Detective Comics 13

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?

43 comments on “Detective Comics 13

  1. I can’t wait for the day that I agree with you (it will be on Dial H). Now, the bar had been set pretty low for New 52 Detective and I won’t lie, I’m a bit of a Layman fanboy, but I thought this was excellent.

    I really liked this characterization of the Penguin. “I WANT THE RESPECT I DESERVE,” is a fantastic motivation, especially for someone who clearly doesn’t understand what it takes to earn the respect. I got that his desperation and insanity caused him to threaten and bribe to get his name in lights because he doesn’t understand the simple idea of good deeds. Before this issue I had no idea what the Penguin wants. I do now: The respect that Bruce Wayne gets. And how is he going to get it? The only way he knows how. Violence, bribery, extortion, murder, etc.

    I also was interested in Ogilvy. I read the entire story, paid little attention to his aide, but then in the backup when I realized, “Oh, that’s the guy from the first story!” I thought it was a really interesting way to set up a character. I’m assuming he is new. Ogilvy was even on the cover. I think this could be a villain origin story – at least I hope so.

    I also thought it was fantastic to look at. It was a style of art that I really, really like.

    This issue made me excited about Detective, whereas I dropped it after about 6 issues because it was so, so bad. I don’t need another title, especially a $3.99 one, but I’m really curious as to what is going to happen next and what else the Penguin is going to do, which is not all that common. It was a good week for comics and this was one of my favorites.

    • We’re going to be following this one at least through its involvement with “Death of the Family.” I definitely saw this issue as a step in the right direction for this title, but I’m not sure it’s good enough to justify $2.99, let alone $3.99. Hopefully Layman can build on this momentum in the coming months — I would love it if this title became a favorite.

    • Gotta agree with Kaif here – not that this was necessarily the tightest plotted issue or contained that much suspense, but in that it told a fun (and funny) Batman story while managing to keep Batman’s voice in tact AND not embarrassing me with a quacking Penguin.

      Not only is that early-issue reveal good for its own laugh, I feel like it gives the readers the permission take the rest of the issue lightly. Penguin’s an inherently silly villain — even when he’s being terrifying — so it’s nice to have a narrative that matches that.

      This was also just WORLDS better than any previous issue of DetCom (from the New52): writing was clear, action was clear, and it made me laugh instead of being a grim slog through villainous plots to remove skin.

        • Agreed. I’m not ready to dismiss this new creative team based on one issue (and I really do like Fabok’s art), but “better” isn’t the same as “good” (or rather, “good enough to justify reading”).

          I’m not sure Penguin’s three-point plan of bribe/threaten/assassinate really makes any sense, especially if you consider the possibility that the bribe/threat wouldn’t work but the assassination went off without a hitch. Then you have a dead Bruce Wayne, clearly killed by a high-end assassin, and the head of the hospital, who knows Penguin was willing to do anything to take Bruce’s philanthropy crown (and maybe wants to report that whole threatening thing to the police — that is, assuming he wouldn’t just kill that guy there at the ceremony). If he thought the bribe/threat wouldn’t work, killing Bruce is a bad idea. If he thought it would, killing Bruce is unnecessary. There’s no situation where killing Bruce makes any sense, other than to make for a big cliffhanger. Well deployed or not, that’s certainly not my favorite character motivation.

        • I just think we need to be careful to make the distinction between a stupid character and a stupid story. I don’t think Penguin plans to threaten/bribe when he shows up at the ceremony. He just wants to see Bruce Wayne murdered in public. But then Bruce is getting later and later, and he’s got such a little-man complex going on that he’s like “well, I’m going to be satisfied one way or another.” I just like the idea of the Penguin as this furious – but totally ineffectual – supervillain.

        • He was always going to go the ceremony. He thinks he’s Gotham elite – why would he miss something like that?

          And he’s definitely going to need a briefcase full of cash, he’s a BIG TIPPER.

        • Also, he immediately jumps to doubling Bruce’s donation? Motherfucker can’t just outbid him like a normal person? Remind me to invite the Penguin to my next auction.

