Current Reviews


Detective Comics #786

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
By: David Kozlowski

“Made of Wood” (part 3)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Patrick Zircher (p), Aaron Sowd (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Fifty years ago Alan Scott - the original Green Lantern - watched over the streets of Gotham City. Back then a serial killer ran amok, blaming Scott for his crimes. The murderer was never caught and the mystery faded into legend, until recently when the crimes began again in modern day Gotham – but this is Batman’s turf now and it’s only a matter or time before the criminal is revealed! Green Lantern and Batman have joined forces to find the perpetrator, but former GCPD Commissioner Jim Gordon has also been investigating and unwittingly locates the killer first, much to his misfortune.

This is exactly the kind of story I want to read in Detective Comics. Batman is a master criminologist, but he’s become far too known for chasing the Joker, Killer Croc and other super-villains. Writer Ed Brubaker’s story depicts super-heroes as prone to failure and flaw as the average person, which makes this story very relatable. Alan Scott, in particular, has been portrayed as a very human character: during this three-part story Scott admitted he isn’t much of a detective, doesn’t fight particularly well and fails to look out for the common citizen when he battles the bad guys. In fact, we learn that Scott inadvertently spurred the serial killer and his ongoing legacy through his own inaction way back in the 1940s. It’s not the most flattering portrayal of a classic DC character, but it is damned interesting.

Brubaker writes Batman as the thinking man’s hero. Whereas others cast Batman as a brooding introvert Brubaker defines him as a contemplative and thoughtful technician. In one scene Batman even defers to Scott for advice and then consoles him for the pain he’s suffered relative to the serial killer he failed to stop so many decades ago. If this seems a little out of character it’s only because Brubaker has instilled more depth than we’re used to in the Bat. In fact, much of this final chapter depicts Bruce Wayne and Alan Scott in street clothes. Even the killer, who was revealed at the end of the last issue, is defined in very human terms, which further underscores this story arc and makes it so much more compelling.

The tension in this issue surrounds the fact that Jim Gordon has been taken prisoner. The killer is known to torture his victims before murdering them. Initially Batman and Green Lantern have only the barest scraps of evidence to pursue and they’ve no idea that Gordon is missing – until Oracle alerts them with a panicked message. At this point Batman picks up the pace and elevates his level of violence in order to find his friend. Every action taken by the central characters are personal: the killer is motivated by his anger towards society; Alan Scott is driven by his failure as a hero; Batman compelled by his commitment to Jim Gordon. It’s a subtle subtext that separates Detective Comics from the standard Bat-family books.

Penciller Patrick Zircher is fairly effective in showing Batman as a human being outside of the cowl. But his style isn’t quite as sophisticated and polished as I would expect for this comic, though it’s a big step up from recent story arcs. Personally, I’d prefer to see more emphasis on mood and atmosphere as was evident in past year’s under Shawn Martinbrough. Fortunately, Brubaker’s story is so strong that any concerns with the art are minimal. Zircher’s layouts are clear and certainly get the job done. By the way, Tim Sale provides another spectacular Batman cover – there should be a gallery showing of these covers one day, they’ve been amazing.

Final Word:
“Made of Wood” is an unassuming story, its strength is in its emphasis on the human aspects of the super-hero mythos and the crime-fighting genre. Brubaker has written an effective mystery story that is spot-on right for Detective Comics. When people think of Batman I wish this were the image they’d form in their minds. Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man) and Rick Burchett fill in next month for a Mad Hatter tale, so we get a break between gritty crime stories for a while, I guess.

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