[This review contains spoilers for Batman: Death in the City.]
Paul Dini knocks it out of the park again with Batman: Death in the City, the second volume in his continuing run on Detective Comics.
I'd venture that no one else in comics, at least not in the DC Universe, is doing what Dini is doing right now on Detective: a series of done-in-one (or two) stories that are continuity-rich enough both within itself and with the DCU as a whole to appeal to regular fans, but self-contained enough that any casual reader could pick them up. I would defy other writers to try the same with additional DC characters -- a series with the same sensibilities as Detective, starring Superman, would be nothing less than awesome.
As with Dini's previous volume, Batman: Detective, Death in the City closes with a Joker story, and it's the most powerful of the lot. Not only does Dini easily capture the Joker's horrifying, violent nature, but he also ties up well a loose end between Batman and the magician Zatanna.
In our post-Infinite Crisis era of the kinder, gentler Batman, the Dark Knight's forgiveness of Zatanna for the events of Identity Crisis might simply be implied. Dini, however, addresses the issue head-on, taking Batman and Zatanna through a couple of almost-romantic sequences that bring to the DC Universe the childhood friendship between Bruce Wayne and the magician, previously shown in the animated Batman cartoons. Though the terms of Batman's forgiveness seem a little easy -- he was mad at Zatanna, but then she gets shot by the Joker and Batman realizes life's too short -- I like the relationship between these two characters, and I'm glad Dini was able to (re-)establish it.
The other stories in Death in the City range from whodunits similar to those in Detective, to more straightforward tales of Batman and his villains, as with the stories about the new Ventriloquist and Harley Quinn. I wasn't happy that the Ventriloquist got killed off so soon after Infinite Crisis (letting alone the KGBeast!) as I have trouble believing that DC will leave dead the most recognizable iteration of this Batman villain, but I am curious about Scarface's new "partner." Dini plays up some of the supernatural aspects of Scarface, and it's interesting to think that the new Ventriloquist may not be the one in control.
Later, Dini deals with a reformed Harley Quinn -- this series already spotlights a reformed Riddler, and while the stories are interesting, I'm again skeptical that the changes made here will last; in that way I might prefer to see Batman match wits with the Riddler and Harley Quinn than team-up with them, but the stories are entertaining nonetheless.
Death in the City improves on a couple rough spots found in Detective. For one, the book includes just a couple artists, balancing out the main stories by Don Kramer, and the depiction of the characters is far more consistent than in Detective. For another, while Dini still mainly just plays with a small corner of the Batman universe, there's a great amount of continuity between the stories, with the Riddler and the new Ventriloquist appearing in multiple episodes. Dini also brings back the magician Ivar Loxias and Bruce Wayne's friend Matthew Atkins, providing nice ties to the first volume.
[Contains full covers.]
I've finally completed my collection of Marc Andreyko's Manhunter trade paperbacks (Manhunter fans, unite!), so I'm going to turn there next, with a stopover first for Allen Heinberg's Wonder Woman hardcover. See you then!