Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Detective Comics 9, originally released May 2nd, 2012. This issue is part of the Night of the Owls crossover event. Click here for complete NotO coverage. Not caught up on Detective Comics? No problem! Get up to speed with our video Cram Session.
Patrick: If I had to put my finger on the one thing that made me like Detective Comics less than the rest of the Batman series, I’d say it’s the pointless darkness. In other titles, dark themes and images reflect the twisted nature of Bruce’s obsession with justice or the strained relationship between Bruce and Damian. But every time DetCon reaches for that same darkness, it comes off like precocious child that has borrowed his dad’s power tools. It has all the pieces of something I love – including unlimited access to Batman’s rogues gallery – but cobbles them together into a largely incompetent whole. You almost get the sense that with a little guidance from someone who knows better, Tony Daniel would be able to wield these tools more effectively. With the guiding light of Scott Snyder’s Night of the Owls cross-over, this sense is proven only marginally true.
The Court of Owls sends Talons to Arkham Asylum to kill Dr. Jeremiah Arkham. Aaron Cash (which, I think this is his first appearance in the DCnU) suggests that they move Dr. Arkham somewhere safer, but Arkham believes his hospital to be the safest place in the city. But when the Talons actually descend upon him, Arkham changes his tune and releases the prisoner Roman Sionis — the Black Mask — to fight off the intruders. Black Mask takes this charge literally, so when Batman shows up to rescue Dr. Arkham, he tries to mind-control the Dark Knight. But Batman jams a Batarang into his forehead, and sweeps him aside. The remaining patients of Arkham Asylum keep the Talons busy while Batman clocks the doc over the head and drags him to the Batmobile. Bruce uses the car’s video chat features to check in with Dick before heading off the assist the Birds of Prey.
My first gripe with this issue, is also the most trivial. You and I have been making #NewBatmobile jokes on twitter with Greg Capullo for about a month. Wasn’t he going to debut the newly designed Batmobile within the pages of Batman? Well, it looks like Tony Daniel has beaten him to the punch and snuck in a a few panels of Batman’s ride. The brief look we do get of the thing is disappointing, and has a little too much in common with the car from Batman Forever.
This book has a vaguely All-Star Western feel to it. That’s mostly driven by pairing a hard-as-nails crime fighter up with a ineffectual shrink (and an Arkham, no less). But there’s real wit and charm that spills out of the Jonah Hex / Amadeus Arkham relationship. Jeremiah Arkham doesn’t think that Batman can save him, but Batman knows he can save the Doctor – that’s the gist of their relationship. And honestly, that’s the extent of Arkham’s personality as well. I don’t think I’m expecting too much to ask for a character with some sort of internal logic to him. Daniels presents a character that, in the same breath, claims to be fighting for the rights of the criminally insane and admitting to breaking one through torture.
I’ve seen a lot of effective illustrations of Arkham staff members as conflicted people who simultaneously love and fear their patients. When it works, it’s awesome — even character-defining (look at Harley Quinn). But this isn’t conflicted, it’s just inconsistent. My favorite moment showing this dude’s complete lack of character comes moment before Batman gives the good doctor a concussion. What does a life-long psychotherapist say to someone he believes to be mentally unstable?
“You’re insane.” This panel also illustrates the persistent Batman-is-a-dick problem this series has struggled with / refused to acknowledge is a problem.
I also don’t really get what the point of throwing all these villains at us. I like Clayface. I like Black Mask. They’re both characters whose villainy stems from interesting psychological issues, but in this issue they’re reduced to what they can do. Clayface actually says “I can’t help myself, punks! I have an incredible urge to completely rip you apart.” It’s like Daniel went out of his way not to find motivation for the character.
And this is all a shame. This was the first example of Detective Comics approaching something of a purpose: to tell the Gotham City stories that can’t be classified as “Batman stories.” I’d expect DetCom to cycle through Gordon, Arkham, Mayor Hady, Lucius, Alfred – any non-capped character – as its protagonists. When I thought this issue was going to be a cool one-off story about Jeremiah Arkham’s ordeal during the Night of the Owls, I had hope. But 9 months into this series, I should have known better.
