New 52 Review: Detective Comics #1

A younger  Batman is pitted against the Joker, but their long-standing experience with each other has been rolled away.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Detective Comics #1

DC pulled out the big guns for the New 52 Reboot this week, none of them bigger than Detective Comics #1, featuring Tony S. Daniel as both writer and artist. Having read the story several times, the most visceral feeling I’m left with is disappointment – that and the idea that the issue tries way too hard. Daniel and DC have decided to do some major surgery (a pun that will make sense very soon) on the Batman saga and it’s a lot to drink in. I’m also not thrilled with how Daniel writes Batman, though that may have more to do with timing than anything else.

When I say timing I mean the era that Batman’s supposed to exist in. Is Detective Comics set in the time when superheroes have only been public for five years?  Is that why Batman says giggle-inducing things like “I can take it, I’m Batman” or silly utterances like “I own the night”? That’s a line I just can’t hear Bruce Wayne uttering, at least not pre-boot. The story here is pretty straightforward. Joker has escaped and Batman is tracking him. Though in this arc it doesn’t feel like Batman knows the Joker, at least not as well as he did in the past. The uneven sense of when all this takes place makes it hard to settle into the story. I guess the drive of Gotham’s police force to take Batman down is an indicator this is within the five-year mark. I don’t know, Daniel never makes that clear.

Outside of the Batman’s wonky dialog there was Commissioner Gordon, who looked younger and sported a mop of red hair. Daniel’s dialog for him was a bit too “dammit” tough guy for me. It felt like Daniel was trying to cop (another glorious pun) Frank Miller’s version of Gordon from Batman: Year One and failing miserably. The real problem here is the end, which attempts to give the Joker a new lease on life that I don’t think is a good move. The final page of Detective Comics #1 shows the Joker and a surgeon named the Dollmaker staring the Joker’s face, which has been cut off a la Hannibal Lecter. The Joker with a new face? Doesn’t that take away the thing that’s made the Joker who he is for so long? It’s one thing to change Batman’s costume but giving the Joker a new face seems like little more than a way to be shocking. Another peculiar thing is how Alfred is written into the story. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he’d been turned into a computer program.

Tony Daniel’s art is, of course, above reproach. He even managed to make me like the Batman “armor” suit by giving it a bit more fluidity than previous incarnations. The action scenes are visceral and alive, the depth of shadow and use of powerful lines to give the characters weight is on point. It’s everything we expect from Daniel. Visually, Detective Comics #1 is stunning, but as far as story goes, it’s only fair. It may just take some getting used to, so I’m not denying the New 52 yet. However by the end of Detective Comics #1, I was really missing Batman the way he used to be.