Detective Comics 0

Alternating Currents: Detective Comics 0, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and (special guest writer) Scott Baumgartner are discussing Detective Comics 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Detective Comics 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Drew: I have kind of a strange relationship to Detective Comics. As the original home of Batman, and the namesake of DC Comics, I have nothing but respect for the history of the title — I want to like it. Unfortunately, since the relaunch, the title has been marred by embarrassingly clunky writing, leading it to be the perennialRetcon Punching Bag” until we unceremoniously dropped it after issue 9. Most of that blame falls on the shoulders of writer/artist Tony Daniel, whose overly grim tone and unnecessarily convoluted plotting made the title a real slog. Well then, the fact that Daniel is off of writing duties as of this issue should be a good thing, right?

Not so fast. Writing duties have been taken over by Gregg Hurwitz of Batman: The Dark Knight fame — a title that is somehow more grim and convoluted than Detective Comics. To be fair, we stopped reading Batman: The Dark Knight before Hurwitz took over writing duties, where by all accounts he’s doing a markedly better job. Unfortunately, “markedly better” than the first nine issues of Batman: The Dark Knight is still pretty middling, and his writing on this issue feels surprisingly familiar (as in, indistinguishable from Daniel’s). That tonal match-up is not only unnecessary for a one-off flashback issue, but it’s unfortunate because the tone doesn’t actually work.

The issue opens with Bruce arriving “somewhere in the Himalayas” ten years ago. He arrives at a compound hoping to study with Shihan Matsuda, a “Zen-Buddhist Monk Warrior” (his title is laden with a bit more exposition, but I’ll leave it at that for now). He is told that no such man exists and to go home, but Bruce obstinately waits on the doorstep for several days, and is then accepted into the fold (a la Project Mayhem). The issue proceeds as a bizarre mix of a training montage and a budding romance between Bruce and the local sword-sharpeners daughter, Mio. The weirdest detail is that Shihan is married, in spite of espousing the philosophy that, “if you carry love, you carry weakness.” It turns out his wife is kind of bitter about that whole thing, and that Mio is actually an assassin she had hired to kill Shihan. In a final bloodbath, Mio kills Shihan, Bruce kills Mio, and Shihan kills his wife. As Shihan dies, he emphasizes the moral of the story to Bruce: “this is what closeness brings you.”

But is that a moral that jibes at all with the Bruce we know? Do we even buy that he could be distracted from his studies by a romantic relationship? This is a man who has devoted every waking moment since he was eight years old to avenging his parent’s deaths. In this issue, Bruce rattles off a list of places he’s visited on his single-minded journey to make himself an unstoppable crime-fighting machine. I can’t claim objectivity here — this honestly feels like The Last Temptation of Wayne-level sacrilege to me — but I just have a hard time believing this is the first time in all of his journey he’s met a pretty girl.

I guess my biggest issue is that I have no idea what kind of conclusions we’re supposed to draw from it. It’s clear Bruce didn’t take Shihan’s lesson to heart, as he’s been romantically entangled more times than anyone could care to count. Moreover, love is actually the source of Bruce’s greatest strength — it’s the love for his parents that drove him to become Batman in the first place. But it’s also clear that Bruce didn’t swing absolutely in the other direction, either. He still generally keeps his loved ones at arm’s length, which I’ve always read as Bruce not wanting to be distracted from his ultimate goal, but also has to do with the secrecy of being Batman, not to mention that he spends all of his time in a cave in his basement. In the end, this just feels like a series of things that happened to Bruce in his past, not an important moment in his development, which strikes me as a totally wasted opportunity.

Leaving aside these larger philosophical disagreements I have, there are just some goofy things going on with the writing. I mentioned the awkward exposition at the beginning where Bruce just flat-out explains to Shihan is, but my favorite exposition dump has to be where Shihan’s wife explains that he amassed a fortune in Japan before moving to their current location, explaining why a Buddhist Monk living in the Himalayas would be married (Japanese traditions allow Monks to marry), as well as establishing a motive for her betrayal. It doesn’t explain how he made that money in the first place, or even why a Buddhist Monk would want or maintain vast quantities of money, but never mind that, it sets-up this totally underwhelming reveal.

