Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Detective Comics 15, originally released December 5th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.Scott: It can be surprisingly easy to convince yourself of something that is obviously not true. I had a crush on a girl in elementary school and then some years later, I retroactively convinced myself that she had been my girlfriend. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but over time I came to believe this to be true, and only when I really stopped to think about it did I have the sad realization that I never had a girlfriend in elementary school at all. I also more recently convinced myself that this story sounded cute, and not at all desperate and creepy, which again may not be totally true. Regardless, I can sympathize with the Clayface arc that dominates Detective Comics 15: discovering that a love you believed in never existed sucks.
The issue begins with Poison Ivy getting buried alive by Penguin’s goons. Turns out she and Clayface tied the knot a month ago and have been on a cross-country crime spree ever since. Batman struggles to fend off Clayface, who wants to know where his wife is. But Batman isn’t convinced their love is true. He sprays Clayface with herbicide, killing the plants Ivy has been using to control Clayface, forcing him to realize his marriage and criminal partnership with Ivy are false memories that only happened in his mind. Meanwhile, Penguin is summoned to Arkham Asylum by The Joker, and leaves Ogilvy in charge of his operation. Ogilvy promptly digs up Ivy, revealing that she was able to stay alive underground because she has the ability to photosynthesize the carbon dioxide she exhales back into oxygen. Ogilvy wants Ivy as an ally and assures her that Penguin is out of the picture, proclaiming himself “Emperor Penguin”.
Growing up watching Batman movies and cartoons, I had this idea in my mind that Gotham is typically occupied by one or two villains, who are eventually run out of town by Batman and quickly replaced by one or two more. There is often collaboration between concurrent villains, but for the most part they are sovereign entities with few to no ties to the villains who came before them. But in this issue of Detective Comics, we get no fewer than five bad guys in Gotham, and the relationship between them is rather complex. In fact, there’s a pretty clear hierarchy in place—Clayface is controlled by Poison Ivy, who has been captured and ordered dead by Penguin, who nervously obeys the orders of the Joker. The only one who doesn’t have a clear place in the pecking order is Ogilvy, who has been undermining Penguin and now seems to have big plans of his own, but artist Justin Fabok gives us a clue as to where Ogilvy stands:
This is a really cool panel. Ogilvy is at the center and Penguin, who has always loomed large over him, is walking out of the picture. But Ogilvy doesn’t see the Joker in the background, lurking in the shadows. Writer John Layman follows with a great bit of misdirection; after Penguin leaves for Arkham and puts Ogilvy in charge of his operation, we see Ogilvy give a smirk and ask “Your operation?” The suggestion is that Ogilvy realizes the Joker has been pulling the strings all along, and so the operation was never Penguin’s to begin with. During Ogilvy’s interaction with Ivy, however, we realize that Ogilvy believes that he has been in charge of the operation. While Ogilvy was able to earn Penguin’s trust and take over his empire with relative ease, I can’t help but feel like he is underestimating the Joker, which I can’t imagine will bode well for him.
The real star of the issue is Clayface. It’s too bad that the reveal that his mind has been manipulated by Ivy was telegraphed by, oh, everything Ivy has ever done up until that point. We knew that Ivy was controlling him because she’s Ivy, just like we knew that Clayface would find out, get really mad, and punch a hole in the ground, because he’s Clayface.
There just wasn’t a whole lot of detective work to be done by Batman on this one. I was anxious to see what he would come up with to defeat Clayface, but dousing him with herbicide felt more like a punchline than a satisfying climax.
I haven’t mentioned the backup, which shows the extent of Ivy’s manipulation of Clayface. She had been sending him love letters, enclosed with some special flowers, for months while he was locked up in Arkham Asylum. We often think of Poison Ivy as a morally ambiguous character, a villain who will ultimately come around and redeem herself. Batman refers to her as someone who tries to do the right thing, but goes about it the wrong way. But this feels especially low for her. The sequence of Clayface falling in love while lying in his undersized hospital bed was the most heartbreaking moment of the issue for me. For a second, as he sat in the sewer gazing at one of Ivy’s letters, I thought maybe he still believed she loved him. But he squashed that thought.
