Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Detective Comics 13, originally released October 3rd, 2012.
Scott: My former boss created a “Law and Order” cheat-sheet, a minute by minute breakdown of every plot point, twist and reveal that occurs over the course of an episode. Each episode follows this same format, almost down to the second. Even more impressive though, is that the show still manages to captivate, and even surprise the audience. Even though the format is totally predictable, they withhold just enough information that we still feel like we’re solving the crime along with the detectives, and revelations that we might have known were coming are completely satisfying. Withholding that information is key, and it’s also where Detective Comics 13 falters; what could have been an interesting mystery ultimately lacks intrigue because it gives away too much at the start.
The issue opens with Batman explaining how Bruce Wayne’s recent donations to local orthodontists and orthopedic surgeons make him feel better about bashing the teeth and breaking the bones of Gotham’s criminals. Bruce is set to attend the unveiling of the children’s wing he donated to the Neville Community Center (it would follow that we’re about to see Batman guiltlessly kicking the crap out of some kids I guess, but fortunately we don’t go down that route). Mr. Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, has plans of his own, and has hired the Ghost Dragons to make sure Bruce does not attend the ceremony by any means necessary, while also organizing a set of robberies across the city to keep Batman occupied and away. Batman quickly figures out the ruse and recruits Nightwing to stop the robberies while he heads to the community center, where he spots one of the Ghost Dragons perched on a rooftop, waiting to take out Bruce Wayne with a sniper rifle. Batman dispatches the would-be-assassin, transforms himself into Bruce Wayne, and heads into the ceremony, but it’s too late — Cobblepot has already bribed the chairman of the community center into renaming the children’s wing in honor of Esther Cobblepot instead of Martha Wayne. Cobblepot realizes he doesn’t need Bruce dead after all and tries to call off the hit, but his associate informs him that the Ghost Dragons will not quit until the job is finished.
This issue is full of action, and the stakes are raised pretty high early on when Batman is caught in a sniper’s crosshairs. Ultimately, the masked gunman is ordered not to pull the trigger because “Batman is not our target tonight.” Smash cut to the Penguin, three days earlier, telling the Ghost Dragons, “The Target is Bruce Wayne.” I like this moment, and it works comically, but I wonder if it comes at the expense of potential mystery and revelation later on. By informing us right off the bat of the Penguin’s plans to kill Bruce Wayne and distract Batman on the night of the community center ceremony, writer John Layman puts us one step ahead of both the villains and the hero. Unlike the Penguin and the Ghost Dragons, we obviously know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and their attempts to make sure the two are not in the same place will be unsuccessful. But we also know about the hit out on Bruce Wayne before he does, so instead of uncovering clues along with Batman, we’re just waiting for him to piece everything together, which makes the lengthy explanation of the design flaw with the Rink Series 7 Security System seem especially inconsequential. It also spoils what could have made for a weighty reveal when Batman discovers that Bruce Wayne was the sniper’s target.
While Batman’s side of the story is relatively straightforward, I had some trouble trying to figure out the Penguin’s motivation, or at least his thought process, throughout the issue. Apparently, like Walter White, he is in the Empire Business, and he thinks if he donates a children’s wing he can start building a legacy in Gotham and everyone will no longer think of him as scum. Strange then, that he goes about this in the scummiest way possible. If you want a wing of the Neville Community Center named after your mother, offering to donate twice as much money as the other guy is probably enough to get it done. So offering to donate twice as much money as the other guy and then holding the chairman of the community center at knifepoint until he agrees seems like overkill. After the announcement of the new Children’s Wing, Cobblepot tries to call off the hit on Bruce, saying it would now “complicate things unnecessarily,” but complicating things unnecessarily seems to be a specialty of his. And why did he even need Bruce Wayne dead in the first place? When Bruce showed up at the ceremony, it didn’t seem to matter at all, his plan went off without a hitch. His decision to call off the hit serves as an admission that everything that happened with all the robberies and the Ghost Dragons was just a big waste of time.
Helping to save the story from feeling like a waste of time is the excellent art and coloring by Jason Fabok and Jeremy Cox, respectively. I was particularly taken with the moment when Bruce walks into the Community Center just in time for the announcement of the “Esther Cobblepot Children’s Wing.” The coloring on Bruce’s close up is beautiful (plus I’m a real sucker for those canted angles), and the reveal that Mr. Li of the Ghost Dragons is standing behind Bruce is perfectly subtle and ominous.
The composition of that last panel is just awesome. Bruce is caught in between the foe he hates (Cobblepot) and the one he doesn’t even see (Li), and the giant portrait of Martha Wayne looking over the entire scene is a great little cherry on top.
I was warned when I started reviewing Detective Comics. While one might expect the namesake of DC to be a great title, it’s actually quite a mess, I was told. With expectations lowered, I came away from this issue with a sense of hope. Aside from some headscratching decisions by the Penguin, my real complaints are with the structure and presentation of the story, not with the story itself. Messy perhaps, but far from hopeless. Patrick, I know you guys dropped this title several months ago, so what do you think, is there enough here to get you interested again?
Patrick Shelby: Surprise! I’m not Patrick! He had an extra heavy dose of real-world stuff going on tonight, so I offered to fill in. I wasn’t reading this title earlier this year like the rest of the guys, so you’d think that would give Layman a leg up, since I didn’t have memories of disliking this title to begin with. Unfortunately, I was way too busy rolling my eyes and saying “oh, brother,” to really enjoy this issue.
I like the idea of a Detective Comics title in theory. The main Batman title is for the in-universe stories. Batman and Robin is about the relationship between those two characters, especially now with Damian. I even get that Batman, Inc. is for Grant Morrison to just do whatever he wants with. Detective Comics could be a return to that pulpy, hardboiled fiction we all love so much; just set up your mysteries, and have Batman knock them down. But where’s the mystery here? Scott, you are one hundred percent correct about Layman showing us his hand way, way too soon. I suppose there some sort of comedic value to the “Bruce Wayne is the target” reveal, but not enough to make me forget that Layman just told me the punchline before he finished telling the joke. And that whole “I’ve got plenty of time to do some crime-fightin’ before my big fancy event” schtick? I saw that in Pixar’s The Incredibles, which did a better job of it by actually making a mystery out of the event Mr. Incredible had to get to.
And what was that backup at the end with Ogilvy and Random Thug Martin? The only advice Ogilvy has to offer to his new apprentice is “Stay smart, and don’t kill anyone you don’t have to.” A couple pages later, and Ogilvy deems poor Martin too smart, and kills him. We get it, Ogilvy: no crime boss wants to hire a henchmen who can outsmart him. That’s the first thing you learn in Henchmen 101. What was the point of it? I didn’t even realize it was the Penguin’s butler until that first time Martin addressed him by name. Am I supposed to want to know more about Ogilvy’s history with both Batman and the Penguin? Is Ogilvy the mystery to hook us and turn this into a detective story? Am I desperately trying to assign meaning to a seemingly pointless backstory in order to explain why those pages weren’t used to just tell a better main story? The answer to at least one of those questions is yes.
Again, Scott, you’re right; this issue was not a total train wreck. But I didn’t find it to be a particularly compelling, or even fun read. Mostly, it just made me wonder how many Batman titles DC really needs.
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?