Thursday, November 25, 2010

Detective Comics #871 – In-Depth Review

The entire Bat-family is having a bit of a shake up with the return of Bruce Wayne. There’s all sorts of new creative teams and this week sees Detective Comics open up its new arc with superstar scribe Scott Snyder joined by Jock and Francesco Francavilla on art. It’s the beginning of a yearlong story and this debut issue is very strong. Hit the jump to see my thoughts on the start of something big.

Detective Comics #871

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla
Colours by Dave Baron and Francesco Francavilla

I make no qualms about it, I’ve been pumped for this run to start. It was going to be my introduction to the DCU, which I haven’t frequented monthly for a few years. It was trumped by one week with Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s Batman Inc. which shipped last week, and I found ten reasons to love. It didn’t stop me wanting to get my grubby mitts on this title too so before opening it up I gave myself a second to calm down, and make sure I viewed it in the correct and open light you should always read with. And so I did, and still thought this comic was a blast.

The opening sequence shows us the opening crime that Dick Grayson will become involved in. A young boy is bullied at his preparatory school. He snaps and fights back, resulting in the death of a child. But it’s not an ordinary case of school violence, this one involves the same serum that made the Killer Croc what he is today. It’s a vicious sequence that instantly sets the scene.

Snyder lays captions over this scene that detail some of Grayson’s history as an acrobatic performer. It’s a more serious narrative device that instantly lends the issue an almost scholarly tone. He continues to write much of the issue in this manner, not just telling us what we are seeing but taking opportunities to delve into emotional connections or personal backgrounds. Snyder is out to build every layer of this world and he’s making sure he uses his words carefully.

When Bruce Wayne outed himself as the funding centre for Batman, he also made a state of the art crime lab available to the Gotham City Police Department. This magnanimous offer hasn’t really been taken up as the GCPD are as proud as they are resourceful. But this case of school violence finally sends Commissioner Gordon to seek some Bat-aid. They make the Killer Croc connection and hopefully another connection is also established. Grayson is going to be the Batman that works with the authorities openly, not just for fleeting words in the shadows. Gordon even gets a great line where he offers surprise every time he finishes a sentence to find the Batman still standing there. It’s a new regime.

It’s the time that Snyder takes to connect Grayson and Gordon as professional colleagues that is a delight to read. With just short lines or looks he is building a new status quo for Batman and the GCPD. It’s really well done and a lot of fun to boot.

As Batman investigates the case, he eventually watches three people connected murdered. It doesn’t take long for this mystery to spiral down a slippery slope. Snyder is setting up a real series of mishaps for Batman to need to get to the bottom of. The fact that each of these problems stems from an element of a different Bat-rogue is an interesting concept. Someone is buying up various trinkets and then using them to enact terrible crimes. It means this case has many possibilities before it can be solved. The scope has been opened up.

My main issue with this issue would be that it feels like all set up. When you step back and really consider this, it’s not that bad a thing. Snyder has managed to pack a handful of deaths into the start of this tale, we know that the weapons and utilities of a smattering of rogues is being used in the process, the cops have corruption (but it’s Gotham, so that’s expected), and Grayson is almost racing against the clock to work things out because surely more people will die if he is slow. It’s an extremely solid first issue and has laid out all the cards for what will make a great case file.

It’s just a pity when you get to the end splash because you only want the issue to keep going. Which it then kind of does in the first instalment of the Commissioner Gordon back-up written by Snyder and drawn by Francesco Francavilla. It’s an 8-page ditty that also sets up theme, intent, and tone. Gordon is woken up to attend the scene of a crime. There he finds evidence of a very important person from his past coming back that’s surely going to make things mighty uncomfortable for him. If you haven’t read Year One yet then this could be a good time to do a little detective research. The back-up is a great little set up for things to come but it also offers up a surreal moment when Gordon returns home.

