In the penultimate issue of Detective Comics (sorta), the James Gordon Jr. subplot comes to a head. Apparently the Joker’s involved, too? I dunno, I haven’t read the issue yet.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been disappointed with the last two issues of Detective, although less so with this issue than last.
My problem stems from the turn that the James Gordon, Jr. storyline has taken (and how creepy is it that the Gordons named both of their kids after themselves? It’s not wonder he’s insane). Part of the reason the James Gordon storyline was so great is because it was intimate. It was the story of a family trying to deal with a mentally unbalanced son. There was real tension created on whether or not James had gotten better or not.
But suddenly that story took a turn. James was altering the chemical components of his pills to make him less sane, and he was also preparing to use that formula against the entire city of Gotham. Suddenly, he was no longer this very personal, very real problem. Now he’d turned into some kind of super villain cliché. It was a completely unnecessary turn that ruined what had come before.
Which brings us to this issue, where the simple coincidence of events is hard to swallow. James is using the Joker as a scapegoat, but this begs the question as to why that’s even possible. It’s incredibly convenient for the Joker to have escaped from Arkham exactly when James needed him to, although I suppose there’s still a chance that we’ll learn that James was responsible for his freedom. But, again, if that’s the case, James is no longer the appealing character he once was, instead he’s a master villain who planned the Joker’s escape and is going to poison Gotham’s water supply.
And there’s really no reason for any of it. The story was moving was engaging and there was real tension. There was no reason to take James to these extremes.
Other than this glaring problem, the issue itself is pretty good, mostly due to Snyder and Jock’s portray of the Joker. I absolutely love that the Joker knows that Dick isn’t Bruce. It’s perfect that a character so completely insane would have just enough clarity with regards to Batman.
Taken on its own, this issue of Detective is perfectly fine. The problem it has stems from its place in the larger storyline. In this case, I wish Snyder had more time before the relaunch; perhaps we could have seen an end to the James Gordon, Jr. story without the Joker’s involvement, instead of the smashing of two storylines together.
Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I’m Being Shot At, available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.
Jock ruined the end of the Batwoman run on this title for me, and he hasn’t gotten any better in the interval since, apparently. His crude and heavy inks don’t even muster the Michael Gaydos charm for me (where at least there was a sense of humor sometimes in depicting Bendis’ unattractive sad sacks). Everyone in this title is simply unrelentingly grim. The unattractive relentlessness applies to the cover as well. I guess Gotham is kind of a dark city. Oh really, is the Joker obsessed with Batman? I did not know that.
Inside we’re not treated to a rousing tale of heroism amidst the ever-challenging corruption of Gotham. Instead, we’re in a horror movie where the punishment never ends, and even Commissioner Gordon is running scared. Scared of the very bricks and mortar, which means he jumps at his own shadow, but not fast enough to save his own wife. Which makes him dumb, too. That it’s an attack not unlike that which befell her daughter far too long ago is salt in the wound.
Here’s another place where the art fails, because some facial details might have made clear that Barbara Senior isn’t Barbara Junior. No luck, they look like twins. I mean, what does Oracle need but glasses and a wheelchair, after all? No need to add an expression, just remind the colorist of the red hair and I guess you’re good to go. That’s enough recognition for the female victim to be targeted. This is like that painful Batwoman story, which was all about cutting girls up.
The best thing in the issue is the lettering when Dick goes to confront the Joker, whose predatory instincts are triggered (well, I suppose amplified might be better) by smelling Robin’s feathers underneath the cowl. I don’t care to see Dick tortured or taunted, as I’ve been enjoying his successful run as Batman in other titles. But Fletcher’s childish script whenever Joker speaks, in fragile lower-case, really sets him apart from the other characters in the book. I imagine a wistful high-pitched voice that would surely leave bloody scars on anyone’s ears.
There’s a twist at the end of the story, and it’s not a terrible one. Except in the sense that it’s the second instance of seeing a woman attacked within the issue, and the first resulted in violence so severe Mother Gordon ended up in a coma.
Of all the Batman books getting a do-over, this is the one I’ll miss the least. Reading it was a chore.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at http://cornekopia.net.
At the top of the heap in terms of the best that DC has to offer these days, Detective Comics and Batman Incorporated make a nice point/counterpoint to each other. While both feature the Dark Knight (at least a version of him) in the starring role and both are equally apt to send readers hopping up and down in excitement on any given month, each one goes about it in a drastically different way. Incorporated is Grant Morrison’s wild-eyed attempt to bend
the Batman mythos in directions it has never gone before, whereas Detective finds Scott Snyder perfectly executing a traditional take on the franchise.
With a mere ordinary creative team at the helm, Detective Comics #880 could have turned out to be rather run-of-the-mill. In summary, the book’s story might seem like a cavalcade of familiarity, tossing out yet another Arkham Asylum breakout for the Joker and giving the Clown Price a chance to wax poetically over his obsession with Batman one more time. Snyder and Jock are miles from ordinary, however, and their divine pairing continues to squeeze every drop of amazing out of Gotham City and its tropes.
It’s hard to lift up either individual’s contribution to the book over the other’s, as this is a comics crafting duo operating in seamless tandem. Snyder, leaning on his horror roots, again plants an uncomfortable idea in the reader’s head early in the issue, leaving that reader squirming with dread over when and how it will come to fruition. Jock, with no small boost by colorist Dave Baron, builds on that mood with his trademark shadowy renderings and an array of dynamic panel layouts that make the progression of each page feel like it’s falling to an inevitable dark conclusion. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Detective Comics help send either man home with another Eisner a year from now.
If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s that this issue may not catch the audience off-guard the way that earlier installments in Snyder and Jock’s run have. For those who’ve been reading along with the recent examination of the Gordon family in these pages, the introduction of the Joker into the mix may seem like an obvious red herring. This issue’s conclusion partially validates that assessment, though the two plot threads are not completely unrelated. Still, it isn’t difficult to predict where Snyder’s story is heading if you’ve been paying attention.
Given the excellence of this issue and those that preceded it, it’s a shame that the collaboration between Snyder and Jock appears set to end just a few weeks from now. Though Snyder will no doubt carry on brilliantly in the September Batman relaunch, I can’t help but think things won’t be the same without Jock at his side. Alas, such is the life of a comics fan, and those like me can at least rest easy knowing that the two will be sending out Volume One of DC’s oldest continuing series in style.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He’s currently in the midst of reading and reviewing every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and regretting every second of it.