Shelby: I love magic tricks. Granted, I understand it’s not actually magic; I am an adult, after all. Even knowing it’s all just slight of hand, I still fall for it every time. Personally, I think the most effective illusions are the most simple; some quick misdirection, maybe some witty repartee, and suddenly there are three foam balls in my hand when I could have swore I started out with one. That’s one of the reasons I like Batman as much as I do; he’s got the fancy gadgets and whatnot, but at its core his act is one of illusion and misdirection. We look for what he leads us to believe is there, and gives us something completely different while our backs are turned. Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul have adopted a similar approach with Detective Comics, and it’s just as effective as any close-up magic I’ve seen.
With Jim Gordon locked away over in Batman Eternal, Bullock is working the Icarus case, and he’s pretty sure Bruce Wayne is hiding something. Never before has someone been so right and so wrong at the same time. The story splits between our two detectives as they work to find out who killed Elena Aguila and who is trying to get Icarus back on the streets of Gotham. Bullock hits a dead end when his two suspects in custody hit a dead end of their own.
Bruce has a little more luck; he goes undercover as a dealer looking to score some Icarus to sell. He manages to plant a bug on some big baddies, and only gets a little bit shot in the process. When he follows the dealers, he finds a shipping container of children, and a very large henchmen by the name of Sumo. A fight ensues, and eventually Sumo gives up a name we’ve heard before: The Squid.
I mentioned in my intro that Buccellato and Manapul are giving us certain expectations, and then showing us something else, but that’s only partially true. The reason they are as successful as they are at it is they take the time to give us exactly what we’d expect first. This story reads like so many other Batman stories, and I mean that as a good thing. Of course Bullock doesn’t trust Bruce at all. Obviously that’s Bruce in disguise trying to get intell. This is the kind of Batman story I grew up with; the World’s Greatest Detective, trying to solve the case before the well-meaning yet inept local cops muck it all up. It’s comforting without feeling like a tired re-hash. I firmly believe it’s the art that keeps this story feeling so fresh; that’s where we see things we don’t expect. I love the moment when Bruce first sees Sumo:
He’s trapped in a pitch-dark, tiny space. He lights the flares (the only illumination for the next couple pages), and is faced WITH A FEROCIOUS TIGER. Just kidding, it’s just a huge man with an equally huge tattoo, but for a second we the readers are just as confused and disoriented as Bruce. For the time it takes to turn the page, we don’t know what’s going on: is there really a tiger? that looks like the Icarus logo, is this a drug trip thing? has Bruce been dosed? Manapul and Booch are replicating Bruce’s environment for us so we can better experience the story. As these two fight, the layout is small, panicky panels. It’s claustrophobic and difficult to follow, just as the scene would be for the characters experiencing it. It’s gorgeous, and exceptionally clever.
My favorite moment, though, has got to be Bruce investigating Elena’s murder scene as the Batman. Booch and Manapul give us these pink inset panels, showing the scene as Bruce sees it playing out.
It’s a great visual representation of what would otherwise be a pretty boring scene: just Batman, lookin’ at stuff. But, to me, it’s a lot more; I’m a big fan of the Arkham games, I’ve got all three, and I think we’re looking at some good ol’ fashioned detective mode. In the game, it’s a special kind of vision you can turn on to scan for clues, bad guys, etc. I assume this has to be a reference to that, and I love to see other representations of Batman acknowledged like this. Manapul and Buccellato are recognizing that Batman does not exist in a vacuum without compromising their own interpretation of the character. So smart, and so beautiful: it’s one of the many reasons this title, though only two issues old under the new team, is such a treat. Scott, what did you think of this issue? It’s still a little light on plot; did that bother you at all, or was there enough intrigue in the plot we got to keep you satisfied?
Scott: It’s funny you mention this issue being light on plot — I really didn’t notice. I suppose it’s true, this mystery is developing rather slowly, but it’s a pace that feels natural to me. I think that’s intentional on Manapul and Buccellato’s part. They’re allowing the story to breathe, with Bruce systematically collecting evidence and piecing clues together. This is Detective Comics after all, and a good detective story needs time to develop. Shelby, like you mentioned, Man and Booch are putting us right in Bruce’s head, so we’re gathering information at the same rate he is, more or less. It makes for a less complex plot, but more rewarding reveals.
Shelby, I have to agree with you about the murder scene investigation being a major highlight of the issue. It’s a true moment of detective work, which is surprisingly rare in Batman stories. It’s fascinating to me just how quickly and thoroughly Bruce examines the area, spotting details like chemical residue on a tree that a less observant detective surely would look right past. I think Alfred also deserves some credit for always hanging right with Bruce, asking the pertinent questions without ever seeing what’s going on. If Bruce is the word’s greatest detective, Alfred’s gotta be top ten. Also, notice how Bruce is visible in those pink insets above, indicating that they are indeed projections from Bruce’s mind rather than flashbacks to actual events. A subtle but meaningful detail.
The other factor making the light plot a non-issue for me is the consistently outstanding art. It goes without saying at this point, but Manapul and Buccellato have a unique and incredibly dynamic artistic style that adds many, many layers to their stories.
There’s nothing better than a Man and Booch fight scene, and this issue’s climax is one of its best artistic beats. It’s a somewhat surreal moment in which Batman and Sumo fall to what seems like certain death, yet neither seems the least bit worried. The closeups show them completely focused in on each other, as if they’re wearing blinders, oblivious to the fact that they’re hurtling towards the ground. The wider shots, meanwhile, show the gravity (pun) of the situation. The artists use the height of the page to great effect while the slight angling of the panels directs the eyes downward. Nothing suggests Batman is going to come out on top of this exchange — until we see him quite literally on top of Sumo in the next panel — but we’re right there with him the entire way. The way Manapul and Buccellato are approaching this tile, I think we’re in for a lot of that.
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