In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Detective Comics #938
Writer: James Tynion IV
Penciller: Alvaro Martinez
Inker: Raul Fernandez
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Kyle Pinion: Well, Alex, it took about five issues or however many this has been, I can’t even keep up anymore to be honest, but I think I’m finally getting into the vibe of Tynion’s work on Detective Comics. Back when we were reviewing this at the outset of the series renumbering, I had some real trouble with Tynion’s tendency to over-do it with his dialogue in a way that felt like he needed to overcorrect for DC’s relative mishandling of quite a few of these characters (Tim and Kathy specifically). That on top of what seemed like another mysterious bad guy at the front of another mysterious organization, I felt like I was already exhausted with this plotline the first time he produced it with Batman Eternal and its sequel series.
Luckily, when we hit the third issue, which we didn’t cover here, we came upon the big twist of the run thus far, which established Col. Kane (Kathy’s dad) as the big bad of the series with a reasoning that didn’t totally seem like it was out of left-field. Since then, Tynion has pulled back some, being able to get past the sort-of introductory doldrums that marred the earlier issues – I tend to think first issues just aren’t his strong suit – and instead we have what’s turning into a pretty fun “base under siege” romp. Things get started with a nicely visualized flashback to Kathy as a child and Jacob’s attentive paternal love he has for her, all beautifully pulled together by Al Barrionuevo, doing a quick drop-in, with colors by Adriano Lucas. The transition back over into the Alvaro Martinez present day is impressive, echoing some of the mirroring of panels that Eddy Barrows was working with in the second issue. Sometimes it’s not the most subtle comic, but it’s an impressive looking one.
Everyone gets a nice little moment to shine, even Clayface, who is starting to pull of some rather fun Plastic Man-like feats. Though, readers will note, one of my biggest weaknesses is any and all references to Tim Drake’s long-history of Robin adventures and relationships. The return of Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong aka The General or TH3_G3N3R4L (I’m never typing that again), definitely transported me back to my long-past me Chuck Dixon Batman reading days. I like the new approach to one of my favorite Robin arch-nemeses. Making him a hacker/computing genius is probably the best possible way to bring that character into a more modern light.
This is quickly becoming a really fun, bog-standard Batman adventure. While I think it’s still probably the third-best Batman starring title currently, I think at this point that speaks to the quality of the line, rather than any deficiency within the comic itself. We’ve got a great bad guy, beautiful art, well-paced action and the return of some characters to prominence that I’ve long missed. Heck, even the League of Shadows, which I don’t know if that term has ever been used in a DC comics before, gets name-dropped again. Alex, what did you think of our return trip to this series?
Alex Lu: All I can say is that I’m happy to be on this journey with you, Kyle. I’m glad you’re finally on board. Like I’ve mentioned before, Tynion’s and Martinez’s current run on Detective Comics echoes Batman Eternal in a lot of ways. Mainly, while neither of these books are necessarily revelatory philosophical pieces, they take the reader on a wild ride. Detective Comics #938 is a fun comic and that goes a long way to making it a great one.
As you discussed, Clayface’s role in this story has been a huge breather for me. While I appreciate the more menacing takes he’s gotten in the past, I like him a lot more here as a tragi-comedic character whose main goal in life is really just to be loved. He’s become a core part of this new Bat-team in very unexpected way, getting them in and out of sticky situations with his amorphous body. His constantly shifting form gives Martinez the opportunity to pull off some neat visual gags including having Clayface extend his arms into blades and later transform his entire body into a bridge. He and Batman even have a darkly humorous moment as he describes smashing the faux-Batman marines the Bat Squad is facing off against as “cathartic” before he realizes Batman is looking up at him. Clayface is forced to apologize with a slightly terrified look on his face. “No offense. Sir.”
These moments of shared history between the members of the team are perhaps the main draw for Detective Comics. While a new reader can easily get a handle of the role of each character– Batman and Batwoman as co-commanders, Clayface as the multi-tool, Red Robin as the hacker, Spoiler as the rogue, and Orphan as the muscle– their interactions with one another enrich the series greatly for fans who have been following the Bat-line of DC comics since the New 52. I particularly enjoyed the playfully antagonistic interaction between Spoiler and Red Robin as well as the actively traumatic relationship between Kate Kane and her father.
Interestingly, despite my earlier words about this series not being a particularly philosophical one, Tynion is digging at a powerfully relevant moral question in this story. At the end of the issue, Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong shows Colonel Kane an army of weaponized drones he has secretly been working on. With the bat-marines thoroughly bested by the Bat Squad, Colonel Kane is forced to make a difficult decision about whether it is better to kill hundreds of suspected League of Shadows sleeper agents or spare them all in fear that they may kill innocent people. It’s not a new moral conundrum by any stretch– the US military has conducted more than one drone strike that resulted in innocent casualties in the names of quelling a potential threat. It was recently the plot of a powerful movie, Eye in the Sky. However, it’s interesting to see the question tackled in a Batman book in a way that not only challenges the reader, but also truly moves Kate Kane’s character forward in a big way.
Obviously this book is not called Batwoman but in some ways it might as well be. Kate’s story is easily the focal point of this arc and the creative team has knocked it out of the park with her character. Is there anything on your mind as we head into what will likely be the conclusion of this arc of Detective Comics, Kyle? Do you believe in the League of Shadows?
Kyle: If I had one little nit-pick to make, it would be that the end-conflict and the moral dilemma echoes a lot of what we already saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all the way down to flying objects eliminating these threats before they come into existence or are aware of their potential. I understand it’s a well-used trope, and the moral question about surveillance and profiling of subjects is a relevant one that we’re still tackling today. It’s a major point of debate in the current election cycle. While I think the delivery feels a bit borrowed (which again is my sort of ongoing issue with Tynion written comics), I’m happy to see it addressed at all and to have Batman on a different side of the issue altogether than his days of creating Brother Eye and his key role in the O.M.A.C. Project. Batman is often the authoritarian, with contingency plans of all types, though he’s regularly placed in a hypocritical position where he then in turn has to deal with more tyrannical figures and disavows and battles against their proposed actions. One of the beautiful bits of the New 52 relaunch is that DC (and Tynion) have leeway in terms of what still counts and what doesn’t with this character, so some of that inherent character conflict is a bit softened as far as current continuity goes.
As for The League of Shadows? Oh yeah, it definitely exists, and I think the question of “well, damn, perhaps we should have let my father do this” will be something that will cause a serious rift between Bruce and Kate, if I had to predict where this is going anyway. Layers and layers to peel through here, I like it, I like where this book is going. Good job Tynion!
Alex: Indeed, great job to the entire creative team on this book. It’s one of the most consistently fun and beautiful rides to come out of the Rebirth lineup!
Final Verdict: Buy