Wouldn’t this scene actually have more impact if there was no mention of money? If she simply killed her husband because she wanted freedom from his loveless ways? Adding money to her motives undermines the emotional reasons, muddling the whole message.

Of course, abdicating the writer’s chair doesn’t remove all the blame from Daniel’s shoulders. His art is often dynamic, but his wooden faces don’t do much to help Hurwitz’s dialogue. The few glimmers of decent acting we get are turned in by Pere Perez, who shared some of the pencilling duties here. I did, however, like the sequence where Bruce waits outside for several days. For once, Daniel’s ability to draw the same scowl over and over becomes an asset.

Credit where it’s due: much of the praise for that sequence also belongs to colorist Tomeu Morey, who manages to convey the passage of time beautifully.

I didn’t mention the back-up at all, but there’s hardly enough event to warrant much discussion — prior to Bruce’s return, the Kane family threatens to pursue legal action if Alfred doesn’t turn over Wayne manor. Bruce returns, so this is more-or-less a non-issue, but the fact that it was written by James Tynion IV makes me suspect that the Kanes may play some kind of role in his upcoming Talon title. We can conjecture about that in the comments, but in the meantime, I’d like to introduce guest writer Scott Baumgartner. He’s my younger brother, and while he doesn’t really read comics, he does know how to make me laugh like nobody else, which we all thought would be a good idea after having to read Detective Comics. This issue wasn’t quite the spectacular disaster we feared it might be, but it also wasn’t that great. So what do you think, Scotty, was this an effective introduction to the world of comics, or is this title as shitty an ambassador as I think it is?

Scott: Well Drew, I wish I could take a definitive stance on how shitty I thought this comic was, but I don’t have much to compare it to. Like you said, I really don’t read comics. With that in mind, I feel I can confidently say that this is one of the best comics I have ever read, and also more than likely the worst. But that doesn’t mean I won’t share my opinions with anybody willing to listen, so here goes.

I just did a google map search of The Himalayas. Turns out, they’re big. Either Bruce had more information about where to find Shihan than they gave us here, or he was knocking on a lot of doors, spending a few nights on each doorstep before deciding he must have the wrong mountaintop mansion. Drew, I think you nailed it with the Project Mayhem comparison. To Bruce’s credit, he is a more determined potential disciple than Robert Paulson was in Fight Club, although I can’t be sure he wouldn’t have given up if Shihan had come out and taunted him for being too fat.

I don’t think I’m as enamored as you are with the four panel montage of Bruce’s cold, lonely wait on Shihan’s doorstep. It is a simple and effective way of showing the passage of time, and the colorist certainly deserves credit for his work here, but there’s a difference between an artist being able to draw the same expression repeatedly and actually just using the same drawing four times, which seems to be the case here. Aside from coming across as lazy, it undermines the idea that Bruce has come looking for Shihan in order to learn the sort of discipline and focus that will allow him to sit out in the snow without so much as shivering. When we see him do it on page two, it kind of lessens the impact of when he accomplishes essentially the same thing 15 pages later. Sure, he lets out an “EEEK” in the fourth panel, which suggests the harsh conditions are in fact getting to him, but it was ambiguous enough that I’m choosing to read it as the release of the fart that he’s been holding in for the past 36 hours (hey, he doesn’t have the complete self control of a true warrior just yet).

I agree that it is totally weird that Shihan is married, but does the marriage actually contradict his “love no one” philosophy if he and his wife have absolutely nothing in common? For two people who have seemingly been together for decades, they really aren’t on the same page about anything. They’re effectively playing the roles of angel and devil on Batman’s shoulders, which is rendered all the more comical by the fact that Bruce seems to be the most easily persuaded person in the world. First, Shihan spiels his philosophy during their training sessions, which Bruce buys into with little hesitation. Then Bruce goes to confide in Shihan’s wife, who gives him the exact opposite advice, which he immediately accepts. (They seem to be setting up a Batman character who will listen to The Joker’s explanation of why Gotham must be destroyed and respond with “Hmm, I guess you have a point there.”) I can’t help but think this issue could have been avoided had Shihan and his wife ever been in the same room while giving Bruce advice, allowing him to weigh their arguments side by side and come to an unbiased decision about which path is best for him. But alas, their dinner table conversations consist only of reminding Bruce that he does not, and never will, have parents.

