Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Anarky hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Just before the Convergence break there's clearly a lot going on in the Batman-verse -- Endgame in the main title, side-by-side with cosmic shenanigans in Batman and Robin, not to mention Batman Eternal reaching its apex. As is often the case, Detective Comics ends up the title with the least going on; on another day, Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's tale of an "Occupy Gotham" uprising might be notable, but in comparison it's downright tame. Nonetheless, following the last volume's equally "street level" tale, Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Anarky is enjoyable and well-paced, with an intriguing mystery at the center, and uses a couple of Bat-foes strongly. The writers continue their spotlight on Harvey Bullock, and the Bullock-centricness of this run might be its chief selling point.

[Review contains spoilers]

Buccellato and Manapul completely reimagine the concept of Alan Grant's Anarky Lonnie Machin here; there's an Anarky, but he's not Machin, and there's also Machin, but he's not Anarky. Neither fact concerned me, since I'm eager to see writers do their own thing in the (now-ended) New 52, and since the concept of a Purge-like anonymous crime spree in Gotham is quite riveting. It's even better that all turns out not to be what it seems and that Mad Hatter is sort-of behind it (or at least his technology); the writers certainly leave it open-ended that someone else, including Machin, could take on the guise of Anarky in the future.

The writers also demonstrate that Machin isn't in the story just for name recognition, as they create an entire backstory for him and also devote the entirety of the Detective Comics: Endgame special to him. That Machin has an untold past with Matches Malone was unexpected, and it's a story that begs to be told in a sequel -- which, with the writers leaving Detective shortly after this, probably won't happen, but it's fodder for other writers to play with. Buccellato's Endgame issue isn't especially notable except for starring Machin -- and, coincidentally I think, about half the cast of the post-Rebirth Detective Comics -- but that he gets center stage surely means something for the future (I also thought it was nicely against trope that Buccellato didn't give Machin a lot of angst for his mother working in a strip club).

But the real star of Buccellato and Manapul's Detective run so far has been Harvey Bullock; the writers take advantage of James Gordon's circumstances in Batman Eternal to bring Bullock to the forefront. Bullock's portrayal here as a good cop but a lonely guy is in line with work that John Layman did earlier in Detective; it's only unfortunate this story doesn't reference those earlier ones. It's also slightly disconcerting to see Bullock and Batman so much at odds here, given I can remember when they officially buried the hatchet some ten years and a continuity ago after Infinite Crisis, but it does give the character more depth than if he got along with Batman just like Gordon. Here, the writers put Bullock in an interesting situation where he has to lie for one of his few friends on the police force, which I thought demonstrated his character and loyalties well.

The book starts out with a two-part tale of Gotham airport on lockdown, "Terminal," by Benjamin Percy. It's a disaster thriller and mystery all-in-one, and Percy succeeds in creating heightened drama quickly; the story makes me very optimistic for Percy's Green Arrow: Rebirth work. John Paul Leon's artwork is wonderfully gritty, reminiscent of Michael Lark; Francis Manapul's art in the rest of the book is gorgeous as always, but Leon's short stint seems a better fit for an ongoing Batman artist.

Anarky uses some of the characters from the previous volume, Icarus, enough that this and the emphasis on Harvey Bullock makes the books feel of a piece without one or the other absolutely requiring one another for a full reading experience. Additionally the Futures End tie-in here (though again unrelated to Futures End itself) is a callback to the twisty way the writers threaded Calendar Man Julian Day through Icarus, again to tie the books together in subtle ways.

The end of Detective Comics Vol. 7: Anarky plus the Futures End issue actually makes it feel like Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's Detective run is coming to an end, which it isn't, though there's less than a whole book left and also Manapul won't be on the art any more. Though their run was brief, Buccellato and Manapul are favorites from Flash and they demonstrated they can deliver engaging work on Batman; I'd be happy to see one or both back on a DC book some time in the future.
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