Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Detective Comics 37, originally released December 3rd, 2014.
Mark: Of all the Batman movies, Batman Returns remains my favorite. It’s probably the darkest Batman film yet made (I mean, it opens with parents throwing their baby in the sewer. Opens!), but it also has a sense of humor and style that the oppressively serious Christopher Nolan adaptations lack. One of the things that makes the movie pop is the decision to set the action at Christmastime. Even all lit up for the holidays there’s no place as terrible as Gotham City, and that contrast adds a dark mirth to the proceedings. With the holiday season once again upon us, it’s the perfect time to revisit Gotham at Christmas. After a two month airport diversion, creative team Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul are back and Detective Comics 37 jumps us right into the thick of Gotham on Christmas Eve. Guess what? Things are not great.
The issue opens with a mysterious person, wearing a jacket emblazoned with the letter A, setting Wayne Enterprises’ employee Jeb Lester on fire and kicking him out a window. We later learn that Lester is potentially involved in a human trafficking ring. There’s a new vigilante in Gotham, but as the cover tells us, one that promises to bring chaos to Gotham where Batman brings order.
Meanwhile, in the months since the events of Detective Comics 34, Bullock continues to obsess over and investigate the anarchy graffiti symbols appearing all over Gotham. It’s been a particularly awful year in Gotham, with
617 618 murders so far and he’s ready to bring things to a close.
No such luck, as he and Nancy Yip are called to investigate the murder scene at Wayne Tower. There they learn that in addition to the death of an employee, Wayne Enterprise’s computer system is under attack. Batman appears on the scene just in time to let everyone know that, as a final Christmas present, the attacker has turned Wayne Enterprises’ smart office technology against them and the building is poised to explode. As the employees try to evacuate, they find the doors are locked. The issue closes with explosions rocking Wayne Tower, forming a giant “A” on the facade.
It’s a pretty thrilling cliffhanger, and I’m feeling pretty hopeful about this new arc of Detective Comics. I didn’t love Buccellato and Manapul’s previous arc, “Icarus”. I always appreciate seeing the World’s Greatest Detective do real detective work (and despite what his mug says, I’m not talking about Bullock), but ultimately I found the story confusing, kind of inert, and suffering from the lack of an interesting Big Bad. Hopefully this new foe will pose a suitable threat to Batman and Gotham. He or she certainly cuts an imposing figure.
I especially like the detail of the killer’s reflection in the shattered glass as Lester breaks through the window.
I didn’t mention it in the summary of the main action, but Batman’s confrontation with the Mad Hatter at the beginning of the issue is a nice action set piece. I always appreciate seeing the Mad Hatter (for some reason I’ve always taken a shine to him), I’m just not sure yet if it’s a mere digression or has larger story implications. Are the skulls found under the ice more victims of the Mad Hatter or will they tie in with the human trafficking story?
Whatever one thinks of their storytelling, I don’t think there’s any disagreement that Buccellato and Manapul’s artwork on Detective Comics has been a highlight of the DC stable. This issue is no different and the art, particularly the coloring, continues to stun. They favor a brighter palette of blues and pinks that reminds me a bit of Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia’s work on the similarly great Batman. Such a vibrant pink is a color we don’t see very often in comics, and especially not in many Batman books. Gotham is a brutal place, but in the pages of Detective Comics it’s not ugly.
Even though I ended up feeling pretty down on “Icarus”, I’m willing to give Buccellato and Manapul the benefit of the doubt here. There are a lot of pieces in place for them to really knock it out of the park, and I’m hoping Anarky gives them an opportunity to elevate the story to the level of their art.
Drew, if I remember right you weren’t really feeling “Icarus” by the end either. Did this start give you hope going forward?
Drew: This is definitely a promising start for a new arc. I think my problems with “Icarus” was just how long it was, so I suppose I can’t really comment yet on whether this arc will have the same issues, I was struck by the other ways this issue was different from “Icarus.”
I first got to know the Manapul/Buccellato creative team on The Flash, where the storytelling was, well, flashy. I fell in love with the thematic richness, narrative density, and jaw-dropping art. More than anything, though, I think I appreciated just how well-suited these guys were for the scarlet speedster; their layouts crackled with kinetic energy, and their stories were brisk and packed with event — like reading a regular comic in fast-forward. There was also a sense of joy and optimism that is still pretty rare in DC’s output, which only distinguished their run further. All of this made me love their Flash, but it also made me a little apprehensive about them taking on Detective Comics. I love Batman, and I love this creative team, but would I love them together?
Detective Comics 30 put my fears to rest, though largely by finding the common ground between these two series, dropping Batman in a chase sequence that made full use of the skills Manapul and Buccellato honed on The Flash. Unfortunately, the common ground approach saw some rapidly diminishing returns, as they were torn between flexing their high-speed muscles and really digging into the slow, methodical pace of a detective procedural. “Icarus” was a bit of a transition arc in that way; a chance for them to reorient themselves in the very different storytelling world of Gotham.
On the other side of that transition, though, is this issue, which feels almost nothing like their run of The Flash. Gone are the flashy layouts and chase sequences, replaced instead with the time- and space-specific atmosphere of Gotham at Christmas. I was particularly struck by the cast shadows in Bullock’s office, an appropriately noirish affect that both Manapul and Buccellato make sing.
It’s certainly not the most dynamic image in the issue, but in Gotham, that might not be as important as atmosphere.
Of course, this scene also emphasizes another important element of this run that materialized as “Icarus” developed — its focus on Bullock. Mark, I’m glad you mentioned the “world’s greatest detective” mug; while you’re totally right to see it as ironic, I think Buccellato and Manapul are also not-so-subtly reminding us that the series title is “Detective Comics”, so Bullock more than warrant some focus. Indeed, Batman is almost a background character in the back third of this issue, horning in on Bullock and Yip’s detective story, almost acting more as a convenient source of exposition than a hero.
Like I said, all of these things are decidedly different from The Flash, but I think this new approach is a much better fit for this series, giving it a much more distinct voice, even amongst the overstuffed crowd of Gotham books. Actually, this series may be more comfortably reflecting its own Bat-influences, as Manapul continues to mature his ink wash style (reminiscent of J.H. Williams III’s stellar run on Detective Comics), as well as bringing out some harder (possibly even pen) lines, strongly evoking Tim Sale’s notable Batman runs. Taken together, it provides a portrait of Gotham that is both unique and right at home with its siblings.
Like I’ve said, this issue isn’t much in the way of bombast, but it seems to be setting up a slow burn that will suit the characters beautifully. This creative team is one of the best out there when they’re in sync with the material, and this seems like a strong indication that they are. Oh, and it ends with a killer cliffhanger. I can’t wait to pick up the next issue.
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?