I haven’t even mentioned Mio yet, but there’s not a whole lot to say. Are we really supposed to believe Bruce traveled halfway around the world to study under Shihan, but then ignores everything he is taught as soon as a girl offers him an apple and tells him to smile? And I guess it’s supposed to be a shock when she’s revealed as the assassin, at least it is for Bruce, but it’s hard to call it a twist when the killer turns out to be literally the only other character Bruce interacts with up to that point. I mean, they didn’t give us much reason to suspect she was under the mask, but they also didn’t give us anyone else to suspect. It’s an incredibly tidy way of reinforcing Shihan’s mantra about shutting yourself off from closeness. This whole reveal sequence does provide my favorite series of images in the issue, however. I especially like Bruce’s expression of utter shock as he turns to see Shihan’s wife standing over him with a knife, just because of how silly it looks.

Why would you hire an assassin to sneak into your always-locked home when you already share a bed with the guy you want dead and you have your own knife? Just off the guy while he sleeps for crying out loud.

Maybe this wasn’t a great first foray into the world of comic book reading, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was eye opening in some ways (I’ve never seen a dark-haired Alfred before). My thanks to Retcon Punch for giving me the opportunity to do this, it was really a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see what the other guest writers have to say!

Scott Baumgartner is a writer/comedian living in LA. He currently works as a production assistant on impossibly dumb reality shows, which you should probably ask him about some time. You can follow him on Twitter @scaumgartner.

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?

44 comments on “Detective Comics 0

  1. Yeah, I would call this issue clumsy at best. I don’t think Bruce would so quickly dive into the assumed adopted son role, nor is there anything in the story to support the fact that his wealthy Zen Buddhist taskmaster is anything remotely like a father. Maybe that one time he said he was proud of him.

    • Yeah, it feels like really hollow sucking-up on Bruce’s part, which I can’t imagine wins the favor of hard-assed Buddhist masters. Maybe he meant “you two are like my parents in that they’ve been dead for 15 years.”

  2. Also, we totally neglected to mention that Bruce just straight-up kills Mio. Sure, the broken window did most of the impaling (what is that window made out of, by the way, that it can cut through a human body unbroken? I once broke a window from shutting it too hard), but modern-day Bruce would never be so careless as to kick a person through a window that might kill them. I guess maybe Bruce wasn’t as good back then, but it’s weird that he just straight-up kills her without so much as a second thought.

  3. I really enjoyed this issue. While it was it a bit clunky and exposition-y, Hurwitz just had this one issue to tell his story in. I suppose that shouldn’t be an excuse but I’ve enjoyed his other work in the Bat-verse (especially Penguin) that I guess I’m giving him a bit of a pass here. Hurwitz had to get in and out with this issue with a story that would have benefited by having a few more issues to be sure. For example, Scott (great read by the way!) mentioned that he wasn’t surprised that Mio was the killer since the story didn’t introduce us to anyone else. While that’s a great point, I think it just boils down to how many panels Hurwitz had to work with here. If this were a longer arc I’m sure we would have had a few more characters to deal with and the exposition problems probably wouldn’t have been as bad either.

    • I could see how a little good will might have made a difference in our opinions here. This issue wasn’t terrible, but it feels kind of pointless. The best zero issues have illuminated some unknown corner of the hero’s history, but this one doesn’t break any new ground. It seems to exist solely to remind us that Bruce has seen some horrible shit, which duh.

      I have no experience with Hurwitz; I missed the Penguin mini, and we dropped The Dark Knight before he took over there. Are either of those things worth checking out?

      • I would definitely recommend that you pick up Penguin. Hurwitz dives DEEP into what makes Penguin tick and it’s a really interesting (and twisted) read. I avoided reading it for a long time because I’m just not that interested in Penguin but I can say that has now changed without a doubt.

