Detective Comics, Vol. 1: Faces of Death
I’m glad I waited to read Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics before writing up a full review of the Batman books, because initially I was going to include a section on some of the awkward dialogue found in Peter Tomasi’s over-earnest but generally entertaining Batman & Robin. But then I got through Daniels’ opening run, and…hoo-boy.
Let’s start with the positive. I’m always impressed by how much Daniels strives to improve his art. Since he debuted in the mid-90’s, he’s worked steadily, first at Image and then at DC, and you can really see him taking on different influences and trying to incorporate them into his own style. Here, he’s developed a hybrid of Frank Miller, Neil Adams and Jim Lee, and it mostly works (even though, as with most of the New 52, he’s done no favors by the overly busy costume redesign).
But as a writer, he’s far less adept. Clearly, he’s trying to channel both the tough-guy Miller narration AND the goofy thrills of Grant Morrison’s “All versions of Batman are valid” interpretation, but he lacks the requisite skill and it ends up coming off like bad karaoke.
For instance, he starts off much like Morrison did – mutilating the Joker. But for Morrison, it was part of his concept of the Joker as a guy constantly reinventing himself. Here it just comes off as “Something gross we can kick off the new book with.” (This doesn’t even pay off in Detective Comics, by the way – it’s reserved for the big moment in Snyder and Capullo’s superior Batman next month.)
It goes on in this ridiculous haphazard fashion, introducing a new villain called the Dollmaker who basically just skins people and makes masks that he sticks onto other mutilated people who are crazy and violent and for some random reason, super-strong. It’s a bad cover version of Morrison’s Professor Pyg, basically, substituting the psychedelic fairy-tale vibe of his Batman & Robin run with bland grotesquery.
Then there’s the second arc, where Batman goes to Penguin’s new island casino/resort off the coast of Gotham – where Penguin is just strolling about with his three hot-lady bodyguards, as well as a bunch of comical-looking new villains with names like The Gas Man and Mr. Combustible, who would be totally at home on the 60’s TV show, but are quickly ignored.
Throughout this entire run, Daniels basically takes for granted that the audience knows what to expect in a Batman comic, so he doesn’t do any of the legwork. His Batman is alternately an idiot (He crashes into so many rooms yell-asking, “WHERE IS SHE?” and “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM!” and “WHY?” that you wonder if “Shout Questions” should really be the primary tool in the World’s Greatest Detective’s toolbox), or goddamned omniscient, knowing things without giving the reader ANY INDICATION as to how he’s connected certain dots.
There are also a number of loose threads that I imagine will be picked up again, but they’re never capped off in any satisfying way, to let readers KNOW the story’s not done:
- The Joker face thing.
- Dollmaker gets helicoptered away by the Gotham Police, and there’s never another mention of it.
- We’re introduced to Hugo Strange’s son in a backup that’s not relevant to anything (and considering this is supposed to be for brand-new readers, exactly how would the concluding line, “I will make you what you were meant to be. The son of HUGO STRANGE” be met with anything other than, “OK, so?”).
- There’s a girl who may or may not be Dollmaker’s cousin who – completely inexplicably – is strong enough to punch the heads clean off of cops’ necks.
- A new character, Snakeskin, with the ability to change his face, is introduced with all the enthusiasm of, “Yeah, you know Clayface? He’s like Clayface. Anyway…”
- Who is also hooking up with a jujitzu expert/thief/assassin who is also the long-lost twin sister of Bruce Wayne’s new nosy-reporter-girlfriend, who is also the secret daughter of the mayor, who is vaguely corrupt.
That last point is a plotline that’s thrown up out of nowhere, and with no winking sense of how silly that is, no “Hey, we’re just having fun here, folks.” Daniels actually thinks you can just write that into a comic and have it be taken seriously.
(Another fine example of the level of craft on display here: A booby-trapped gun blows up in Snakeskin’s hand. The next panel, he is lying on the floor, covered in blood and MISSING THAT ARM. The end of the issue, he shows up to kill Chase. He pulls out a knife with that very arm. There is NO COMMENT ON THIS. And this can’t be chalked up to the artist and writer not communicating properly. They’re the SAME GUY.)
To top it all off though, there’s the dialogue. The groaners start on the first page (as you’ll see), but I wanted to give Daniels the benefit of the doubt: It’s just the first issue, he’s still finding the tone of the book, etc.
