Detective Comics 16

Alternating Currents: Detective Comics 16, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing Detective Comics 16, originally released January 9th, 2013. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.

death-divDrew: Batman, as an idea, is essentially a very elaborate scared-straight program. The whole reason Bruce Wayne dresses up like a bat is because he believes criminals — a superstitious and cowardly lot — will be too afraid to commit crime in Gotham. Sure, some criminals are too cocksure to fear him, or simply don’t believe that he exists, but pretty much everybody runs once he actually shows up. Joker is different. For whatever reason — that he doesn’t feel fear, doesn’t mind fear, or just that he just sees Batman as a guy in a costume who keeps insisting that everybody take him seriously — the idea of Batman doesn’t deter Joker from crime. In fact, modern interpretations of the character suggest that he commits crimes in order to gain Batman’s attention. That notion is what’s made their struggle such a fundamental one, and also explains why the Joker has so many fictional fans — if he can not blink in the face of terror, so can others. The idea that the Joker could be an empowering figure is a fascinating one, but unfortunately, Detective Comics 16 doesn’t take the time to do it justice.

The issue opens, confusingly, with a spoiler for the backup (which is re-spoiled in its own cold open), but quickly cuts away to a series of Joker-inspired crimes. Batman is doggedly hunting down every Joker-worshiping group, focusing on one in particular that’s already killed five people. That group plans to kill a group of people at a youth center, assuming that Batman is too far away to get there in time. It turns out they’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter: one of their own has already released all of the hostages. He also cut off his own face to look less like the Joker, because hey, this wouldn’t be Detective Comics unless there was gratuitous face-removal and impossible-to-follow character motivations.

Actually, let’s examine that character’s motivations. Allow me to introduce you to Rodney Spurman:

How do you go darker than burning a whole building full of innocent people?We later find out that this was an accident that Rodney simply hasn’t been able to live down. Nobody accepted him after what happened, so he turned to Joker cultists, who loved him for who he was, as long as he was willing to alter his appearance and behavior. Here’s the thing, though, he introduces himself as “Torch.” It’s hard to believe he has much guilt about killing his parents when he talks about it so blithely. Come to think of it, maybe suspicion that he didn’t really give a shit was why nobody could relate to him after the fire.

Other weird thing: Rodney balks at killing strangers, but he had absolutely no qualms killing his own psychiatrist, who died in the fire we see him fleeing from here. Oddly, it doesn’t even seem like the gang he’s with put him up to it, since we later see him meeting one of the only three other members for the first time ever. That psychiatrist is their connection to each other, so it seems like, you know, they would all be in on his murder. Also, shouldn’t the psychiatrist have done something about all of the homicidal tendencies these people have? I get that there are sociopaths out there, but they’re usually a) not in treatment or b) receiving some treatment beyond having a psychiatrist they could easily kill.

Anyway, I was talking about Rodney and his stupid motivations. After he frees the victims, his gang members leave him alive because he “doesn’t deserve the gift we have to give” (yet somehow the would-be victims who were every bit as complicit in the escape he helped stage did deserve that “gift”). So he’s safe and sound, and even helped save some innocent lives, but then decides his problem is that he looks too much like the Joker. His solution? Cut his own face off. In order to look less like the only other person in Gotham with his face cut off. I think Batman says it best:

Rodney is an idiot

I get that stupidity exists, but it kind of sucks as a character motivation — just ask everyone who saw Prometheus (zing).

The backup doesn’t suffer these same problems, but any sense of drama is undercut by it’s structure. Ogilvy has a plan: take over Penguin’s racket and blame every crime on the Joker, which is clever enough, but the first part of that plan was explained last month, and the second part was explained twice before the backup even gets started. Showing us the cool stuff and then going back to explain the boring path there is the absolute worst structure, reminding me quite a bit of the Star Wars prequels. I don’t even feel bad saying that.

