THE NEW 52, Week 2:
Detective Comics #1
DC promised that not all these books would be aimed at the new younger reader, and with Detective Comics #1, they've proved it. So if you know a reader with a delicate constitution or a reasonable sense of innocence about the world, help them steer clear of this book.
If, however, you are one of those whose understanding of Batman comes largely from Christopher Nolan's films or the frightening intensity of the recent videogames, then this Batman will feel familiar. Maybe even comfortable, in a rather grotesque way.
He won't feel particularly well-written, as artist Tony S. Daniel seems a better plotter than actual scripter.
As an artist, he plays with layout effectively, and the visual storytelling is clever and compelling. As the cover implies, Daniel draws a rather horrific Joker, with a cliffhanging visual that may haunt you for a while. Batman and Jim Gordon both look appropriately grim and driven.
But when you actually read the words, things seem to be going all over the place. Detective Comics #1, unsurprisingly, looks to appeal to fans of Nolan's The Dark Knight, maybe resting between that and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. Yet it also borrows from Iron Man, implying an Alfred who may or may not be just like the cinematic Jarvis – a vaguely snotty AI program that at least has the superior ability to create a hologram image of an aging aloof butler.
That Daniel doesn't really clarify that minor detail points to the weak spots in his writing; unnecessary mysteries lie in figuring out the status quo. It's clear that many on the police force do not trust the Batman, which falls in line with last week's Justice League #1, but Jim Gordon does trust him. Yet this Gordon also appears close in age to Gary Oldman's portrayal (itself a decade or so younger than Oldman's actual age), without Daniel ever explaining to us whether he is still a Lieutenant or the Commissioner most people expect him to be.
Batman also questions a few things about the Joker's modus operandi, which means that maybe they haven't encountered each other many times before. The head of Arkham also acts as if he hasn't treated the Joker in the past. So how much past is there? Yes, the book is called Detective Comics, but that implies actual detecting, not just having characters (and readers) asking a lot of questions.
Two weeks in to the New 52 and a few cracks are showing. The biggest relaunch books so far have been set in the heroes' pasts, so when are we going to see how we're supposed to view them now? Why are we even doing this backtracking if everything's different now anyway? Argh. Universal reboots make Hulk's head hurt.
And there again – that subtle little crossover character pops up here and in Action Comics #1. If the heroes have been around for five years and these books are set at the beginning of those five years, why is she just appearing in the corners of the action without saying anything?
But that's the longtime reader speaking, noticing these things and demanding a fully formed continuity. Ultimately, Detective Comics #1 has great art and serviceable storytelling, with hints that you'll be glad you picked this book up by the time you hit the third issue or so. It's a slightly above average Joker story, but a run of the mill Batman story, and for a relaunch, I wanted something more uniformly great that didn't remind of things I liked better.