Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing Detective Comics 21, originally released June 5th, 2013.
Patrick: Ah, yes: Detective Comics. I believe we’ve dropped this title twice, a dubious honor it shares with Batwing. We keep coming back to the old girl because we’re tempted by a new creative team or a character that we like. I mean, it’s already Batman, so it’s got a better than average chance at entertaining me from the get-go. However, after checking in with it this month, I’m reminded of the list of reasons we put this title down in the first place. It’s not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, but it lacks so much of the DNA of a Batman story that it starts to feel like something else entirely.
Bruce Wayne is hosting a reception for the Prime Minister of Bhutan at Wayne Tower. Theoretically. In practice, he’s dressed up as Batman, patrolling the streets and making sure everything is safe for Prime Minister’s visit. Sure enough, he happens upon some thugs, but they’re suspiciously easy to beat-up: almost like someone sent them as a distraction… While we wait for that suspicion to never be confirmed, Harper Row and her brother Cullen are hanging out outside Wayne Tower. Harper — you’ll recall — works for Gotham City Public Works, and it’s her job to keep the power up and running during this event (which seems like kind of a weird assignment, but okay). While she’s working, she notices a mysterious woman, who might as well be cosplaying Assassin’s Creed, and determines that she might be (get this) an assassin.
Harper tails her and it turns out that, yup: Assassin. Alfred catches wind of this… somehow… and sends Batman to assist Harper. Bats is pretty capable when it comes to disarming assassins, but he’s thrown off his game when he recognizes the Shadow-Ninja-Assassin as Mio, the assistant to the sword-smith in the village Bruce trained in when he was younger. Also, they had had some kind of fling. Harper dissolves Penumbra’s shadow magic by shining a spot light on her and the Prime Minister of Bhutan is safe for another day!
This turns out to be an unreasonable expectation that I have for every issue of Detective Comics I’ve read in the New 52, but there’s very little in the way of detective work in this issue. In fact, when Alfred tries to bring up detective work, in the form of discussing finger print matches, Batman blows him off. And if there are any clues that lead either Alfred or Batman to Harper Row, I’ll be damned if I know what they are. Do they have a tracker on her? Is she bugged? Alfred’s monitoring the security footage around the tower, but by Batman’s own admission, there are “800 surveillance cameras across one acre and fifty-one stories” – that is a hell of a lot of information to comb through, but we’re made to believe that Alfred somehow turns this into usable information in five minutes. Five.
But then there’s the way Batman goes about solving his problems which also feel remarkably un-Batman-like. How does he confront Penumbra? By crashing his Batplane into the side of the goddamned building. You can’t put that thing on autopilot for a second and then sneak in there, buddy? And it’s not enough that he proceeds with reckless abandon, he also has to make some snarky little comment about how it’s no big deal. When he crashes into the tower he states “I’d planned on remodeling this floor anyway.” An ugly, cocky Batman has long been a part of Detective Comics, and it always rubs me the wrong way. It’s one thing for Bruce to understand the likelihood of his own victory when taking on a group of thugs, it’s another thing entirely to have him mock them in his voice over.
So, okay, that’s just me identifying the things I’ve never liked about this series. Why did we pick it up back? For Harper Row, of course. Last we saw her, Batman was telling her to back off, and he has since confiscated her crime-fightin’ tools. The purpose of this issue was to demonstrate that she’s still of value to Batman, even without whatever gadgets she had cobbled together. I liked seeing Harper identify a shady character in the crowd, even if she didn’t really need excellent powers of perception to spot the only person dressed like a supervillain. The conclusion is sorta crummy though – it’s like John Layman knew that she had electrical skills, but couldn’t for the life of him figure out how to make that a valuable skill set. So instead, he armed her with a spot light. She helps out, but literally anyone else could have done that. It rings false in the final pages when Batman tells her that she dun’ good – like he’s congratulating her for finding the ON switch.
Scott, this is sorta fun: your first issue writing with us was Detective Comics 0, and now we’ve come full circle. Were you excited to see Mio again or does that character’s identity not matter at all? Also, it looks like Ra’s al Ghul was pulling her strings, and while his issue-closing line of “assassins are one thing I will never be lacking” is too cheesy not to love, it certainly does deflate the impact of everything that came before it. Oh, and there was a Man-Bat back-up here too, which was fine, if overly familiar for anyone that’s read or watched any werewolf fiction ever.
Scott: That’s right Patrick, Detective Comics 0 was my first Retcon-Punch assignment, and because of that I probably had expectations for this issue that I shouldn’t have. For better or for worse, I have a certain sentimental attachment to this title. For me, reading this issue was a little bit like going back to visit your old high school, only to remember you didn’t like high school all that much. I remember Mio from the zero issue. I remember that she and Bruce had a relationship, that she betrayed Bruce, and that she died- basically I remember the details that are rehashed in the first few panels of this issue. She wasn’t a particularly fascinating or memorable character- in fact, I recall her role in the zero issue seeming a little too convenient- but her death did provide a quasi-impactful moment. A moment that is now completely undercut by the fact that she didn’t actually die and has turned into an assassin who remembers nothing of her past. Maybe Layman will make her into an interesting recurring character, but it’s an unnecessary tie-in. Why not just create a new character instead of reviving a forgettable character that no one has missed for the past nine months since we last saw her?
But we’re not reading this issue to find out what Mio’s been up to recently. Like Patrick said, we’re here for Harper. There’s been plenty of speculation that Harper could step in as the new Robin, and Bruce and Alfred are openly weighing that possibility by the end of the issue. Bruce is impressed by how smart she is- I guess because she figured out that light gets rid of shadows (there’s also that thing where, ya know, light creates shadows. But whatever, lets not get into all that.) Still, Bruce isn’t completely sold on Harper as a sidekick, and he ends up confusing matters even more by giving her incredibly mixed messages while returning her tools.
“Here’s your crime fighting stuff. But don’t fight crime! Ok, maybe fight a little crime. But don’t mess up!” Sheesh, Batman. What exactly do you want her to do? At this point, whether he offers her the gig or not, I’d say he’s accountable for whatever happens to her.
Patrick, you identified what I believe is the great fundamental flaw with this title: it features no actual detective work. This title is a huge missed opportunity in that respect. Regardless, Detective Comics holds a place in my heart, and even though it holds that place for reasons that have nothing to do with the content of the comics, I appreciate the chance to check in with this title again. I’m assuming it will be awhile before we have reason to visit Detective Comics again, but here’s hoping that, like Harper Row, it will eventually give us enough reason to believe in it that we’ll have to let it stick around.
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?