I really want to like this title, but writer John Layman keeps executing his ideas in the worst way possible. We dropped this title VERY hard after the last Gotham crossover, and while I don’t feel quite as strongly this go-round, I’m feeling the ken to drop it again. What do you think, Scotty? Was there anything redeeming about this issue?

death-divScott: There really wasn’t. It’s risky to introduce a new character and ask him to shoulder the emotional weight of the issue, and Rodney wasn’t quite up to the task. Drew, you nailed it when you said stupidity sucks as character motivation. I get that Rodney is supposed to be confused, but that’s not an excuse for Layman to make him confusing. Cutting off his own face seemed like such an extreme overreaction that I had to reread the panels leading up to it to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding his rationale. I mean, when someone ends a story with “…And that’s why I cut off my face,” the details leading up to that must be pretty devastating, not just, “Well, I’m starting to regret these clown tattoos.” I least, I hope those are tattoos- if it’s just makeup then he’ll have entered a whole new ballpark of stupid.

The biggest problem with this issue is not Rodney’s lack of motivation, but Batman’s. There is never much at stake for Batman, just a lot of him fighting petty criminals that even he knows pose little threat.

Very...persuasive

Joker has been front and center in other recent Death of the Family crossover issues, and yet Batman is only dealing with gangs of (mostly incompetent) Joker copycats? Lame. Detective Comics 14 left Joker, Ogilvy, Clayface and Poison Ivy as lingering threats to Batman, and only Ogilvy appears in this issue, primarily in the backup. It’s not like Layman didn’t have anything interesting to work with, he just ignored it all and came up with an issue that feels like it’s just biding time, waiting for it’s turn to play with the cool bad guys.

Speaking of the backup, while the double-spoiler was certainly overkill, I thought this was the second straight issue where the backup was actually more successful than the main story. Last month’s backup saw Poison Ivy tricking Clayface into falling in love with her before breaking him out of Arkham Asylum and manipulating him to do her bidding. Sometime later, he figures this out and turns on her, and the backup winds up serving as both a prologue and epilogue for the main issue. This month it’s more of a side story, establishing Ogilvy as a competent and forceful successor to the Penguin. That this was the most interesting stretch of the issue speaks to the issue’s overall lack of a compelling arc than anything else, but for me at least it settled some questions about whether Ogilvy has what it takes to run Cobblepot’s empire.

I do find it odd that Ogilvy insists on being called “Emperor Penguin”. Penguin always seemed to have the most blatantly derogatory supervillain nickname, one that mocked his stature and mannerisms. Ogilvy does not share these characteristics, and it doesn’t seem like he holds Cobblepot in high esteem, so I can’t figure out why he wants to associate himself with the Penguin name. It’s like if there was a guy everybody called “Buttman” and his successor chose to go by the name “Really Smelly Buttman”. That’s a really stellar example, so you’re welcome.

Drew, I can’t imagine you are the only reader eager to drop this title after this issue. It’s frustrating to consider how much ground this issue could have covered, and then to be left with a story where it’s virtually impossible to care about anything that happened. What a waste.

death-divFor 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?

16 comments on “Detective Comics 16

  1. Between the reference to the Joker-sympathizers protesting outside Arkham, Penguins third-rate crime friends and and the general cockiness of Batman, this issue felt more like Tony Daniel’s run on this series than just about any of Layman’s other issues. And Daniel is exactly what made us drop this title in the first place. History repeats itself and we must respond in kind.

    • Yeah, I couldn’t believe all the shitty callbacks in this issue. Did anybody really want to remember Mr. Combustible? Or the half-assed Occupy commentary? Or the face-removal? How about remembering how Daniel was taken off the title for all of those things sucking? Can we remember that, please?

      • It’s upsetting to me that those characters weren’t just one-off joke characters. I thought FOR SURE that they were just there to show how rinky dink Penguin’s operation really was.

  2. Scott, I’m right there with you on “Emperor Penguin.” I get that “Ignatius Ogilvy” is a mouthful, but why not chose any other name? It doesn’t matter how imposing the “emperor” part is, the fact is that he’s still an off-shoot of the Penguin. COME ON, man, make up your own identity.

    • I like the idea that, while the other super villains get to chose their own names, “The Penguin” is totally derogatory. Makes me wonder if “Terrible Haircut” would stick if Batman just started calling Ogilvy that.

