Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Detective Comics 42, originally released July 1st, 2015.
Patrick: Creators on long-running comics are always trying to shake up the status quo. That can be exciting for fans, who love (or love to hate) seeing their favorite properties monkeyed with. And eventually, there’s always the added reward of the return of the original status quo — the status quo ante — which reinstates all our old standards. I try not to be a cynical reader, but sometimes I can’t escape the idea that characters are changed more or less arbitrarily in order to generate conversation and enthusiasm about a series. It’s not like this is bad — change means growth, and I’d love for superhero comics to embrace more growth — but the tendency to revert to a status quo ante makes any attempt at growth feel impotent. Bruce Wayne is dead. Sure. New status quo. He’ll be back. Status quo ante. But what about everyone caught in Batman’s periphery? They have to change too, but there’s nothing forcing them to change back. Detective Comics 42 hovers around this periphery, challenging and pushing characters that may actually be capable of growth.
Jim Gordon’s not doing such a hot job in the Bat-suit, even though his good buddies Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock are on the GCPD’s Batman Task Force. (I haven’t been throwing around that acronym yet, but I’d love to see Yip sporting a GCPDBTF hat.) Criminals see Batman’s extensive support team and determine that he’s more of a puzzle to be solved than a terrifying knight of justice, and La Morte have decided to target Batman specifically. The whole thing makes Batman appear impotent – an impotence that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato eventually ratchet up to 100%, as La Morte finds a way to shut down the suit entirely. All of this high-drama with Batman bookends the issue, but — and in all good sandwiches — you’ve got to go to the interior to find the meat.
Harvey took the spot on the team as a favor to his friend. Jim and Harvey have a cute exchange in the middle of the issue that blurs the line between Harvey trusting and believing in Batman and trusting and believing in Jim.
What does Harvey mean there? For Detective Bullock, the new status quo means having put his total faith in the Batman. And not in a I-trust-him-to-get-the-job-done-but-don’t-actually-trust-him kind of way, but in a real, genuine way – trust so powerful there’s no one else he trusts more.
Bullock has always been a principled cop, but he’s also a fan of the path of least resistance. In this very issue, he Montoya tries to get him to snitch on some of the crooked cops in his department, but Harvey spits back “What’s this have to do with anything? I’m doing my job.” Harvey knows that there’s no fighting institutionalized corruption on the force and he’s past of the point of even pretending to care about it. His principles point him inward, focusing on his own job instead.
That’s where the beauty of his new appointment really shines. As part of the Batman Task Force, Bullock has to fight to support something he implicitly believes in, but which is not working particularly well at the moment. The other cops — those same corrupt fuckers he used to be so good at ignoring — are cracking jokes at mission briefings about having to bail the Batman out of trouble. I love seeing Harvey being proud of something, because it makes him vulnerable, but it also makes him motivated in new ways. We don’t have a lot of context for the phone number he hands Montoya late in the issue, but it’s clear that he’s rolling over on some corrupt cop. This kind of justice is new to Harvey, so plays it off almost as well and Manapul and Buccellato do – in fact, if you’re not paying close attention, the moment could easily pass you buy.
This is a significant change in who Detective Harvey Bullock is, and it’s real growth that can’t be undone whenever Bruce comes back to life (or was never dead or whatever). It’s an important reminder that “status quo” isn’t universal – it’s referring to a single status, and these smaller changes can end up being more meaningful in the long run.
Michael! How are you digging this arc? It seems like we’re reading a lot of “New Batman learning the ropes” stories right now, so I hope you’re not already fatiguing on Jim-Bats. Also, can you help me clear up that scene where Bullock answers his phone, only to look back down and realize he’s got 11 missed calls? Harvey’s got two cell phones? Is that just a weird detail or am I missing something here?
Michael: That second cell phone is a bit of a headscratcher isn’t it? Well if we’ve learned anything from Breaking Bad, it’s that a second cell phone usually spells trouble. Here are a couple of theories of mine. Theory 1) The second cell phone belongs to Yip. Since we know that Yip is dirty and that Bullock himself will eventually find her out (as referenced in the DC Sneak Peak), could this be his first step to figuring out what Yip is up to? The only thing working against this theory is that the second cell phone was on Bullock’s side of the bed, not Yip’s. And since our cell phones are now an extension of our souls, it might be hard to believe that Yip would not be sleeping by hers; not to mention she’s a cop and should have it nearby. Theory 2) Harvey has got some jobs on the side – maybe cases that he is working off of the books. Harvey’s not a dirty cop, but he’s no schoolboy either so he might be the ideal choice to do some double-agent work with the seedier elements of Gotham City. But as Patrick already mentioned, Harvey doesn’t consider himself to be a snitch, so maybe not that one either.
I’m not exactly getting tired of Jim-Bats learning the ropes just yet. One thing I’ve liked about Buccellato and Manupal’s Detective Comics is when that it’s typically not just Batman by another name. The meat of the issue is Bullock’s struggles with the world changing around him – that’s the most interesting stuff in Detective Comics 42. Having Batman be a cop like Gordon allows the creative team to play with the GCPD a little more and give some additional face time to Bullock, Montoya and Yip. Jim stumbling in ways that Bruce wouldn’t provides us with different avenues of Bat-stories. Before he disappeared Bruce was at the top of his game as Batman, so he wouldn’t have little slip-ups like his tech malfunctioning. This is a reminder that Jim isn’t Bruce, but it’s also a reminder that Jim doesn’t have the same resources as Bruce. The RoboBat suit isn’t Wayne Tech – carefully crafted to Bruce’s satisfaction, it’s a product of Powers tech division. Besides Julia being on the Batman Task Force, Gordon isn’t really working with people who know how to operate as Batman does.
Bullock’s resistance/reluctance to the new Batman/GCPD status quo is a very interesting plot point that brings a lot of different relationship dynamics to mind. Bullock has always looked up to Gordon as a father figure or older brother. Now that Gordon’s under the cowl he’s become the rookie that Bullock has to look out for; Bullock’s the big brother now. And since Bullock doesn’t completely believe in the idea of Batman, Gordon has kind of become the annoying little brother that Bullock has no choice but to love and protect. When the cops snicker about having to save Batman, they’re basically the bullies in the lunchroom that Bullock really doesn’t want to have to deal with. Bullock doesn’t want to have to stand up for Gordon and most definitely doesn’t want to stand up for Gordon; it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing for him. Both Batman and Bullock have traditionally been rebels but now they both have to fall in line and be company men. With Gordon in the rookie position, Bullock has now also become the father figure. Bullock loves his son Gordon but he’s not 100% comfortable with him being Batman. It’s just like any parent struggling with the cognitive dissonance that the child they love has grown up and become something they might not approve of. Gordon’s come out of the closet to Bullock and Bullock is still having a hard time processing it. It’s almost easier for Bullock to continue thinking of Gordon and Batman as separate individuals.
I’m interested to continue watching these subtle shifts in Bullock’s character and see where they lead him. What if he became so much of a team player that he was the top cop some day? Commissioner Harvey Bullock? It’s kind of an absurd idea but as Patrick noted, Bullock might be the right character to have smaller changes steadily affect him. After all, Renee Montoya didn’t turn into the awesome lesbian badass we know and love overnight – sometimes that kind of progression takes years upon years.
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?