world needs heroes. I do it because the police can’t be in every alley.” It goes on like that for most of the story. In his previous work at DC, Meltzer has told some really emotional, touching stories, and I understand this is his attempt at doing that again. But the “I do it because…” method gets irritating after awhile.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, Neal AdamsOddly enough, this issue teams Neal Adams, the man who helped redefine Batman after the camp era in the ’60s, with Gregg Hurwitz, the man who’s been overdoing the horror element in Batman: The Dark Knight. But surprisingly, their story, “Old School,” a story which cracks the fourth wall and deals with Batman evolving over the course of his career, goes fairly well. It’s not fantastic by any means, but it’s more satisfying than Adams’ more recent work on the character (see Batman: Odyssey, and a weird zombie story from Batman: Black and White #1). He even gets to draw Bob Kane at the end, which is nice.

We also get a story from Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram, which seems to take place in the Batman #666 timeline. It sees Damian Wayne/Batman, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Tim Drake as the pre-New 52 Red Robin, a very elderly Alfred, and Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon celebrating Bruce’s 75th birthday with him. Unbeknownst to them, he ends up going out in costume again, which results in what I deem to be a pretty awkward tribute to The Dark Knight Returns (shown above). Mike Barr and Guillem March bring Phantom Stranger into the mix to give Bruce a look at what the world would be like if his parents hadn’t been murdered, and he hadn’t become Batman. It’s a little too short to be as effective as it wants to be, and Phantom Stranger’s last few lines are a little corny. But it’s a decent attempt. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy close out the issue with a story set in the future, which deals with Bruce Wayne clones. Meh.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, birthdayWe also get a story from Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram, which seems to take place in the Batman #666 timeline. It sees Damian Wayne/Batman, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Tim Drake as the pre-New 52 Red Robin, a very elderly Alfred, and Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon celebrating Bruce’s 75th birthday with him. Unbeknownst to them, he ends up going out in costume again, which results in what I deem to be a pretty awkward tribute to The Dark Knight Returns (shown above). Mike Barr and Guillem March bring Phantom Stranger into the mix to give Bruce a look at what the world would be like if his parents hadn’t been murdered, and he hadn’t become Batman. It’s a little too short to be as effective as it wants to be, and Phantom Stranger’s last few lines are a little corny. But it’s a decent attempt. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy close out the issue with a story set in the future, which deals with Bruce Wayne clones. Meh.

The issue isn’t all warm fuzzies, mind you. Layman and Fabok also get 27 pages to kick off the “Gothtopia” crossover, which will apparently branch into Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwing, and Birds of Prey. The story brings us a very different Gotham City where crime and unemployment are at all-time lows, the economy as booming, and the city shines in the light of day. Clad in a black and white costume, Batman and his cohorts are honored as heroes. Bruce Wayne has also allowed romance to enter his life via Selina Kyle, who patrols the streets at his side as Catbird.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, Gothtopia*groans* Catbird? Really? That’s the name we’re going with? We couldn’t come up with anything better for an amalgamation of Catwoman and Robin? Do we even need to give the character a new name? The red shirt is a pretty clear connection to Robin. I think we all get that. So couldn’t we just call her Catwoman? Or anything else besides Catbird? That name puts me in the mood to watch reruns of CatDog

In any event, as you might imagine, things in Gotham City aren’t quite as they seem. And being the detective that he is, Batman is already starting to unravel things by the end of the issue. At this point, I can’t say I’m dying to read the next issue, or add the corresponding tie-ins to my pull list. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, this story seems like a “this is all too good to be real” story, which has been done plenty of times before. Heck, it was done in this same issue. Granted, it’s still early, and we can still explore quite a bit of this new world that’s unfolded before us. But thus far I’m not impressed.

And sadly, that’s pretty much my verdict on Detective Comics #27 overall. In all honesty, Batman fans would be better off checking out recent issues of Batman: Black and White if they’re looking for some good short Batman stories. They’re not all winners, but chances are you’ll find at least one  that’s more fulfilling than most of what we see here.

Image 1 from author’s collection. Image 2 from inter-comics.com. Image 3 from 13thdimension.com. Image 4 from uncanny.ch. 

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