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SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Detective Comics #881

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011
By: The Firing Squad

Scott Snyder
Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Barron (c)
We never thought this day would come: the final issue of Detective Comics. Sorta.

Kyle Garret:
Chis Kiser:

Kyle Garret:

It's one in the morning and I've had a fair amount of Scotch. A few minutes ago, I remembered that I'm supposed to review Detective Comics for the Sunday Slugfest. The inebriated side of me said, "Hey, the others will review, don't worry about it. But the comic book lover in me said, "You have too much to say about this issue, so get to writing."

So here I am.

Allow me to summarize my feelings thusly: Scott Snyder will always get the benefit of the doubt from me from now on.

This issue is the culmination of Snyder's run on Detective Comics and it's a fantastic one. Yes, the problems I had with this storyline over the last two issues still exist, but the focus was moved, more or less, so that those issues were not as prominent as they had been. Really, it was the amplification of the things I did enjoy that pushed the parts I didn't like to the back.

The opening of this issue mimics the beginning of Snyder's run and it's a great touch. It really gives a climatic feeling to this issue, regardless of how the storyline plays out. It also drives home the fact that Snyder's stories have been about Dick Grayson, not Bruce Wayne, and these stories are specific to him. Given that I'm a huge fan of the Dick Grayson Batman, this was a big plus for me.

While I'm still not thrilled with the transformation of James into a typical Gotham city villain, the confrontation between him and his sister is well done. The art -- and especially the coloring -- in these pages is perfect, a nod to those phenomenal Detective Comics issues that came right after the "No Man's Land" storyline, when DC took the bold step of using a two color palette. It is, as it was then, perfect for this series, and I would love to see it come back on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this issue, for me, was something that had been implied for a number of years in the Bat Books, but was laid out fairly clearly in this issue: Commissioner Gordon knows who Batman is. It's one of those storylines that makes me love the entire set up of the Batman titles. Of course Gordon knows who Batman is, just as he knows who the new Batman is. But he would never admit it, or be overt with his acknowledgement of that information. Gordon knows how important the dynamic between Batman and the commissioner is, and it's based on a sort of willful ignorance.

This acknowledgement that Gordon (and his children) knows about Dick Grayson is particularly poignant given all the connections that Dick has to Gordon's family. In some ways, this is an appropriate send off to Dick's life as Batman, as it embraces his entire history.

It says a lot about this issue that the aspects that I didn't like about it were still there, yet I was able to look past them because of the strength of those aspects I did like. This was a fitting ending to Snyder's epic run.

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 and on Twitter as @kylegarret.

Chris Kiser:

Considering the volumes that have already been written on its greatness, it's hard to think of a new way to praise the work Scott Snyder and his artist cohorts have been doing on Detective Comics. The book has, for the last year and a half, consistently been one of DC's best, at times both an unabashed superhero drama and a street-level psychological thriller. Snyder has crafted a grim story that's up there with the darkest of the dark in Batman lore, while still managing to keep his man in the utility belt, Dick Grayson, from coming across as a poor man's Bruce Wayne.

No doubt the book's greatest achievement, though, was the development of James Gordon, son of the commissioner by the same name, into a truly haunting portrait of villainy. In this final chapter, also a farewell to Detective's monolithic first volume, Batman confronts James at last, on a mission to save his occasional sweetheart Barbara from becoming the psychopath's latest victim. The tense buildup to that encounter and the fear of where its resolution will land serves as a high point of suspense in a story arc that was already swimming in it.

A tremendous portion of that is owed to Francesco Francavilla, who steals the show from the ordinarily unstoppable Jock in their two-man artistic collaboration. Francavilla has long sent chills in this book with his depictions of the disaffected James, but he may have saved his best for last. His somber, self-colored hues are dashed with a bright, violent red that accentuates the evil presence inherent in those scenes featuring James. Just try to keep your cool when Francavilla, page after page, continues to force you to stare into the character's cold, dead eyes.

Yes, this is an unmistakably wonderful comic book. If it falters slightly, it is in its tendency to succumb to a sort of "finale syndrome," wherein everything ends up tying together a little too much. Snyder already has us buying James as the story's ultimate villain before revealing him as the mastermind behind just about every challenge Dick has faced in this book. By the end, Snyder has him taking the rap for every crime short of the murder of John and Mary Grayson.

But that's a small qualm, because this issue does put an excellent final word on Dick's stint as Batman. Granted, next week's Batman #713 by Fabian Nicieza may be the official conclusion to this chapter of DC Comics history, but it is Snyder, like Grant Morrison on Batman & Robin before him, who put his definitive stamp on this era of Gotham City. Returning to themes established on the very first page of his run, Snyder presents Dick Grayson as an eternal optimist in the face of a bleak world that forever fails to beat him down.

In the end, Dick's departure from under the cowl is the hardest pill to swallow out of all of this. After all, Detective Comics isn't really ending, just being renumbered to the minor annoyance of a handful of comics traditionalists. Even Snyder isn't going anywhere, merely shifting over to Batman to write the tales of Gotham and the Dark Knight post-relaunch.

But Dick's time under the cowl is done. All good things must come to an end, and it is to the credit of Snyder, Francavilla, and Jock that this last streak of Detective Comics was the very essence of good.

Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin and can be found on Twitter as @Chris_Kiser. 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.

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