        • I took it this way: it’s not just good enough to be respected the way Bruce is – he also prefers Bruce out of the picture completely so that he has the limelight to himself; the only reason that he calls the hit off is because if it happens AFTER Bruce arrives at the event then the story of the wing donation will be all about Bruce’s murder and not about Cobblepot’s donation, thus he will have thrown his money away. I don’t think Penguin is worried about someone divulging a nasty bit of information about him to the police or anyone else – this guy can pull strings and have anyone from jurors to judges taken out if necessary. Subtlety has never been his style

  2. Man, I couldn’t put my finger on what it is I didn’t like about this issue, but I think you guys nailed it: there’s no drama because we know more than everyone. Dramatic irony can be a great tool, but Layman isn’t so much letting us in on a secret as he is giving everything away up front. Wouldn’t this issue have been more exciting if we figured out along with Batman that all these crimes were diversions? Layman could have built curiosity about this plan — who is behind it, what they’re hoping to accomplish — but instead lays out all the cards and hopes we have fun watching the characters figure out what we already know. I can’t imagine how much cooler this issue would have been if the first time we saw the Penguin would have been when Bruce walked into the ceremony. We wouldn’t have been able to get this particular cliffhanger, but as Scott pointed out, the hit on Bruce was entirely unnecessary, anyway.

    • I think it would have been cool to have been left hanging on the Penguin’s motives for renaming the wing after his mother. We could have stewed on what nefarious plot he was plotting, only to find out later he just wants to be respected. That would have added some really interesting layers to the Penguin as a character. As it it, I just find myself not buying his sudden interest in a legacy, and also not really caring about it.

      • I don’t think you are supposed to buy it that much. I think Oswalt was just pitching an impotent little fit because he wanted something that Bruce Wayne had. He’s gotta be acting implusively – he didn’t even do enough research on the group he was hiring to know that they would NEVER GIVE UP on a hit. Yeah, his plot is dumb but ambitious – that basically sums up the Penguin. The back-up enforces this idea that the Penguin may want to be this hyper-intelligent crime-boss / socialite, but ultimately isn’t that smart.

        • I should let Patrick write for me – his ideas about the story are very, very similar to mine, but stated more clearly.

        • I guess I’m just not interested in dumb villains who can still manage to out-wit Batman. This is Detective Comics, this book should high-light Batman’s skills of deduction, not give me either a plot that doesn’t make sense or a motiveless baddie who still manages to stumble upon the right answer.

          Really, the only mention we get of Batman being a detective is when his inner monologue literally says, “Let’s see if there are any clues.” That and his babbling about the security system flaw. I, like Nightwing, stopped paying attention.

        • It could have been cool if we didn’t already know what was going on. Like, it’s impressive to see someone deduce something you couldn’t have guessed. It’s way less impressive to see someone come to a conclusion you already know.

    • I guess I read this story different than you. I read it as an origin story for both the Penguin and Ogilvy, as they are both new to me in the New 52. The rest of the story was fine, the art was cool, but I learned about the level of crazy of the penguin.

      But I’m new to comic Batman, other than the New 52. I know all his movies and the old tv show and the Superfriends, but none of the tv or comics since the ’80s. That may have affected my perception of the story.

      • I think we’ve seen the Penguin already in DetCom, unless I’m confusing it with Batman: TDK. Quick, someone who was reading it help me out!

        • Yeah, it was that three-issue run that made me declare NO MORE FUCKING PENGUIN. I was just so annoyed by the quacking, and the lame-ass company that the Penguin kept. I think the only appearance I didn’t actively hate was in the Batman Annual, but I attribute all of that to Freeze (and Snyder). I actually liked the character here.

        • It was memorable enough that I even have those comics and forgot completely about them. Was it something with a casino and some woman in disguise and then. . . maybe I dropped it? Man. Both Detective and TDK were so bad I really don’t remember anything from the first 6-8 issues I read.

        • I let the Tony Daniel DetComs pile up for like 5 months without reading them when I was devouring every other book I buy instantaneously. I literally was just still buying it so that I will have a complete run of DC’s titular book… Ah, the collector impulse

        • Ah, the completionist streak. I’m fighting like hell to just settle for digital copies of Daredevil 7-10, but I really would rather have the physical copies. The only difference is, I’m actually excited about reading Daredevil.

