Review: Detective Comics #881

It's the end of an era, but Scott Snyder's last issue of Detective Comics is a total win.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Detective Comics #881

As a critic you really get to see very few truly monumental moments. There’s always a lot of hype, but rarely are the moments really the stuff of legend. Today is different. Why?  Because these last Wednesdays in August represent the final issues of DC’s major characters, as they’ve been known for the last seventy-five years. Detective Comics #881 is the last time Detective will feature Dick Grayson as Batman and, when it reboots, most things about the Dark Knight’s timeline will be changed. Friendships, enemies, old plots we loved to follow, it will all be different.

Thankfully this era ends with a total win from writer Scott Snyder. Snyder’s run on Detective Comics has been so good I figured it would be academic for the final issue of his story arc to be wonderful and I was right. Everything Snyder has attempted to do since he took over Detective comes together in a way that’s satisfying without being simplistic. Nothing is a tied up in a little bow, but the idea of Gotham City as a real character and the change that Dick Grayson undergoes is obvious and beautifully handled.

Detective Comics #881 opens in dark times. Barbara Gordon has been kidnapped by her psychopathic brother James while Commissioner Gordon, haunted by feelings of guilt and failure, attempts to find them. At the same time, Dick is facing what being Batman is really all about. Dick has always been dedicated to the cape and cowl but always with a certain arrogance, an ideology that Batman will always save the day. Knowing that Barbara might die by the hand of her own brother thrusts an element on Dick that he had either ignored or never known.

It’s interesting how Snyder has both men react to the crime. Commissioner Gordon knows how dark Gotham is and he’s always kept things at arms length, always kept his personality cynical and hardhearted. Now things are very personal and he struggles to keep it together. On the flipside, Dick has always led with his heart, something that could destroy him if Barbara dies. Snyder weaves these two stories effortlessly around the centerpiece of Barbara and Jim Gordon.

The interplay between brother and sister is some of the most stand out work of the entire arc. There’s a twisted sense of entitlement to what James says, as though he’s always felt his sister deserved to die because she knew what he really was. Barbara remains tough as nails and, as sinister as things become, she never loses the shrill, judgmental sister tone – something she knows keeps James off balance. When Barbara fights back, it’s as much emotional warfare as physical.

Actual nuts and bolts of what happens in issue 881 are irrelevant; the true depth here is in the character study. One particularly stellar section has Jim and Dick facing off in a battle of words as Dick searches for them. Jim makes a distinction between Dick and Bruce (he has long since figured out the Batman identity scenario), which is so telling and so true that it snaps everything Snyder has been doing into place. Since he’s taking over for Batman after the reboot, I hope those elements stay in place.  While I’m not sold on DC ending the era I grew up with, I can think of no more perfect finale than Scott Snyder’s brilliant run.