By issue seven I had to check on Wikipedia to make sure English was his first language.
So without further ado, the most awkward dialogue found in Tony Daniels’ Detective Comics:
“The fire is spreading like a book of matches.” That is nice first attempt at a simile, Batman, but maybe keep trying.
Batman: I’ve ALWAYS been in Gotham. I AM Gotham.
Gordon: And Gotham is a HELL HOLE. Always has been. Always will be.
Batman: Like HELL it will.
Yes, Batman. Like HELL it will be a HELL HOLE. Do you even listen to yourself?
Charlotte Rivers: Mmm. This worked out wonderfully. This might have to be my new tactic with you.
Bruce Wayne: Seeing that you’re clever as a fox, I can see that working.
Narration: “How can a person be practically untraceable one night and act like a bull in the proverbial china shop the next?”
Um, Batman? The bull is ALSO proverbial. “The PROVERBIAL bull in the china shop.” It’s like a package deal. Or, you don’t even need to mention proverbs at all, since you already indicated with the words “like a…” that you weren’t being literal. I know, you’re still trying to master similes, I won’t pressure you.
Narration: “The cables…they’re magnetically controlled! I can’t believe it…they’re MY design! The bad news is that Dollmaker must have a connection inside WayneCorp. The good news is that my demagnetizer is all I need to free myself.”
Let’s just stop here and point out three things. 1) This “WayneCorp connection” is never brought up again; 2) Apparently Bruce Wayne’s just designing magnetic cables at work and nobody’s curious about this? And 3) He just carries around a demagnetizer. I realize for Batman the victory is in the preparation, but that is about two steps away from the Bat-shark-repellent.
“The last time I met a police chopper, it was firing bullets at me. Tonight, it’s a sight for sore eyes.” Batman’s presumably referring to the gunship that was shooting at him at the start of Justice League 1, which took place five years before the events of this comic. Apparently Batman has not seen a police helicopter in 5 years. That’s a little weird.
Catwoman: This is Gotham City. Not Moscow. There’s an order here. A PECKING one. And you are worms that get pecked from dirt.
You know you’re Catwoman, not Bird-lady, right?
Batman’s narration (staring at a bathtub filled with red water): “When I see it, my hair stands on end. Looks like someone was taking a bath. A BLOODBATH.”
If you read that line and imagined David Caruso putting on sunglasses while saying it, you’re not alone.
Penguin: Gentlemen, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship! Wah-wah! One that’s as impenetrable as my steel vault! Wah!
Yes, that is how friendships are usually described. Why, just the other day I was telling someone how Braak and I have an impenetrable friendship.
Batman: That’ll keep you busy for a while.
Alfred: I’m afraid you’ve already given me enough to stay occupied…especially considering that “vampire” case file you have me investigating.
Batman: Those missing train passengers are our top priority, Alfred. There was so much BLOOD. (Hops off boat, swings away.)
It took me four or five readings of this exchange before I remembered Batman had also appeared that same month in I, Vampire. But until I realized that, this was BAFFLING. Had I missed a key plot point? What train? Were there pages missing? And…this is your TOP priority? You’ve got your butler doing the legwork on it. You’re hopping off to yell at the Penguin for a while on an unrelated case. I’d say it’s A priority. Not THE priority.
Chase: I will never be anyone’s victim. No one will have a say in my destiny except me. No one will ever hurt me –
Batman: You mean like your father? MAYOR HADY?
Chase: You – you don’t know what you’re talking about!
Batman: Twins separated at birth. I know the whole sordid tale.
Aaaand, we must stop again. Batman may know the whole sordid tale (and hey, real nice, Judgey McGee), but we the audience do not. In fact, over the course of seven issues of Bruce Wayne having a casual dating thing with Charlotte Rivers, there’s been LITERALLY no indication that she was the daughter of the mayor (who we have seen for exactly two pages in an unrelated scene). Moreover, Charlotte Rivers does not bear any particular resemblance to Jill Chase – neither of whom have the last name Hady, you may have noticed – so it’s not like we would’ve connected “twin sisters separated at birth.” Batman just throws that tidbit out there, like, “Oh, I’m sorry readers, you didn’t know about that? My bad, I can’t be bothered to keep you guys up on every little thing.”
NEXT UP: A review of those other Bat-books I completely forgot about as soon as I realized how bad this one was going to get.