Francavilla’s art is exceptionally moody and very different to what Jock offers in the main story. Francavilla goes for colour as scene and so everything is dominated by bold blues, reds, and oranges. It’s a great way to make it all feel hyper-real and unreal at the same time. I enjoyed it, though can see it is different from what the usual fan expects. It helps I’m an avid supporter of Francavilla and just simply dig his work.

Jock’s work, on the other hand, didn’t exactly capture me. It’s good, and he runs the story well, but it’s not what I expected for the run and feels a little scratchy for me. Chalk it up to personal preference, I guess. It doesn’t take me out of the story but it doesn’t exactly draw me in so deep that I’m lost. It’s just there and I’ll probably be the minority, so you go ahead and enjoy it to your heart’s content.

There is one final aspect I do want to mention, and it’s the birds featured in this issue. Grayson wakes up to find vultures hanging around outside his window. He doesn’t like it. Later, as he talks to Gordon on a rooftop, we get a glimpse of another bird. I’d tell you what kind but I’m no bird watcher so don’t recognise it. Later, in the back up, an eagle is outside Gordon’s place. Could these be bird spies, much like The Penguin has used before? It’s definitely food for thought and something to keep an eye on throughout the coming issues.

Verdict – Must Read. Snyder and co have just spent one issue laying all of their foundations. The scene is set, the players are in motion, and you can just tell from here on out it’s going to be a break neck pace as the criminal and the Bat spiral towards each other until their confrontation to end the whole mess. You are going to want to be in on the ground floor for what’s going to be a great year for Batman. If Batman Inc. is the Pop Art Bat then this one reads like Dashiell Hammett’s take on the character and the city. No punches are pulled from the very start, we get death, multiple problems, and a great one-two punch of our heroes, vigilante and police officer. It’s nice to read two Batman titles and get such different, though equally appealing and pleasing, concepts and delivery methods.

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Tyler said...

The birds were the ones that got released in the backup

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I get that they're tied to there, but to what purpose, and used by whom? That's the mystery...

Lucho said...

Still couldn´t care less about Dick Grayson as Batman. But this creative team rocks.

Build muscle fast said...

it's about time detective comics went back to it's true roots of hard hitting mysteries

Kraken said...

re: "superstar scribe Scott Snyder"

I must say I loathe when the word "superstar" is used like this. Alan Moore, Jean Giraud, Katsuhiro Otomo, Frank Miller, Jacques Tardi, Neil Gaiman... creators like that warrant the term, which should be used sparingly if it is to retain the weight it ought to have.
No disrespect intended to Snyder, but calling a man best known for writing American Vampire and short stories a "superstar"? Nah.

BobofBentleigh said...

I still can't figure out who it is that Jim sees in the back-up, although it has been quite a long time since I last read Batman Year One. Can anyone help?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Kraken - I guess that's where I'd differ, superstar works for me for writers like Snyder, and Fraction - whereas for Moore or Gaiman, or even Brubaker, I'd use a much more deep descriptor like titan or juggernaut.

But that might just be me... :)

Redion said...


I got the impression it was his son James Gordon, Jr.

Anonymous said...

then "God" of writers should go to Morrison


Enrique G

The Dangster said...

I liked that the backup supported the main story. Yeah, I love the gadgets Snyder puts into the comic.

I found it very believable how Dick is becoming a detective. The story and back up were both creepy. I like that there's a bit of a horror vibe to it.

Dennis N said...

I thought this was the best take on Dick as Batman, outside of B&R, since he took up the cowl. It was finally an issue where you're not confused about who is wearing the cape. Three highlights:

1) Dick's monologue about the circus, where Gotham is go big or go home

2) Dick as a civilian with Jim Gordon, calling back to Dick and Babs going to prom.

3) Dick as Batman not disappearing on the roof and befuddling Gordon. Classic.

It looks like the year long story arc is gonna involve call backs to old weapons used by Batman enemies, which should be fun for long time fans like me.

Anonymous said...

Grant Morrison is a god of writing.

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