Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: Blood of Heroes hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, March 13, 2017

As we've discussed many times before, the New 52 Detective Comics title has struggled for relevance in the shadow of Scott Snyder's top-selling Batman book. Detective has often been enjoyable especially as a writer spotlight -- Chew's John Layman's early issues, for instance -- but it's clear the momentum has been on Batman's side. Consider blockbusters "Death of the Family" or "Endgame" versus Detective's lesser "Gothtopia"; it's a trap that Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin only side-stepped in part through the fortuitous coincidence of Grant Morrison killing off Damian Wayne.

Possibly Detective has found its best formula here just before this iteration ends entirely, and that's to run toward instead of away from the big events of Snyder's Batman. Snyder's Superheavy reads complete on its own, but Brian Buccellato, Peter Tomasi, and Ray Fawkes's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: Blood of Heroes (and Grayson and just about every Bat-related "DC You" title) serves to tell those "what if" side stories, like "What if the new Batman joined the Justice League" and so on. It's hardly imperative, and in some respects calls into question the necessity of this title at all. But Blood of Heroes too is enjoyable, and feels more relevant at least for Detective to reference Batman than to tell its own stories that the other titles basically ignore.

[Review contains spoilers]

Writer Brian Buccellato covers an impressive amount in his final four issues of the series, both continuing his focus on Detective Harvey Bullock and reintroducing Renee Montoya, spinning a police procedural and a superhero story, and tying in to the "Batman: Superheavy" event. Across the breadth of the "Superheavy" tie-ins, it's interesting to see how other writers distill the grand event into their own stories; some of Buccellato's best moments are the seamless pairings of his Bullock and Montoya with Snyder's Julia "Perry" Pennyworth and Daryl Gutierrez from Snyder's side.

Obviously I'm glad to see Renee Montoya back on the page again, and indeed Buccellato's tale of police corruption and shady dealings is reminiscent of Gotham Central and such Bullock/Montoya stories as "Officer Down" (if not also Gotham; in Buccellato's Bullock's calling Jim Gordon "Jimbo," one can hear Donal Logue). That Buccellato uses Montoya at all is enough to forgive her blithe introduction and the loose continuity at play here. I'm not one to get caught up in minutiae and I appreciate the DC You era's emphasis on story over continuity-sense, but in the New 52 Batwoman series it was heavily implied that Montoya had died. Buccellato's use of Montoya would have been more satisfying if he could have addressed that, even establishing without much explanation that she'd been undercover. I believe James Tynion is using Montoya in the Rebirth Detective Comics and hopefully he'll take care of this.

The only part of Buccellato's "Reunion" story that felt off was his use of the Joker's Daughter. I get this sentiment that a robot Batman ought fight a robot Joker, but it was all a tad complicated for the purposes essentially of a joke. Joker's Daughter is one of those characters with such spare use that writers tend to slot her into anything, and I'm not even sure such a complex scheme even fits the character, letting alone matching her previous use in Suicide Squad or forthcoming use in Red Hood. In the majority of the story I enjoyed artist Fernando Blanco very much -- this kind of character-driven story is right for Blanco's detailed profiles and matches his earlier work on Phantom Stranger and even Marc Andreyko's Manhunter -- but his robot Joker scenes get loose and sketchy, underscoring this aspect's mis-fit in the book.

Peter Tomasi's two issues that follow are impressively multi-layered and weird themselves, spanning from a battle with F-15s over the skies of Gotham to Gordon standing watch over a cannibal alien baby as it dies. As well as Tomasi has written a cadre of DC's characters over more than the last decade, this range of emotion isn't surprising, though the eyeball-sucking prologue is among the goriest of Tomasi's gory repertoire (drawn well by Marcio Takara), and the final death scene is startling movingly in how much space Tomasi gives it. I also appreciated how Tomasi ducks a significant amount of angst other writers would have given these proceedings; when the League finds the amnesic Bruce Wayne's memories can't be saved, they simply leave him alone, and logically they're ready to induct Jim Gordon based on his reputation as a detective rather than treating him with derision or mistrust.

I appreciate DC Comics's efforts in collecting the Robin War crossover, in that one can read all of Robin War across various collections without having to purchase the dedicated trade itself. For those not keeping up, this volume also has a short "Previously ..." paragraph, which I also appreciated. Tonally, writer Ray Fawkes does well making this third chapter of Robin War feel of a piece in this volume, emphasizing Jim Gordon and with an appearance by Harvey Bullock, and using Gordon's first person narration from Snyder's Superheavy (as do Buccellato and Tomasi). Fawkes's issue, which pairs Gordon and Dick Grayson, was one of my favorites of Robin War, second to the Grayson issue proper. Artist Steve Pugh draws Dick and Gordon's interaction well; if any of this were continuing much longer, I wouldn't mind Pugh as another option on a Grayson-type book after Mikel Janin.

Again, in tying in to Superheavy, not to mention Robin War, Detective Comics Vol. 8: Blood of Heroes may have found its raison d'etre. There's no required reading here necessarily, but hey, it's Renee Montoya, and three well-regarded DC writers all contribute good work. I'm interested to see what Peter Tomasi does with Jim Gordon all on his own in the last New 52 volume.

[Includes original and variant covers]
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4 comments:

  1. What about Manapul's art?

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    1. Manapul only draws the "Divergence" preview, nothing else; literally only 8 pages of Manapul art plus covers. Fernando Blanco does a fantastic job with the main story, though, and Marcio Takara and Steve Pugh, too.

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    2. Quite misleading of DC to give Manapul first billing on the cover, although he did co-plot the first two issues of the Buccellato/Blanco arc. He was supposed to co-write and draw the whole arc, but left early to get a head start on Justice League #45-46 and the Darkseid War specials.

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    3. I was surprised initially not to find more of Manapul here, but Blanco really does a nice job and I was reminded why I like his work, reminiscent of Jesus Saiz.

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