  3. This book such a nonsensical, craptastic, waste of time and money.

    You hit the nail on the head with the idiocy of the motivations of “The Torch”. I did a double take when I saw the big reveal and had to flip back to make sure I read it right…cuts off face to be less like the Joker. Okay….

    Is anyone else curious about the timeline of DotF? When do the events of this issue occur? Between events on the bridge in Batman 14-15? Or is it a slight detour on his way to Arkham in 15? After Joker makes his big reappearance slaughtering all the cops and mayor’s people but before Batman goes to Ace in 13?

    I am even more confused by Batgirl’s timeline. She goes right from battling Knightfall to getting the call from her mother followed by her brother’s call which leads her right to the rollerrink and from there she goes to the church. When does she have time to entertain the Teen Titans, or visit Bruce’s bedside in Batman 15, for that matter. The only time I can place it is after being informed of the Joker’s return in Batman 13 but before she gets home (to take care of her wounds from battling Knightfall). This doesn’t leave a lot of time for Tim to go missing and the Teen Titans to get to Gotham.

    With Night of the Owls there was a very clear timeline and, I think, much more oversight over the entire crossover by Snyder. Even if Snyder didn’t have as large of a role in plotting the entirely of the DotF arc, DC editorial should have flagged the inconsistencies even if it is asking too much for them to point out how bloody dumb the plots/poor the execution of many of the tie-in have been. This is a situation where the heavy-handed approach of the editors we have been hearing about would really been welcomed.

    • And where the hell is all the blood on Rodney after he cut off his own face? His neck and jacket collar should be COVERED. I am pretty sure he wouldn’t be as calm as he is portrayed either. Unless, of course, he did it with anesthetic and a cauterizing surgical tools, rather than a piece of glass which is shown, I think the scene should look a smidge different than what Batman busts in on.

      • How exactly is he saying “my face” without lips? Maybe (maybe) he could manage “ny thace,” but, you know, his speech should be impaired by not having a face.

        • For that matter, how does Joker deliver any of his lengthy monologues now that his lips are no longer attached to his mouth? Enough with the face-cutting, Bat-books, seriously. Why do they still think this is cool?

    • Oh man, don’t even try to impose a time line on this. It’s only gonna hurt your soul. I’m not totally clear even on what sort of time frame the Joker’s supposed to be in town. Again, Night of the Owls was clear (if still sorta wonky) in stating that all this happened on one night. And the reason the rest of the Batfamily was involved was that Batman couldnt’ be everywhere at once. HOWEVER, it seems like Joker CAN be everywhere at once.

      • I was thinking about this while reading the issue. After beating up/scaring off wannabes, Batman calls Gordon for a “pickup.” Like, why not just tell the cops to show up there ahead of time, while he busies himself with ACTUALLY PURSUING THE JOKER? He complains about having bigger fish to fry, and the GCPD is obviously equipped enough to take down street punks, so why waste his time? This issue essentially makes a point of calling attention to how low the stakes are. It’s basically confirming that when Batman isn’t fighting the Joker in Batman, he’s doing really boring stuff.

  4. Hey, Scott’s right: Layman never bothers to suggest that Rodney’s face is tattooed, which makes the idea of him cutting off his face all the more absurd. You see a character in clown makeup, YOU ASSUME IT’S MAKEUP. Even if we were along for the ride that Rodney had gotten face tattoos because he wasn’t fitting in (did we mention that Rodney is an idiot?), makeup could solve that problem pretty easily. Dude’s a moron. Come to think of it, maybe Rodney doesn’t even realize “Torch” is a reference to burning things.

    • FURTHER, he only cuts off the bottom half of his face, leaving all that white make up and the blue shit around his eyes. If anything, he now looks like he has huge red lips, which is still SUPER CLOWNY.

      • I know “it’s not even funny” is a stupid way to express degree, but I really feel like Rodney is so stupid, it’s kind of sobering. Seriously, I don’t think this kid can use a bathroom. I know some fruit flies that have never cut their own faces off.

  5. Pingback: Villain Month Guide: Part 1 – Batman | Retcon Punch

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