Mark: It took me a long while to decide what it was I really wanted to do in life. About two years ago I packed up everything that would fit in my car and moved to Los Angeles without a job and without knowing anyone. Ever since then, like Sonic the Hedgehog, I’ve felt the need to go fast. In some ways I feel far behind my peers, and I try to work double to make up for lost time. The sad reality, of course, is that you can’t make up time.
Detective Comics 36 wraps up a two-part story, Terminal, by the guest creative team of writer Benjamin Percy and penciler John Paul Leon. The set up is a familiar mystery thriller trope: a passenger jet lands at Gotham International Airport and careens into the terminal, crew unresponsive. When Batman and the airport’s Chief of Police board the plane, they find everyone onboard is dead and their flesh decayed. What could have killed them?
The airport is quickly quarantined, and we learn that scientist turned eco-terrorist Magnus Magnuson (great name, Mom and Pop Magnuson!) has created and released an organic matter destroying contagion as a way to blackmail the US into removing all of its troops from the Middle East. Batman and the airport’s Chief of Police become infected the moment they step onto the plane and shortly after their bodies begin to deteriorate from the inside. With little time, Batman must find a cure.
The specters of death and war permeate the Gotham portions of Detective Comics 36. The bodies on the plane are rotting corpses, the contagion is carried in the coffin of a soldier who died in combat, the airport’s police chief is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, and, in contrast with most stories in the New 52, Batman is shown as an old man nearing the end of his career. The world feels weary and ready to surrender to decay.
Since Batman doesn’t get to do much ass-kicking, he’s given an assist in that department by none other than Dick Grayson. On assignment with Spyral in Belarus, Grayson receives a call from his old mentor asking for help retrieving information on Magnuson’s whereabouts.
The contrast between young and old in this issue is illustrated by the cuts back and forth to Dick Grayson’s adventures in Belarus. Here the exuberance and vitality of youth are on full display: the punk kids looking to get into Club Hell, Grayson’s sexually charged encounter with the club’s proprietor, the proprietor’s carpe diem attitude and casual disregard for the millions of lives at stake (DC has really been leaning hard into Grayson’s reputation as comics’ sexiest man, and it’s put to fine use here). At one point early in the issue, Dick even goes so far as to tell the informant from who he’s extracting information, “Don’t call me ‘Kid.'”
The colors by Leon and Dave Stewart change throughout the issue to reflect this clash as well. Where the airport is draped in a muted palette of earth tones, Grayson’s time at Club Hell is punctuated by a passionate red.
In the end, it’s revealed that Magnuson has been in the airport all along, disguised in a containment suit. For a brief moment as they fight, Magnuson overpowers Batman (note the color of Magnuson’s hair).
And while his body may be weaker, Batman’s gadgets still have the benefit of Bruce Wayne’s money. He incapacitates Magnuson with an electrical shock and extracts a sample of Magnuson’s blood to create an antidote. Here again is that bright red color, the issue’s symbol of youth and life.
What’d you think, Ryan? Did this brief Detective Comics interlude work for you?
Ryan: First and foremost: happy early birthday, Mark! Regarding the comic: this interlude departs (no airport pun intended) drastically from the last arc of Detective Comics. Before the macabre airplane pulled into the terminal, we last saw Batman engaging in spectacular fisticuffs with Harvey Bullock, a bike-gang leader, and a giant squid, resuscitating Batman’s tumultuous history with sea fauna:
We transition from dustups and fisticuffs in the Icarus arc over to a more cerebral and ponderous Terminal. Out of the elements Percy and Leon throw at us, Magnus Magnuson grabs the most attention from me. The antagonist feels, on one hand, crafted to be relevant to our current political climate. The simple fact that Magnus started his own NGO seems quite familiar in this world of lauded non-profits and start-ups, and the anxieties of the United States playing World Police and the necessity of withdrawing troops from the Middle East, as is the demand of the terrorist, remains a hot-button issue and large part of many-a political campaign.
On the other hand, the plot conceit of the villain as eco-terrorist threatening the world with a virus brought me right back to the popular literature of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The pre- and post-9/11 writers such as Tom Clancy in Rainbow Six (1998), Richard Preston in The Cobra Event (1998), and Alex Garland of 28 Days Later (2002) used millennial environmental concerns brought to the forefront of public view as organizations like the Sierra Club gained notoriety with publications such as their 1998 Sprawl Report and its corresponding “Challenge to Sprawl” campaign’s attempts to curb the negative impact of development on rural landscapes. Bioterror received its national spotlight in October and September of 2001 when five people died of anthrax-laced letters sent to the US Congress and several news media offices, not to mention the alleged dirty bomb plot which made headlines in 2002. In other words, while the villain received plenty of inspiration from tried-and-true motifs, it still worked in a very functional and interesting manner.
My complaints are two-fold and fairly innocuous. One can be seen in the panel which Mark provided earlier of Batman’s weakened fist being caught by the antagonist as the villain addresses the hero, in the form of characterization. Does every member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery get to call the Caped Crusader “Bats” now? I thought that was only a Joker thing. In my opinion, it should only be a Joker thing. Furthermore, someone named Magnus Magnuson sounds like he should never speak colloquially, and possibly never has. Also, I understand that bad guys, by repute, suffer from egoism; however:
The unbridled hubris necessary to jeopardize one’s own plot by being present at the scene of the crime boggles my mind. One short, sharp shock from Batman’s electric gauntlets and a prick from a syringe renders Magnuson’s plot null in a quick deus ex sanguine, as it were.
Secondly, Grayson accomplishes the majority of the leg work in this arc. Batman, realistically, does very little over the course of these two issues: he checks in with flight control tower, punches a hazmat guy, deduces the location of patient zero (or the “index case” as it’s known in the medical biz), and then apprehends the culprit. Dick carries the responsibility of oozing all of the sexuality and accruing the key information. I appreciate the fact that Batman was actively aging to death, and admit that establishing Grayson’s “I do things differently than Bruce and play by my own rules” shtick is fun to read, but still wish that Batman got to DO more to solve this mystery.
I always enjoy when different authors showcase the many parts of a superhero’s strengths, and it is a treat when the audience is reminded of what brought Batman to the dance: he’s the World’s Greatest Detective. With the title of the series being “Detective Comics”, this interlude brings us back from Icarus’s focus on fist fights and gang battles to an atmosphere staying truer to the appellation of the series. I look forward to seeing in which direction the writers take this series as we transition away from the guest creative team and how Grayson may keep playing an integral role in this comic, while also hoping to not be taken in by the NSA for all of the searching of terrorist plots I did for this review!
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?