Oh and this train wreck of a Two-Face story continues. I tell you what, for a story packed with so much expository voice-over, I did not have a solid grasp of what the hell happened in that thing. Drew, we’ve been talking about dropping this one from the pull list for months, did this issue do anything to make you second guess that?
Drew: Oh, but Patrick, you neglected to mention my favorite part of this issue: the opening two pages spent with the detectives waiting to take Arkham to the safe-house, and the bridge operator who tells them they have to wait for Gordon’s word before he can allow anyone on or off the island. I like it both because of the fleeting moments of goodwill — something this title sorely lacks (though even here, it’s offered with stiff-liped scowls) — as well as the way it so succinctly summarizes everything I dislike about this title.
What purpose does this sequence actually serve? All of the information we learn — that Arkham is on the Talon’s hit-list and that the island is on lockdown — is delivered almost verbatim on the next page (that is, the next page after the completely gratuitous splash of the Assylum itself). We’ve never seen these characters before, and only see them once again (for all of two panels) at the end of the issue, so it’s certainly not about character development or story arc. The only remaining reason, then, is to give us the (very) cheap scare of the mysterious heavy something that bounces off the hood of the detectives’ car.
What was that something? We actually never get so much as a hint as to what it might have been. Ultimately, what it was doesn’t matter, because it bears no importance on the rest of the issue. It feels like a deliberate waste of time — a sense that is only enhanced by that pointless establishing-shot splash-page — and combined with the lowest-common-denominator writing, gives a strong sense that Daniel doesn’t think much of his audience; though, if they’ve stuck with this title this long, his audience probably doesn’t deserve that much respect in the first place.
Patrick did a great job illustrating the inconsistencies in Arkham’s logic, but since I’m already talking about telling microcosms, I can’t help but point out the wacky verb-tense agreement in the panel below.
“Disfigured inside and out by illegal chemicals,” makes sense as a clause, and “illegal chemicals fused with her blood cells during so-called ‘medical studies’” makes sense as a sentence, but they actually don’t mean anything when put together. The sentence loses it’s meaning halfway through, so just latches onto a new one instead. A simple copy-edit — swapping in “when” for “by” — would fix it, so as much blame belongs to any of the editing/creative staff who saw this before it went to press, but it’s telling that nobody could be muster the attention span to even notice whether or not the sentences make any sense.
A stronger editorial force could be felt all around. Another prime example is from the back-up, when Two-Face visits a local bar to track down the State Prosecutor’s mistress. When he arrives at the bar, a waitress calls him “ugly,” so a bouncer tells him to get his “ugly butt” out of there. Harvey responds by firing two shots and telling everyone to take their “uglies” home, to which the waitress reiterates that Harvey is “ugly.” This exchange would be embarrassing for a schoolyard scene, let alone one between three adults, one of whom we know to be incredibly intelligent and well-spoken. I wanted to make a joke here about how Tony Daniel should be paid in thesauruses for his next issue, but in a world where most word-processing applications have that shit built right in, there’s really no excuse for such lazy writing.
I’ll echo Patrick’s mild trivial spoiler complaint with my own; the closing exchange between Bruce and Dick. When we last saw Dick, he had several of William Cobb’s throwing knives embedded in his chest. Now, I’m certainly not surprised to learn that he got out of that scrape just fine, but it’s pretty shitty that that thunder was completely stolen from Nightwing 9. Would that conversation really be any different if Bruce were having it with Alfred, or for that matter, any other character who wasn’t last seen in mortal peril? It certainly makes sense that Bruce would be having that conversation with Dick, but since showing him after his run-in with Cobb kind of spoils the next Nightwing, there’s no reason it couldn’t be somebody else.
Anyway, to answer your question, Patrick; No. This issue has done nothing to redeem this title. I’ll admit that it is marginally better than every previous issue, but that’s far from praise. Tony Daniel’s utter lack of respect for his readers has left me with no respect for him. This title is unworthy of Batman, unworthy of its readership, and unworthy of comics in general. I’ve seen dogs that are much less sick than this one get put down, and at this point, that seems like the only humane thing to do. I’m sure there are any number of writers and artists hungry for this title, and the risk of anything being worse is pretty minimal. With so many fantastic comics being published, there’s no reason DC shouldn’t expect more of its namesake title.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?