While Grant Morrison is taking Bruce Wayne on an international tour in Batman Incorporated, someone has to watch over Gotham City, and that someone is Dick Grayson. Since taking over in #871, Scott Snyder has been a refreshing voice in the long history of Detective Comics, leaning away from the occult and the supervillainy to more cerebral, humane stories. Snyder has really gotten to explore Dick Grayson as he assumes the mantle of the Bat, and proving himself capable of the task on an acrobatic and mental level. While the last two issues were phenomenal James Gordon stories, #876 launches a new arc, “Hungry City,” which features some honest-to-Grodd detecting from our hero. Since complaining about comics is unheard of, absolutely no one has been clamoring for more Batman in this title, so TOO BAD NERDS — he’s back.
“Hungry City” begins with a dead killer whale found in the lobby of the biggest bank in Gotham, and Jim Gordon asking Grayson for forensic help. Not satisfied with one mystery, Snyder expertly uncaps a matryoshka doll of awesome — when performing the autopsy on the whale, another body (a human one, this time) drops out. Whose? The assistant to the the head of Gotham Global Modern Bank, of course! Not content with only minor shock, Snyder goes for the full jaw-drop: the head of the bank is the daughter of the man that killed Dick Grayson’s parents. A less dignified comics critic might refer to this as “fucking awesome writing.” As much as I loved the Jim Gordon/James Gordon Jr features, Snyder proves that he’s as intricate and complex a mystery writer as he is a gifted dialogue sculptor. A conversation between Gordon and Grayson ebbs and flows so naturally, as it would when two old friends talk shop, while advancing the plot at a brisk pace. It doesn’t feel like talk for talk’s sake.
Snyder’s also demonstrated a keen visual flair in his run, and has fortunately had the artistic firepower to pull it off. Francesco Francavilla’s art in the previous arc was career-making stuff (as is Snyder’s writing), but Jock translates Snyder’s visions with equal fervor and potency. Not wanting to be outdone, his pencils are sharp and focused, giving the comic a gritty look that perfectly conveys the neo-noir grittiness of a modern Gotham where human bodies turn up inside whale bodies. The layouts Jock constructs are also fabulous — he poses Grayson free-falling in multiple panels within a splash page, conveying his acrobatic skill, and also creating as distinct an entrance for him as Bruce Wayne’s signature “cape-drop.” Snyder and Jock demonstrate a gift for inventive panel/page construction — the last page is as memorable and visually arresting as any of Francavilla’s insanely dope layouts. Colorist David Baron also makes Jock’s art more stimulating, giving the book a very sparse color spectrum of muted grays and greens, unless there are moments of tension, which he graces with shocking reds, like in the superlative final page.
“Hungry City” is a great jumping-on point and a great insight into a writer whose work is sure to be counted among the definitive runs of this title and the character of Batman altogether.