        As for TDK, I never bothered with the book during the New 52 because I’d read it pre-52. I think it got up to 3 issues and it was just terrible. Finch needs to stick to illustrating and I hope he’s come to the same conclusion since he’s no longer writing the book. With TDK, Hurwitz goes back to tell the secret origin of Scarecrow (much like he did with Penguin). So he’s clearly on an origin kick with Batman’s rogues and, again, it’s dark and twisted and it works for Batman. I haven’t been interested in Scarecrow for a bit either but Hurwitz makes him compelling once again.

        I’ll let this IGN reviewer get the last word for the sake of hilarity: “This feels like a Batman book now, instead of a turd smeared across paper and then stapled into the shape of a comic.”

        • Hahaha. Yeah, my “by all accounts he’s doing a markedly better job” mostly came from those reviews. We haven’t been a big fan of the Penguin in his appearances in New 52 titles, but I won’t hold that against the miniseries. I’ll have to check it out.

        • I honestly can’t think of where else he’s appeared so it must not have been very memorable. The only book I can think of is Batman Earth One which isn’t even New 52. Anyway, if you do check out the book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

        • He was featured pretty prominently in the second arc in Detective Comics, which I can’t blame you for wanting to forget (or just not reading, for that matter. He made a few other appearances during the Night of the Owls (Catwoman and the Batman Annual), and he seemed poised to be a player in Batwing right when we dropped it. Aside from the Batman Annual, none of those are worth revisiting, though.

        • Oh, that explains it, I refuse to read any more of Tony Daniel’s “work” and I’m struggling to get through Catwoman and Batwing (though I do plan on catching up on both books).

        • Damn, alright. Winnick has always been hit or miss but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt because of his stellar work on JL: Generation Lost but I guess I’ll just drop them. He’s leaving the books anyway so it doesn’t really matter in the end. As an aside, I really wish DC would have given Judd JLI since he was the reason those characters were popular again. Alas.

        • The last thing I’ll say about Hurwitz TDK is that while I enjoy the Scarecrow bits quite a bit, there’s an odd bit of characterization going on with Thomas Wayne that goes against pretty much everything I know about him. It just seems like Hurwitz is forcing him to act this way to fit the theme of his story. I wanted to mention that in case you decide to read it and feel similarly or if I’m off base.

  4. Maybe a bigger problem I have with this issue is more about the purpose of zero issues for the Batman story as a whole. I know these issues serve the purpose of origin stories untold in the DCnU, but what untold origin is there for Batman? My initial reaction upon opening this title was an eye rolled “great, another Himalayan training montage,” and that’s more a problem with the zero issue premise than anything else. It doesn’t help that there are approximately 125325 Batman zero issues to read; hopefully the rest can manage to give us something different.

    • Yeah, Bruce’s past is a well that we’ll probably always return to, but that doesn’t excuse this issue from being pretty bland and generic. TWIST! All the people die at the end, which explains why Bruce is such a dark, driven individual, hellbent on fighting crime. It makes me wonder why nobody had ever thought to explain this basic element of his character before. OH WAIT.

      Actually, realizing that this is essentially a dark mirror-image of Bruce’s parent’s death makes me like it even less. One of the things that makes Bruce compelling is just how driven he was to avenge his parents’ deaths, and suggesting that he needed another identical moment totally diminishes the impact of his parents dying. The fact that this is what Hurwitz was trying to set up explains away the clunky “you are like parents to me” stuff, but only by perpetrating a far worse crime against the character.

    • Then there’s also the fact that Batman has 3 different solo titles so that’s three #0’s dedicated to one character (and on top of this editorial has mentioned that Batman: Year One is still canon so no need to rehash.)

      • The real problem is that there’s no through-line to Detective Comics to give it a single, relevant zero issue without just doing more Batman. Like Swamp Thing 0 is about Anton Arcane and GL 0 is about Simon Baz. DetCom 0 would have been better served to find a non-Batman aspect of the Gotham crime fighting world to explore the origins of.

        • I dunno, I look at the sales charts sometimes these days but I never did back then… I want to say maybe it had something to do with Rucka or Brubaker leaving DC for Marvel since they co-created the book and were probably the driving forces behind it

        • Gotham Central didn’t sell that well but it was a critical success. It actually had numbers low enough that DC could have cancelled it long before it actually ended, but DC liked the series so much that they said they’d keep printing the series as long as the creators wanted to. The series ending was a writers’ decision, not anything based on the sales.