  3. The more we try to figure out what exactly Penguin’s motivations for this caper, the more I think this story was just poorly planned. It would have made more sense to have Penguin try to kill Batman and out-elite Bruce Wayne.

    • ALSO. That assassin had Batman dead-to-rights. Who THE FUCK gets the drop on Batman? What if he had shot first and asked questions later? Also, why do they need a sniper stationed at their diversion-heists? I think I’m going into hyper-critical mode now, but for any charms this issue may have, it doesn’t exactly hold up to close scrutiny.

      • We saw a Talon get the drop on Bruce – EVEN AS BATMAN WAS INFILTRATING A NEST. That’s definitely a hyper-nit to pick, but we usually don’t start doing that until we’ve given up finding anything of substance to discuss in the issue.

        • Right, but the point of the Owls is that they were able to out-Batman Batman. Batman is supposed to be impossible to get the drop on, so it’s an amazing feat when anyone does. If everyone has one up on Batman, he might as well be Aquaman.

  4. Okay, so I just read back over the Penguin-y parts to get a handle on what HE thought his plan was, and now I’m starting to get confused. His words to Ghost Dragon assassin are “Friday Night. Kill [Bruce Wayne] cripple him, whatever. I don’t care. Bruce Wayne is to be nowhere near […] the announcement of the new childrens’ wing.”

    So I was reading it wrong, but then – maybe we all were? He doesn’t even care as much about killing Wayne, just keeping him out of the way so he can donate more money without fear of being out-bid. Does seem like he could have done that a few weeks earlier, but I think he wanted his public-shaming-of-Bruce-Wayne moment.

    • Ok, but why did he hire an assassin to maybe not kill someone? I’m just not seeing any clear idea of what he thought was going to happen. I really think it would have made more sense for him to treat Bruce and Batman the opposite: hire the assassin to “take care” of the Bat, and come up with some sort of socially elite distractions to keep Bruce away from the ceremony.

      • Hey, even the professional assassins won’t take a shot at Batman because they know he’s bullet-proof.

        I just read it as Penguin using all the big-boys toys without knowing exactly what it means to KILL Bruce Wayne. Like him pre-ordering the consolatory flower arrangement to express his grief for Bruce’s passing – that’s cute. His delusions of grandure extend to both his social status and his villain-y: he’s not particular adept at either.

        • I think that would be a really compelling take on the character — having more wealth and power than he really knows what to do with — but I don’t think this issue bears that out at all. I certainly see his petulance, but there’s not much here to support a reading of incompetence. Like, he’s still a crime lord here, right? Runs a casino, all that shit? I can see how he might be bad at philanthropy, where his cutthroat tactics (literal AND figurative) don’t really fly, but the dude should know about ordering hits.

        • Oh, I don’t know – I like it when incompetent people find themselves in positions of power (in fiction, that is – no political commentary here). He’s able to throw money at whatever problem he has – running a Casino just takes the cash to staff it. So, yeah, he’s probably ordered hits before, but I get the sense that he’s a hands-off guy. Pay the scary men, and they’ll do what you tell them to. It stands to reason he’d want to drop serious money offing someone like Bruce Wayne. But it could still very easily come as a surprise to him that he can’t call off his own hit because he’d hired principled killers.

          Though, I do recognize that the integrity of the story depends entirely on whether you buy that read of the Penguin. I posted it this way on facebook as sort of a joke, but “just how dumb is the Penguin?” might be a more central idea of this issue than I’d originally thought.

          ALSO, it’s really fun to me that there’s healthy disagreement about this issue. Thanks for staying civil everyone!

      • I think I understand his rationale – Bruce is a billionaire and bound to have security so you don’t want a common street thug tackling that one. Batman isn’t really an issue except that Penguin needs to make sure the ploy doesn’t make his list of things to do, so make some things for him to do – if Penguin actually takes out Batman when he has no practical reason to do so then, firstly, he’s going to fail because he always fails at trying to kill Batman, and second, if he succeeds he’s going to bring the whole Bat-family down on his head when really all he wanted to do was make sure the dude wasn’t at one specific place at one specific time

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s