By James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira & Adriano Lucas
On Wednesday, Detective Comics joined the Rebirth initiative with a new creative team and old numbering. It also skipped the one-shot step, jumping straight into the action. This proves to be a smart choice on DC’s part, allowing the title to avoid some of the problems which have plagued the one-shots, such as Batman and Superman, which felt like they were more about the past than the future. Instead, readers get an engaging comic book which manages to channel previous work, while still feeling rooted in the present. As such it is the most successful debut chapter of a Rebirth title to date.
The story opens in dramatic fashion, as Azrael is pursued by a shadowy figure who resembles The Caped Crusader. Azrael is severely beaten and seemingly only the timely arrival of Batman himself saves his life. From here the scene shifts to Batwoman swinging across the city while debating tactics with her father. Soon Batman appears offering her an opportunity to work together, rooting out whoever is behind the attack on Azrael as well as recent surveillance of Gotham’s heroes. It is an intriguing premise, for which writer James Tynion IV ably lays the foundation. The real delight in this issue, though, comes from Tynion’s great character work.
The most appealing aspect of Detective Comics reborn is the cast of characters. With the exception of Batman, the cast is made of heroes who have all been poorly served by the New 52. At first, Batwoman had one of the best series of the intiative until her creative team clashed with editorial, departed and was replaced by less successful individuals. Stephanie Brown had some presence, though nothing equal to her past prominence. She still did better than Cassandra Cain who barely existed in the New 52, which might as well have been the case for Tim Drake, so badly used was his character. Assembling all of these fan-favorites together was one of DC’s clearest statements that their they intended to live up to their promise to revive the concept of legacy in the DCU.
Indeed, the biggest pleasure of this issue is not only seeing these familiar faces, but hearing their voices strike true notes once again. Batwoman is tough, independent, always willing to stand up for who she is. When she speaks to her fellow teammates, it is with the confidence of leader. Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) and Red Robin (Tim Drake) are seen fighting side by side, bickering throughout. It is a brief scene, yet it is all it takes for this pair to come alive once more. Meanwhile, Cassandra (now called Orphan) is her old silent, viscous self. The dynamic between these young heroes and their commander, Batwoman promises to be an intriguing one.
At first glance, the decision to include Clayface in this group appeared to be an odd one. However, Tynion does a good job explaining why Batman selects his former adversary. Batman and Batwoman find Clayface in a theater watching one of the films Basil Karlo starred in before turning into the creature now known as Clayface. Clayface broke out of Arkham Asylum simply for a chance to recall the man he once was. For his part, Batman neither views Basil as lost nor Clayface as irredeemable. Batman has a long history of encouraging his foes to reform (Selina Kyle and Harvey Dent being the two most frequent cases) and Tynion’s use of Clayface fits believably into that pattern.
Whether Clayface takes to it (as Selina did) or does not (as in the case of Harvey) remains to be seen. Regardless, it demonstrates that Tynion has a good handle on Batman’s personality, viewing him as something other than the cliché of brooding, isolated tough guy. In one moment, Batwoman reveals she had the upper hand on him, allowing for a startled look from the hero. It is reassuring to see Dark Knights as human after all.
Another plus for Detective Comics is that the issue has one artist throughout, instead of the tag-team’s found in many of the Rebirth one-shots. Eddy Barrows’ art is dynamic, immediately pulling the reader deeper into the story. The book is full of strong images from Batwoman swinging across Gotham to Spoiler and Red Robin tangling with Penguin’s goons to the slight smile on Batwoman’s face as she teases her younger teammates “keep up if you can.” Barrows’ figures makes their presence felt even when standing still. Barrows’ art is made even richer by the coloring of Adriano Lucas. Lucas really creates the atmosphere for the narrative. In one panel, light spills down from the upper left-hand corner as in a Caravaggio painting, while other moments are defined by the neon glow of a city at night. There is a wintery feel throughout which begins with falling snow, yet also extends to the interior scenes. This is a comic with a clear ambiance.
All in all, the story and art work together to craft a striking first chapter to this new era of Detective Comics.