Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology debut is problematic. I finished the book surprised and disappointed — in part because I mistakenly believed the story tied in to Tomasi's post-Detective Comics #1000 Arkham Knight story — and it was only my realization five minutes later that Mythology is a run-up-to-Detective-#1000 story (the event, not any particular plot point) that redeemed it for me.

It is not badly written, and indeed Tomasi brings the drama and Mahnke the pizazz that will surely serve them well in their Detective run. It's simply that, wow, to tell a story like Mythology in this day and age and without working some aspect of "1000" into it to tip off readers (trade readers, at least) as to how to interpret this story is gutsy in the extreme. As well, though it's somewhat hard to discern, what one might take here as hints to the direction of Tomasi's Detective run also gives me pause. Time will tell for Tomasi's tenure, but I'm curious to what extent others found Mythology controversial, too.

[Review contains spoilers]

Skipping all the way to the end, Mythology's big reveal is that all the events of the story are a dream, an elaborate test that Bruce Wayne has subjected himself to on his birthday in order to hone his abilities and recommit himself to his mission. It is not as though this is without precedent, and indeed Tomasi's story smacks of the Silver Age or an inconsequential tale you might find in a Batman anthology, or an anniversary story. And to take Batman through the formative years of his being, and then acknowledge that Bruce gave up his childhood to become Batman, and then to directly quantify the amount of good Batman's done for Gotham over his career, certainly does seem like appropriate fodder for an anniversary story, particularly just before the one-thousandth issue of Batman's original title.

But for what is the debut of Detective's vaunted new creative team — placed in parallel importance, essentially, to Brian Michael Bendis coming to DC and taking over Action Comics — a six-issue dream sequence is a bold choice, especially one that does not overtly reveal itself to be a dream until the end. I really thought this was the start of the Arkham Knight story, so all along that a supernatural creature was hunting Batman's allies — even murdering Leslie Thompkins — I was trying to figure how this tied into the (hopefully non-supernatural) Arkham Knight and who might be the culprit behind the grotesquerie. It's a mystery that's solvable, and there is perhaps a smattering of clues within, but not in the true whodunit sense. The fault is in my expectations, but it's still a letdown.

I might have figured DC wouldn't really let Tomasi kill off Leslie even if she's no longer regularly appearing on television, but indeed I did believe it. Put another way, I actually thought Tomasi, right at his run's start, was making a lasting(ish) change to the Batman mythos. Ultimately I'm glad Leslie's not dead — that would seem cruel and ghoulish, even for dramatic fiction — but the message is that the joke's on me and nothing ever really changes in comics. To me that seems like more defeat than victory, and something of a dangerous message for Tomasi to send at the start of his run; if whatever he risks in his very first story gets reconciled right away, what hope is there for any of the rest? (Letting alone that this reinforces the message that Detective is the lesser of the Bat-titles where nothing of import happens, vs. Batman proper.)

Possibly the presence of Mister Miracle Thaddeus Brown was meant to be a clue as well, since a quick Wikipedia check shows that Brown, who factored into the origin of Scott Free, is supposed to be dead. But here again we're in a funny place where, even with Brown having been killed, this didn't tip me off that something was amiss because that could as easily indicate a dream sequence as it could that, under Rebirth, Tomasi just decided to make Brown still alive with no explanation, even despite the halting return of the pre-Flashpoint continuity. The final reveal doesn't make Brown's presence a clever clue; rather it reminds me of the catch-all nature of DC's continuity for a decade or more that's valued big events over cohesiveness; again, that's not exactly a great place in which to begin an important run.

Not to be a further stick in the mud, but I mostly like my Batman stories with a dose of realism, and if anywhere's a site for that, it'd be Detective Comics (with emphasis on the "detective"). While I do like Batman teamed up with Jason Blood, in the same sequence Tomasi brings back the Hellbat from his own Batman and Robin run, an over-the-top robotic suit that gives Batman superpowers and lets him go slobberknockers with a demon. It's not my cup of tea, but moreover it's Tomasi's own creation, which he then later used in his Rebirth Superman; this seems too much like Tomasi playing his own greatest hits. I don't mind writers having internal continuity, and it equally would have been odd for Tomasi to use Henri Ducard as he does without referring to the events of Tomasi's own Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Born to Kill, but the fact that he does make that reference almost feels like an advertisement. I enjoyed but had gripes about Tomasi's Batman and Robin, and Mythology makes me concerned it'll be the same thing again.

All of that said, I won't deny that Mythology is a cool trip down memory lane. Hugo Strange is among my favorites and I dug the brief scenes where he seemed to be the culprit. I've no great qualms about Tomasi's writing of Batman, short of the locking himself in a sensory deprivation tank on his birthday, and the early scenes of Leslie and Alfred being attacked are devoutly chilling. The extended scene of Batman and Thaddeus Brown escaping from a shark-infested trap is also great, including Tomasi establishing that the even the ears on Batman's cowl are spring-loaded, explosive, and razor sharp. Artist Doug Mahnke will surely rule this book, his pages detailed, dynamic, and violent as usual.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology

Of late we've had Grant Morrison's Batman who subjected himself to mental experiments and Scott Snyder's Batman who had himself cloned, so this birthday practice of risking death to "evolve" himself is not so much a stretch. It does seem extreme though; if nothing else, Peter Tomasi's Batman seems out of step in this way with the "trying to be happy" Batman over in Tom King's title. Having expected Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology to be the start of Tomasi's grand story, I was above all disappointed to find it's just a one-off; that, by my estimation, it's unlikely to factor again in Tomasi's run. I'd be happy to be wrong; best of all would be if Mythology ends up being the start of Tomasi's Arkham Knight saga after all.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


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