          But with the low sales I can see why DC might not want to revisit the concept without another super-stellar creative team.

        • Even if it just bopped around between the various costumed heroes operating in Gotham and the GCPD, but told actual detective stories, I would read the hell out of it. My first Batman trade was the Long Halloween, which is a fantastic mystery, and to me is an indelible part of the Batman mythos. Right now, I think the Detective title could be a great opportunity for a Red Robin solo title. Bruce has said that Tim will eventually become a better detective than himself, so the title would be fitting. I would absolutely love a Sherlock-Holmes-with-a-cape title.

        • Detective stories in a book called Detective Comics? That doesn’t even make sense Drew, who would want to read that?

  5. Yeah, those four panels of Bruce waiting out in the cold for three nights is kinda cool, but if you look close, it’s CLEARLY a copy-paste job. Look at the fur on his collar – it’s displaced the exact same way in all four panels.

    • Yeah, it’s pretty obvious (even stray ink marks are the same), but I still think Daniel deserves some credit for the layout. I’ve never been above using copy-paste, so I’m not going to begrudge anybody else using it, either.

  6. As an aside, did anyone ever hear rumors before the relaunch that DetCom was going to be a ‘five years earlier’ comic a la Action Comics? I remember a specific USA Today article (http://goo.gl/7z5lN) that cited Tony Daniel as saying this was the case, but that later caused some controversy (those details are fuzzier to me). Anyways, obviously this wasn’t the case since DetCom participated actively in Night of Owls and the Joker face-off from issue 1 happened concurrently with other New52 books, but I feel like it would have been good for the book to take this approach simply for the fact that it would have made it different than all the other Bat-books out there. I know we have said that we already know enough about Batman’s past that this would be redundant but I guess I am grasping at straws on justifying DetCom’s suckage.

    • I still want DetCom to be the adventures of the residents of Gotham City. Gordon, the cops, the villains, whatever. Batman can show up and flex nuts from time to time, but he’s not central to the story. Doesn’t that sound like it’s still an enormous well to draw from?

    • Ok I have thoroughly confused myself with further research because this CBR interview with Daniel talks about him drawing a younger, more in-your-face Bruce. http://goo.gl/j45Kv

      Did the timeline get changed by editorial on this one or am I way off the mark here? It might explain why DetCom Batman is more of an asshole than we are used to but still I think the ‘turd smeared across paper’ description was accurate.

      • He couldn’t have been planning that for very long, since the first arc ties in so much with Suicide Squad and *sigh* the next arc in Batman. It bothers me that Scott Snyder needs to address the whole “Joker had his face cut off” thing, like the Universe is somehow better for maintaining that particular bit of continuity.

    • But no, I hadn’t heard that rumor. It’s interesting that the “5 years ago” trend didn’t catch on for other series. Like why not have a 5 years ago Flash? I feel like the Wonder Woman series is currently the 5 years ago version of the character, but why not have a modern one running along side it?

      • My knee-jerk was that this is a great idea, but then I realized, for all the Batman titles, I really only like Batman and Batman and Robin. The chances of any title living up to our fondness for Wonder Woman or The Flash are pretty slim, and the chances that they’d kind of suck seem kind of high. Sure, I’d rather have two great titles, but odds are that we’d just have one great title and another title we’d ignore anyway.

        • Yeah, I’m not even suggesting it for creative reasons, but just for business reasons. If there are more Flash books on the shelves, there’s more conversation about The Flash universe on the internet and in comic shops, and then there’s more interest around the character. DC wonders why Batman is the only reliably bankable superhero in their line-up? I think they just need to be pushier with the characters they have.

        • I guess my point is, I don’t think it would work. The only thing that’s working to sell Detective Comics or The Dark Knight is that they feature Batman. I’m just not sure that equation would be bankable for less popular characters.

  7. Pingback: Batman and Robin 0 | Retcon Punch

  8. Pingback: Detective Comics 21 | Retcon Punch

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