Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Detective Comics 49, originally released February 3rd, 2016.
Michael: Jim Gordon has been Gotham’s Dark Knight since June and with Bruce descending into the Batcave in the pages of Batman, it seems that Gordon’s rooftop days are nearing their end. That kind of bums me out to be honest. While Snyder’s work on Gordon in Batman has been bombastic fun, I’m not sure that he’s had enough time to engage in the wide array of Batman capers. Enter Pete Tomasi’s three-part story arc: “The Bronze Age.”
Detective Comics 49 is the second chapter of the mystery where Gordon and Bullock are trying to catch a serial killer who has a penchant for world history. The issue opens with Gordon again arriving too late to the scene of this killer’s latest historically-themed murder. A man has been suffocated and flown up on a weather balloon for the nearby Gothamites to see. The man was dressed up to look like Alan Shepard — the first American in space. Bullock and Gordon try to establish a pattern of males who have accomplished historical firsts, which is quickly shot to hell when Gordon prevents the death of the killer’s next victim: a faux Joan of Arc. Gordon chooses to save the girl instead of catching the killer, who escapes. A Civil War “historical reenactment” closes out the book: the dead bodies of “Robert Gould Shaw” leading his “Union troops.”
So its probably a no-brainer that Gordon would have one of his more detective-y capers in Detective Comics, but its still a delightful surprise. In the history of comic-dom, we’ve probably seen Jim Gordon work a a mystery 50 bajillion times. Nevertheless, seeing Gordon work a case under the cowl is a quintessential part of being Batman that I don’t think has been properly explored just yet.
Is Bruce Wayne a better detective than Jim Gordon? I think that typically fans might answer that “The World’s Greatest Detective” is better than Gordon — if for no other reason than that he’s pathological. If Bruce has more of a detective in him, then Jim has at least a little more heart. I really enjoyed Pete Tomasi’s characterization of Jim in the opening book as he cut the victim’s body down. Chris Sotomayor cascades the Bat blimp’s yellow spotlight over the scene as Gordon lowers the body onto a rooftop, with the whole neighborhood watching. After he tells Julia to kill the lights, Gordon shuts down the whole production by shattering the spotlight with a batarang.
If police procedurals are a reflection of reality, then I imagine that Jim has been in this situation before: camera flashes disrupting the sanctity of a crime scene, begrudging police officers shooing them away. The difference here is that Jim is partially culpable in the spectacle of it all. Though he’s not operating in the huge robo-batsuit, Gordon is still a product of Geri Powers and her Batman initiative — he can’t really escape from the production of it all. Speaking of the robo-batsuit, I laugh with admiration at Tomasi’s loophole justifications for keeping Gordon out of the iron giant. For example: Julia mentions offhand how the “suit’s in the shop for diagnostics.” It’s a silly justification, which is why I laugh, but I am totally fine with him being out of the big suit. Having Gordon work a serial killer case in the big Robo-bat/bunny suit would be a very strange juxtaposition.
It’s nice to have Bullock and Gordon work a case together like this again. I’m not so sure about Bullock’s penchant for space history however. I feel like Tomasi threw a dart on who would be the resident “space geek” and it landed on ‘ol Harvey. I was also a little unnerved that Bullock would so casually put on the astronaut helmet that was so recently affixed to a dead man’s head — plastic bag barrier notwithstanding.
I like to try to follow along as a serial killer mystery progresses — trying to solve it myself along with the detectives. Besides the ability to Google a quote from the speech the serial killer said I came up dry. The speech the killer makes is from Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, which contains all of the letters written by Robert Gould Shaw to his family during the Civil War. Shaw was the commander of the first all-black regiment that fought for the Union. Those are the facts I know. I know nothing else.
Drew! Do you have any theories or thoughts on this killer’s M.O.? How did you like the issue as a whole? Do you think that Gordon’s days as Batman are at an end as they seem to be?
Drew: I suspect that Gordon will be out of the batsuit soon enough, but I think Tomasi has made a rather compelling case that Detective Comics doesn’t really need to be about Batman, anyway. I mean, sure, Gordon wears the suit for the entire issue, and benefits from all of the gadgets and gizmos that come with the gig, but those could easily be swapped out without substantially changing the narrative. This is a straightforward procedural that would work just as well if Gordon and Bullock were just two homicide detectives who caught this weird case. I suspect this series focus on Batman — whoever that Batman might be — is inevitable, but I had enough fun with these characters (and the detective-iness of it all) that I would gladly continue to read the adventures of Jim Gordon even after he returns to his civvies.
As for the killer, I’m really not sure what to make of his M.O. At first, I thought the bones he’s removing might be recreations of historical relics — I’d totally believe if one of Joan of Arc’s hand bones was being worshiped in a church some where — but that makes decidedly less sense for Alan Shepard. I’m similarly confused about the methods of death. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, so killing her avatar in the same way at least reflects some historical precedent. Alan Shepard, on the other hand, didn’t die of asphyxiation or in a space suit — he retired from NASA in the ’70s and passed away from leukemia at the age of 74. I suppose it’s harder to stage that death, but for all the effort this serial killer is putting in, you’d expect him to commit a little more to historical accuracy.
He’s similarly inconsistent in how he makes the victims resemble their respective historical figures. He shaves his Alan Shepard — a detail the dialogue here specifically calls attention to — and glues a mustache to his Robert Gould Shaw, but leaves his Joan of Arc with long hair, in spite of the fact that his mask clearly indicates that he thinks she had short hair.
I bring this up not to quibble with this detail (and I acknowledge that the decision not to change one character’s hairstyle between scenes might be totally practical), but to suggest that this inconsistency might betray something about our killer. Specifically, that this history stuff doesn’t really matter, and the bizarre details of the M.O. might be designed specifically to look crazy.
Why would someone do this? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m suspicious of the way artist Fernando Pasarin intentionally withholds the killer’s face.
There are certainly multiple reasons to keep the killer’s face hidden, but the most obvious one is that this is someone we’ll recognize, and Tomasi and Pasarin want to save that surprise to the end. There’s no player in the story it could really be, which makes me think it might be someone from Gordon’s past. Cards on the table: I think it might be James Gordon Jr., affecting an M.O. he doesn’t really care about just to play with ol’ dad. That would be a hell of a twist — and probably a long-shot — but it would explain the cageyness with his identity and the seemingly intentional inconsistencies with the victims.
My crackpot theories may not amount to much, but I think it speaks to the quality of this issue that I’m even trying to solve the mystery — the true benchmark of any good detective story. If Tomasi can maintain this procedural focus, I suppose I don’t really care who is under the cowl. At the same time, I’m inclined to agree with Michael about Gordon being a more empathetic Batman. That’s a characterization that Tomasi rights particularly well. I’ll hate to lose it (if we have to), but I’m determined to enjoy it while it lasts.
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I don’t know, there just seems to be a lack of spark to this current storyline. The killer seems like the kind of character you’d see in one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films; he’s obviously crazy and he’s got a gimmick, but he’s presented as “gritty” in a way that comes off as trying to be “realistic” way a comic book supervillain would act, and, while I think Nolan for the most part pulled that off, here it’s just kind of off putting. I’m not saying Batman villains can’t be dark, but this guy, whoever he is, is lacking in the hyperbolic flair of Two-Face, Man-Bat, or the Riddler.