By James Tynion IV, Marcio Takara, Alvaro Martinez, Eddy Barrows, Dean White, Brad Anderson, Adriano Lucas, Raul Fernandez & Eber Ferreira
Last week Detective Comics released their milestone 950th issue. However, instead of using the occasion to focus on Batman or one of the title’s other central characters, such as Batwoman, writer James Tynion IV choses to put the spotlight on figures who have not been prominently featured in his run so far. While Orphan and Azrael have functioned well within Tynion’s excellently executed group dynamics, they have not been given the same amount of attention as Spoiler or Red Robin. Tynion rectifies that situation with his anniversary issue.
The lead story “League of Shadows” is told through Orphan’s perspective. Cassandra Cain is haunted by a tragic past wherein she was raised by her father to be the deadliest of assassins. The vicious training maintains a firm hold on her. Even when she looks at friends and allies she is instinctively searching their bodies for weaknesses and pressure points. This eats at her, especially as she is unable to open up about it to any of her comrades. Her team includes the likes of another trained killer and a former criminal, outcasts from society such as herself. Yet, the self-imposed barriers remain. Her only outlet is through dance. Through the art form she finds a way to utilize her skilled agility for more peaceful means. It allows her to dream of the “normal” life stolen from her at childhood. At times she even slips a graceful twirl or pirouette into a lunge or body punch. Naturally it goes unnoticed. All anyone ever sees are the battered bodies left in her wake. She might try to trick herself into thinking that violence is simply another form of dance, yet, she knows better. Dream all she wants, eventually she must wake to a reality where she finds herself doomed to solitude.
This internal strife is vividly conveyed by guest artist Marcio Takara. Takara, ably assisted by Dean White’s moody coloring, captures the solitary angst of Cassandra’s moonlit journey across Gotham’s rooftops. For the action sequences, he picks up on the suggestions from Tynion’s script, lending a graceful lightness to Orphan’s combat with a group of criminals. However, by the end of the sequence, Orphan’s control slips away and her brutality reasserts itself. Together Tynion, Takara and White have crafted a vivid portrait of one woman’s inner demons.
Tynion follows “League” with “Higher Powers” which focuses on Azrael and Batwing. This story examines the differing outlooks of the two teammates. Lucas (Batwing) is stunned by Jean-Paul (Azrael)’s performance in the training room, beating a simulation even Batman himself had failed to master. This leads to a discussion of faith in religion versus faith in science. Tynion does an admirable job respecting each viewpoint without belittling either. By doing so, he helps make both characters more relatable. Alvaro Martinez, one of Detective’s pair of regular artists, does an able job illustrating the tale. He lends it the grand dynamic layouts which have come to define Detective Comic’s Rebirth period. The opening page depicts Azrael in a towering Baroque church environment, light slashing in from the upper left as in a Caravaggio painting. (The coloring is by Brad Anderson). At the same time, Martinez knows when to rein in the fireworks and let Tynion’s dialogue take center stage.
The final story is the briefest; it is also the most explicitly structured as a teaser. While both “League” and “Higher Powers” contain hints for future story complications they take a back seat to the character drama. Tynion’s “The Big Picture” does contain some character beats in its depiction of an earlier conversation between Batman and Red Robin. However, here larger events, aka The Bigger Picture, are clearly in the forefront. It also ends on a sharper cliffhanger than the earlier chapters which succeed more as standalone narratives. Yet, on its own terms, “Bigger Picture” is an engaging tease, leaving the reader piqued to learn what the answer to Red Robin’s final question is. It is also aided by series primary artist Eddy Barrows’ lively art, which is strengthen as always by Adriano Lucas’ sharp, atmospheric coloring.
Taken as a whole, Tynion and his artistic collaborators craft a compelling anniversary issue. By keeping the focus on character dynamics and stellar art, they reaffirm that Detective Comics is one of the best books to come out of DC’s Rebirth initiative.