Review: Batman: Death in the City trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

[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!
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6 comments:

  1. I hope you have not paid for the wonder woman hardcover because that story was really very disspointing, despite the nice art. Not to mention the fact that it leads into the awful and confused "Amazons Attack" about which, the less said, the better:)

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  2. I have to say I really enjoy your reviews and find that I agree with you on many of them.

    One friendly criticism I have is that your reviews are mostly positive, whereas I think the real value of a review is to also bring out the negatives so others can make up their mind.

    Still, it doesn't make me enjoy your blog any less, so thanks for the time you put into it!

    By the way, have you considered reviewing Marvel Trades as well?

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  3. I was surprised that I dug this volume. The first Dini trade left me cold as the villians seemed mostly second-rate...good one with Joker, poor with the couple of newly created badguys...

    Death in the City, on the other hand, worked really well for me, especially the pairing with Zatana - hopefully things can move past the Identity Crisis darkness and back into something a little less psychodramatic.

    The Joker as Loxias reveal got me, admittedly. And the rest of the tales held up well. It's refreshing to see the combination of mostly stand-alone stories but with a thread connecting them - the repeat appearances of the Riddler, the couple of appearances of the Ventriliquist (curious to see if Dini really is suggesting that the Dummy has a life of his own as opposed to the split personality that had always been the explanation.)

    And thanks for the birthday wishes...I've still got another couple of weeks 'til the big day, so you're in the clear with the wish.

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  4. Anon -- Yeah, paid for the Wonder Woman hardcover. Thought it had positives and negatives; you'll see on Monday. Starting to purchase less DC hardcovers, though; just can't afford it.

    dkazaz -- Good comment. I might address this in the main in a week or so.

    phs -- Yeah, I think Dini got the short-end of the villain stick; not that Morrison is playing with the biggie's, but I think there's a semi-unspoken idea in their runs that Batman defeated all his villains around Face the Face time. But as you say, Dini's doing well with Joker and the Ventriloquist, and then there's Riddler and Harley Quinn on the side of angels.

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  5. I hope they have a new printing of this tpb, it's currently out of print. Sucks being a new bat trade fan.

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  6. Wow -- I just checked and it does seem to be out of print. Only came out in 2007; that's amazing. Sometimes the printing/out-of-print system at DC confuses me; maybe they think this trade has lived its life and won't sell through another printing?

    ... That said, just because it's sold out from an online store doesn't mean you can't find it anywhere. I imagine there must still be local comics shops out there with a copy on their shelves. Hey stores, does anyone have a copy?

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