Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Detective Comics 14, originally released November 7th, 2012.
Shelby: Scott Snyder has spoiled us with his work on Batman. His take on the Dark Knight is complex and expansive, allowing for a lot of personal growth for the character as well as massive cross-over events. It’s gotten so that is what I expect from Batman; epic, sweeping narratives on a grand scale. It’s easy to forget the fun to be had in a simple Batman vs. bad guys story. That’s exactly what John Layman gives us in Detective Comics; Batman chasing the baddies, being a detective. While the storytelling is a little bit clunky, it’s still a fun little jaunt into an old-school Batman adventure.
The issue starts exactly where the last one left off; Bruce about to lose his head a party that the Penguin has totally crashed. While Bruce is trying to figure out a way to fight the assassin without it looking like he’s Batman, the Penguin steps in and takes care of things. Now, not only has he out-bid Bruce in naming the wing of the community center, he’s also saved his life. Bruce knows he’s up to no good, but before he can take care of the Penguin, he needs to stop Poison Ivy from destroying a chemical lab. Despite the fact that, as Damian so helpfully points out, not only is Ivy cleaning up Gotham she is also destroying companies owned by one Oswald Cobblepot, Bruce knows he needs to do the right thing. He meets up with Ivy and uses a new toy in his visor to combat her controlling ways: a “high-frequency fluorescent strobe” which basically does a hard reset to his brain, shocks and focuses it back to the task at hand. It works against Ivy, but leaves Bruce with a horrific migraine. As a migraine sufferer myself, I can understand why he was too distracted to notice until it was too late they had stepped into a trap. Ogilvy takes them both down with a one-two punch of electrified floor and poisonous gas, and takes Ivy with him. Batman wakes up just in time to deal with a rage-filled Clayface, demanding to know what had happened to Ivy, his wife. There’s a little backup story as well, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s good and bad to be had in this issue. On the surface, I had a good time reading it. Batman looks at some clues, figures out where to catch the bad guy, but TWIST! The hunter becomes the hunted, etc. There are a lot of little details in this story that just make Batman who he is. His reaction to the assassin at the party is a perfect example. While barely escaping with his life, he has the presence of mind to assess the situation and determine that, while Batman could easily take him down, Bruce could not. I don’t know why, but I love the idea of Bruce trying to balance protecting his life and his identity. Having Penguin take out the bad guy is an obvious and fun solution. Not only is the Penguin really putting the final nail in the coffin of Bruce’s big night, it also reminds us that we are in on this huge secret of what Bruce does at night. Having Penguin save Bruce and unknowingly saving Batman in the process makes us actively participate in this huge secret that we all take for granted.
That being said, I’ve got some problems with this issue as well, one plot-related and one format-related. The plot problem I have is with Batman’s little mini-seizure inducing device to keep him out of Ivy’s grasp. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief of this technology existing and working for what Batman needs. He’s a gadget man, and it would take a pretty far-fetched gadget for me to not be on board. I figure, as long as it works I don’t have a problem with it.
That’s just it: it doesn’t really work. It keeps Pamela out of his head fine enough, but the side effects are so incapacitating he could have been killed. If Ogilvy wasn’t looking to only collect Pammie, Batman would have been totally screwed. He had to know going into it the effect the gadget would have. He also has other counter measures he’s used before. So why would he choose to use this particular device now?
I also don’t think the backup was a good idea. The issues closes with a nice little surprise of Clayface demanding to see his wife. I did not see it coming, and was intrigued as to how that came to be. Instead of leaving me with a suspenseful little cliffhanger, however, Layman just goes ahead and tells me exactly how it happened in a backup story. Ivy breaks into Arkham and picks up Clayface. Whatever interest I may have had in the question is spoiled by an immediate and simple answer. I suppose this does save us from an expository-heavy monologue down the line, but here I feel Layman just spoiled his own surprise ending. Patrick, what do you think, am I looking too hard at what is admittedly a fun and fairly straight-forward issue? Also, do you find yourself becoming more and more worried about what THE FUCK has happened to Alfred?
Patrick: Oh yeah: Alfred’s fucked.
I’m generally pretty unhappy any time the entirety of a story could be assumed. There’s not a single emotional or narrative beat of the back-up that interests, surprises or challenges me in any way. By this point is Gotham history, “villain breaks another villain out of Arkham” isn’t a story – it’s a fucking footnote. There’s also that problem inherent to any Arkham Asylum story – the residents of the Asylum are so varied and interesting, but they are also densely populated. There’s really no way to give them all their due, so their appearances serve as little more than cameos. Do you like Black Mask, Dollmaker, Clayface, Sumo, Szazs? Hope you also like just seeing their faces, cause that’s all you’re gonna get here.
You wanna know what’s crummy? Not trusting your audience. It bothers me how neatly the assassin business from the previous issue wraps up, only for Batman to pull a total 180 and change his focus entirely. That resolution belongs at the end of previous issue. Just imagine how much more satisfying of a reading experience the previous issue would had been with that fun little Penguin punchline tagging it. Further, imagine how much more streamlined this issue could have been if it had been more narrowly focused on a confrontation between Ivy and Batman. The connective material between these stories in this issue is just weird – a jarring realigning of Batman’s priorities. I refuse to believe that anyone picked up issue 14 because they needed to find out if the assassin from issue 13 succeeded in killing Bruce Wayne: rending that cliffhanger kinda pointless.
Hey, Poison Ivy’s getting a lot of page-time lately, huh? She was featured prominently in Birds of Prey, she’s currently fighting alongside Swampy in Rotworld, and this isn’t her first appearance in Detective Comics. And just about everywhere she shows up, it’s easy to disagree with her methods, but her goals… her goals are sorta noble. There’s something endlessly compelling about a superpowered character that values her environmental causes more than human life. The planet is on the losing side of a fight with mankind, the immorality of which we all do a pretty good job of ignoring in our day-to-day lives. Ivy just takes up the defense of mother nature. I want so badly for the concept of Poison Ivy to be teased out to its logical conclusion. But instead there’s a bottomless well of mind-control scenarios that writers will use the character to explore.
Jason Fabok’s art is workman-like, and generally clear enough to convey action with a sense of purpose. But he certainly doesn’t take a lot of chances. “Safe” is the word I would use to describe this art – and even the trippy sequences where Batman is resisting Ivy’s poison are surreal due to efforts of colorist Jeromy Cox.
But this same reliable-if-not-altogether-flashy style is effective. Hell, there was even a panel in here that made me realize something fundamental about the characters: Bruce and Damien look alike because they’re father and son. I know – duh, right? But look!
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?