Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Detective Comics 50, originally released March 9th, 2016.
Mark: Well…huh. Is that all there is?
Writing a mystery story in any medium is an unenviable task. It’s basically impossible to nail the landing. For my money, the ideal solution to any mystery is both surprising and logical. Once the solution is revealed, the audience wants to see that the answer was hiding in plain sight all along. Writing a satisfying conclusion like that is nearly impossible. It’s why when something like The Sixth Sense comes along it is so successful. But M. Night Shyamalan learned the wrong lesson from its success, thinking that audiences craved a “GOT YA” ending. And it’s why his other films that attempted a twist failed. Sure, the twists are surprising…but they’re meaningless and add no additional understanding to what came before. So after two (and a half) strong issues of Peter J. Tomasi’s Detective Comics mystery, we reach the end of The Bronze Age arc and, again, I ask: is that all there is?
Am I crazy or does it not seem like this was all leading to something more? Previous issues have hinted at the mysterious killer’s connection to Jim Gordon or Gotham’s past. Even the beginning of the issue hints at something larger thematically.
Tomasi is invoking real life heroes here. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment? That’s pretty heavy.
My biggest hang-up with the current Batman status quo is that we never got a full understanding of what makes Gordon unique as Batman, other than the fact that he’s a regular cop. That’s an interesting enough beginning point, I guess. But it’s never gone any deeper than that which is such a missed opportunity. Surely, I thought, we’re finally going to learn something more about Gordon’s Batman. But in the end it all adds up to nothing. Our killer is a nameless crazy person, motivated only by his craziness. It turns out the inconsistencies is his methodology that Michael and Drew discussed last issue were just that — inconsistencies. Which, honestly, in a normal comic book arc is about what you expect. But when you set up the illusion as strongly as Tomasi did in the first two issues, readers trust that this is going somewhere great, that the payoff to be worth it. Oops.
This all feels wrong, like this was a larger arc that got truncated for editorial reasons and Tomasi had to scramble to wrap it up sooner than anticipated. There was so much care put into the beginning, and seemingly so little thought put into the end. I mean, what a bummer that this arc is resolved by us watching the villain be punched real hard. Remember at the start of this issue when we were talking about “people who sacrificed their lives for ideas bigger than themselves?” Is that what Gordon’s doing here? What grand idea, other than nebulous “justice,” is Gordon protecting here? There isn’t one.
Ultimately that’s what makes Detective Comics 50 so disappointing. The reveal to this seemingly intricate story turns out to be neither surprising (nothing unusual about a random psychopath in Gotham) or particularly logical (is there anything in previous issues pointing to the killer doing all of this in an effort to stave off the what he perceives as the impending resurrection of Satan?). But if it fails as a mystery, does it at least succeed in illuminating more about Gordon’s character? Again, no. Which, for me anyway, is even more disappointing since the promise of the initial issue was that we’d learn more about what makes Gordon-as-Batman tick. We do get a dire “Dark Knight” joke, though.
Michael, I’m curious to hear if you have a more positive take on things. I feel like such a parent right now: Not mad, just disappointed. You?
Michael: Mark my friend, you and I are on the same page as far as Detective Comics 50 and Jim Gordon’s tenure as Batman goes; I was disappointed as well. In our write-up of Detective Comics 49, Drew hypothesized that the serial killer of “The Bronze Age” might turn out to be someone linked with Jim Gordon personally — maybe even his own son James Jr. Though the historical nature of the killings might’ve been a little out of character for what we know about James Jr., I really liked that idea. But alas, we didn’t get that personal touch.
The conversation about Jim replacing Bruce Wayne often lends itself to comparisons of Dick Grayson replacing Bruce Wayne — especially since that was relatively recent. At that particular moment in time, all of the Bat-titles really zeroed in on what made Dick-Batman different from Bruce-Batman. I honestly don’t believe that that same effort has been made to highlight Jim Gordon’s differences. In Batman, Scott Snyder has focused heavily on the myth of Batman and what that means, but hasn’t given much attention to Gordon himself. As for the other Bat-titles, the creators seem to have a focus on how other DC characters react to a new Batman — not the other way around. All of this is to say that it would’ve been a step in the right direction to have Gordon wind up in a Bat-caper tailored just for him. I suppose you could argue that Mr. Bloom is kinda/sorta doing that but I digress.
The Joker is Batman’s most personal and deadly foe. And while every hero doesn’t exactly need a yang to their yin, I guess that’s kind of what I was building towards — a villain that knows Jim Gordon and can rattle his cage. I actually thought of the Joker a couple of times when I was reading Detective Comics 50. The notion of a villain being evil because he’s “insane” is a very popular one in stories like this, but the challenge for the writer is justifying that insanity. The Joker himself is a character whose madness goes undefined — which is intentional — but not everyone can be the Joker. Part of that mystery payoff that Mark was talking about lies in the reader being able to find the method in the killer’s madness; to be the detective along with Batman. The first two chapters of “The Bronze Age” had us steadily building a pattern for the mindset of this history-inspired killer. However, the curtailed conclusion of Detective Comics 50 seems to be content with simply writing off the killer as crazy for craziness’ sake. The sharp left turn from history into path of the righteous really rings untrue. The previous two chapters don’t logically lead to this “fight the devil” climax whatsoever.
Also like Mark, I feel like the “Bronze Age” might’ve gotten its legs cut off a bit. This is where the messiness of comic book continuity and crossovers comes into play. Tomasi spent his first two issues on a forgettable Justice League story, followed by a “Robin War” tie-in and after Detective Comics 50 he’ll have just two issues left before the whole “Rebirth” thing goes down. Tomasi is no rube when it comes to this sort of editorial conjunction, but it does seem like he could’ve scrapped one of those prior stories and devoted an additional (perhaps more satisfying) chapter to “The Bronze Age.”
Since it is a #50 issue, DC of course uses that as an excuse to make it extra-sized. Instead of a giving “The Bronze Age” a longer conclusion however, the extra dollar goes to a Batman anniversary tale called “The 11 Curious Cases of Batman.” It’s a day-in-the-life short story that has big name artists recreate/reinterpret classic Batman covers in the 11 allotted pages. It was clear to me that the idea was a cover homage, but I didn’t immediately recognize what the artists were referencing. With that in mind, I appreciated the little “cheat sheet” credits page that listed the artists and images of the original covers.
I’m not exactly on board with the whole bloated “milestone issue” thing, but this was a fun device to throw in there. I wasn’t a fan of Tomasi’s characterizing of Batman here however. Clearly, the point of the story is “Batman’s life be crazy,” but the manner of speech Batman was using felt off to me. It’s kind of like Batman is resorting to name calling when he’s describing the “spooks, goblins and freaks” that he encounters every night. That might be nitpicky, but overall Detective Comics 50 was encouraging me to pick nits.
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