Hell yeah, Clayface!
So Patrick, what did you think? Did Clayface’s story have any sort of emotional impact for you? And what’s to come of the Penguin?Patrick: It’s really interesting to compare this back-up with the one that come with last month’s issue. Both essentially tell the story of Poison Ivy breaking Clayface out of Arkham, but this one manages the additional tricks of explaining how she came to control him AND putting a little emotional heft behind the story. Which means I like this back-up more than the previous, but it also renders that previous back-up totally pointless. Like, even more pointless than we were saying at the time.
Not only are all these Gotham villains vying for some kind of anti-authority authority, it’s remarkable just how many of them are actively tricking each other. Ogy’s tricking Penguin, Ivy’s tricking Clayface. We haven’t seen just how yet, but I assume Joker’s tricking Penguin too. Poor, stupid Penguin – he doesn’t get to trick anybody. This issue continues to confirm that Oswald’s two favorite weapons are ineptitude and impotence. That fucking dude cannot catch a break in the New 52. It’s weird to me that it looks like Oswald is going to be outdone by a guy whose only discernible talent is being a big sleazebag. THAT’S PENGUIN’S JOB. You can’t out-detective Batman and you can’t out-sleaze Penguin.
But also, that’s an empire that I just don’t care about. Oh, no: what ever will I do if Ogilvy takes over the Iceberg Casino? He even wants to keep the Penguin name. How goofy is that? I mean, I guess it does mean that he doesn’t need to buy new decor for the office… But it’s just such a weird reversal of the Penguin mythos: Oswald doesn’t like being called “Penguin” – it’s not the source of his power, but the only thing that keeps him from being a totally successful gangster OR gentleman. Ogy’s* quick to claim both the empire and the title, suggesting that he’s maybe more of a supervillain than we were ever going to see from Oswald.
I know I’ve been defending this series recently for its lighter tone, but some of loose-logic is starting to get to me. Here’s a good example: Ogy says that he buried Ivy, but knew that she’d survive because she could “photosythenize the carbon dioxide you exhale back into oxygen.” Never mind the weird emphasis on “back” – I wanna nick-pick the science here. Do you know what one thing you’re going to need for photosynthesis? The motherfucking sun – which is none too abundant 6 feet under the ground. Evidently, this “burying Ivy with plants” was such a clever idea to Layman that he insisted on explaining exactly how he thought it would work. Yes, plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, but they do so in concert with water and light. We don’t need to be ironclad about the science of how our plant-woman survived buried in the ground, but it does kind of irk me that Layman went out of his way to offer a solution that didn’t make sense.
But then, that’s what this series has been about in the last couple issues: solutions that don’t make sense. Batman’s migraine-inducing anti-hypnosis headgear from the previous issue is another fine example. But then, hey, it’s a not a goofy Batman story unless he has an excuse to run home and put on his gardening clothes! Or is that a Haz-Bat Suit?
And further, why didn’t fire work? I live in southern California, don’t tell me you can’t take out plants with fire.
It all just feeds into the impression that I’m getting that everything in Detective Comics is half-baked. Which isn’t to say that it’s downright bad, but with so many other smart, fun and exciting bat-family books to read, I once again find myself looking to drop this from my pull. Even the promise of participation in Death of the Family isn’t quite enough to get me excited about the next issue. Joker’s inclusion in this issue seems almost like an afterthought. Scott, you mention that Ogilvy doesn’t even notice he’s standing there. But crummy, faux-profound images like this one make me think that artist Jason Fabok doesn’t know that the Joker’s there either.
Matching up their faces here doesn’t mean anything.
*I was just telling Drew and Scott this story on Sunday: when I was a child, I had a Cabbage Patch Kid named Oswald. But I was too small and stupid to pronounce this name, so it came out “Ogy.” Weird, right?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?