Review: Detective Comics #879

Commissioner Gordon's familial nightmare looms ever larger in Gotham City, and Iann Robinson eats some crow and learns to trust Scott Snyder.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Detective Comics #879

As I have said in the past with Ed Brubaker, there are certain comic writers you should trust even when they seem to be making mistakes. I should have trusted Detective Comics scribe Scott Snyder but I didn’t, and now it is time to eat some crow. It’s not a big deal since this batch of crow, namely Detective Comics #879, is so damn tasty. I had been quick to call out Snyder on taking some easy roads with issue 878, mainly the reveal that Jim Gordon’s son James was actually a psychopathic killer. In my defense, I still think Snyder was a little quick on the reveal and having James slicing up a kid who used to pick on him seemed a bit beneath the writer. Still, issue 879 proves that trusting Snyder is always a solid move.

This story is nothing short of sinister, opening with the Joker, in full restraints and a mask, being moved to another part of Arkham Asylum. The Joker taunts a meek doctor, playing against the doctor’s fears and obvious misgivings about working in a place like Arkham. It’s interesting because there’s no indication how the Joker will play into the story of James Gordon. To the outside world, James seems perfectly normal now, a new man who has dedicated his life to helping others. Commissioner Gordon wants to believe that, we can feel his desire to see the best in his son, but he’s a cop, a good one, and something feels off. Going against the natural trust of a father, Gordon takes some of James’ medication to Barbara to test that James hasn’t altered it. A father going to one child to damn another is a powerful statement but Snyder doesn’t bash you over the head with it. He allows the reader to come to the idea.

Snyder works so many wonderful things into this issue. The rapport between Commissioner Gordon and Barbara is built on years of comic continuity. This is the ultimate example of Jim Gordon’s failure as a father. His son is murderer and his daughter is paralyzed, the victim of not just The Joker but of Gotham City itself. Linking all of this with the sub-plot of Joker’s escape is perfect. It draws on The Killing Joke, Batman Year One and Snyder’s own story arc expanding on the darkness of Gotham City. I also enjoyed how Barbara was right all along but not because of intuition or anything corny. She’s a great detective. As Batgirl she learned her craft and as Oracle she perfected it.

You can tell something special is happening when an issue of Detective Comics is sans Batman but still great. This is Commissioner Gordon’s story; this is where all the guilt and self-doubt he’s carried about his family and his job comes to head through the revelation of the monster Gordon’s son has become. Not since Frank Miller re-invented how we see Jim Gordon has a writer nailed the character and also added such depth to the Gordon’s legacy. When the issue ends, Commissioner Gordon has lost a son, been bested by his daughter and left to contend with how his blindness to James may have cost human lives. With all of that weighing on him, Commissioner Gordon must contend with The Joker, the man who destroyed his daughter’s life. This is powerful stuff, the kind of work that proves comics are literature not just entertainment.

My only issue is the art from Francesco Francavilla. It’s not even that Francavilla’s work is bad, he just isn’t Jock and this issue screams for Jock. The pages involving Joker are where Francavilla really shines but still, it isn’t Jock and the rest of the book lacks the punch visually that the writing has. I’m sure Francavilla fans will disagree and I can understand that. What he’s doing isn’t bad; it’s just that Scott Snyder and Jock are a perfect team. Detective Comics #879 is full on kick ass. This is a bowl of crow I will shovel down happily.