Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface the Face trade paperback (DC Comics)

James Robinson returns for a Detective Comics Batman story that, cards on the table, is entertaining and well-done and even coincides with goings on in Tom King's Batman, but seems mainly just an inventory story to bridge the gap till new ongoing writer Peter Tomasi's run starts. The title of Robinson's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface the Face would seem to suggest it's a sequel to Robinson's 2006 Batman: Face the Face, both of which involved Two-Face, but it's not, at least not explicitly. I do believe there's some connections to be made between the two, but Deface can be read so independently that connections to Face can't necessarily be called a reason to pick up this book.

For a fill-in story, we could do a whole heck of a lot worse. I liked this volume, but a discerning reader would have to decide whether they want to stop over here or just proceed to when Tomasi comes on.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among the most notable items, depending on your point of view, is that Batman kicks off this story with his outer-trunks back on, and there is some brief discussion of "everything with Ms. Kyle." That places this story squarely after at least the first story in Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days, and serves as Detective Comics' acknowledgment of the events of Batman Vol. 7: The Wedding. It's vague to the extreme (someone with no knowledge of Wedding would hardly be able to discern what Batman's so upset about), but it marks a rare moment of Batman and Detective coinciding in the Rebirth era. I did appreciate that, for what's indeed essentially an inventory story, DC did at least tie it into Batman's modern-day status quo instead of letting this be a true one-off tale; that is not enough reason for everyone to pick it up, but it will be enough for some.

Robinson is a writer who's work I like a lot, though in daring to be experimental we know that some stories have worked out better than others. Deface is straightforward as Robinson stories go, and I don't think there's much wildly different in tone, amount of dialogue, pop culture references or the like that wouldn't make this of a piece with Bryan Hill previously and Tomasi to come. (The one oddball moment where Batman spouts "Resistance is futile" is an anomaly.) Robinson's Two-Face is on point and Robinson uses the friendship between Batman, Jim Gordon, and the "late" Harvey Dent well; Robinson does even get to "be Robinson" quite appropriately in a flashback to the Bronze Age history of the Kobra organization. The book is also strongly Gotham-inspired, with the introduction of the female Firefly Bridgit Pike, and also a shoot-out in a familiar-looking Gotham PD precinct of the kind that seems to happen on TV every week.

In preparation for Deface, I reread the eight-part Face the Face, recently re-released in a deluxe edition. I wondered at first whether Face really necessitated deluxe release, knowing it was one of the post-Infinite Crisis "One Year Later" stories and recalling it having been somewhat dependent on knowledge of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and 52. I enjoyed the reread immensely (it is a better story than Deface); the uninitiated might wonder why Batman and Robin Tim Drake are just coming back from a much-discussed year away, but taking that for granted, the story does feel quite epic in a "the prodigal hero returns home" kind of way.

Robinson writes a nuanced, disturbed Harvey Dent in Face, but the real meat of the book is how Batman (after some Infinite Crisis roughness) goes on an apology tour with Robin and the Gotham police. It's nice to see Batman being nice here and improving his relationship with Tim, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Robinson here is also acting as a stopgap, writing a couple of issues before Grant Morrison would come on for a lengthy, multi-title run. It's the start, as a matter of fact, of rather a golden era for Batman (Morrison to Scott Snyder to Tom King), though not so much for Tim Drake, who — despite his role as Robin being reaffirmed in Face — would shortly get booted from his position in favor of Damian Wayne, bum around for a while as the awkwardly named Red Robin, and then be done fairly ill by the New 52. More's the pity that Robinson doesn't get to write Tim in Deface, as he handled him well in the earlier story.

Face the Face is a story about Batman having left a "cured" Harvey Dent in charge of Gotham during Batman's absence, and how being framed for a crime turns good Harvey back into bad Two-Face. Deface the Face, in contrast, is a story in which Two-Face appears to have committed a crime, even leads Batman to believe he did it, when in fact bad Two-Face is covering in order to save good Harvey's reputation. If we want to see the stories as mirror images (which I don't put past Robinson), last time was mostly about Harvey being good and no one believing him, while this one was mostly about Two-Face being bad so that everyone would keep believing Harvey was good. Even as Robinson has Two-Face refer to himself as Batman's "arch-foe" here, both stories involve Two-Face as more of Batman's ally, fighting side-by-side with him, than as his enemy.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface the Face

Both Batman: Face the Face and Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface the Face end unresolved, though with Face the mystery is solved and Two-Face is on the run again, whereas in Deface, the book ends mid-fight, with Batman and Two-Face leaping toward fisticuffs. That's a risky choice by James Robinson, somewhat jarring (and notably, Deface doesn't even contain these issues' variant covers), though it speaks to this book as a somewhat ordinary (perhaps intentionally) Batman vs. Two-Face story, one that references the sometimes trite "dual" nature of Two-Face's clues. It's a book essentially about Batman and Two-Face's eternal struggle, how they'll fight and team up and then fight some more, and the end does not so much resolve anything as just shows them heading into it once again.

For something to bide the time, this is a good way to do it. Initial Stephen Segovia draws Batman, Alfred, and Gordon nicely, though later artist Carmine Di Giandomenico, with his sketchy, angular lines, does so well as to show that he needs more Batman work right away.

[Includes original covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface the Face
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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