Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Cold Vengeance trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Batman Detective Comics Vol 4 Cold Vengeance

Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Cold Vengeance is ostensibly one of the better of the volumes among Peter Tomasi’s run on this title so far. At the same time, it very much appears that Detective is back to its old role as the “also ran” Batman title, a book on the stands to capitalize on the hunger for Batman but nothing you’d call “can’t miss.” That’s a shame, because Batman writer James Tynion finally figured out a way to shirk that when he was on Detective, and now we’re back to the same old thing.

With this volume, too, we now know Tomasi’s Detective run is finite, just two or so more volumes before a new team takes over, such that we might call this a failed experiment. Tomasi has been at times among my favorite writers at DC, but I increasingly wonder just how well working in the Bat-verse is serving him.

[Review contains spoilers]

In what I think’s a small canon of landmark Mr. Freeze stories, the “Cold Dark World” story is a contender. We see here Freeze the serial killer, Freeze the mad scientist, but also ultimately Freeze partnering with the Dark Knight. Victor Fries is amoral, but he’s not insane in the way of the Joker; when there is not a goal for him to accomplish — usually reanimating his wife Nora — he is not prone to attack. In this, Tomasi re-demonstrates Freeze as belonging to what I think is often the most interesting cadre of Batman’s villains, those whose motives are good even if their methods are bad, including also Poison Ivy and Ra’s al Ghul.

And the team of Tomasi and Doug Mahnke are as sharp as ever. There’s a couple times Tomasi waxes lyrical (including, no less, when Batman is attacked by ice zombies) that are quite affecting. Also, at least at the outset, I thought Tomasi presented Nora Fries' terror well upon being thrust into a strange new icy world. Mahnke handles it all well, from ice zombies to Victor and Nora’s conversation, along with depicting a creepy blue-skinned Freeze with glowing red eyes (with assists no doubt from colorist David Baron).

Among complaints, I would say that “Cold Dark World” lacks some of the gory seriousness that has differentiated Tomasi and Mahnke’s other works; there is never quite that blood-soaked moment like we’ve seen before. Though I did think Tomasi handled Nora’s resurrection well, I soured on the character as the story went on, as she became just a generic crazed evil woman (even turning cartwheels in a too-familiar Harley Quinn style); it seems Nora, the new Mrs. Freeze, becomes the antithesis of Tomasi’s Mr. Freeze, just a blanket villain with no purpose or goal besides mayhem. And while Mahnke’s work overall looks good, there’s a variety of inkers and some ink him better than others (the difference is particularly clear in the third chapter, where Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, and Mahnke himself all ink pages).

The other difficulty — the bane of Detective’s recent existence — is that Tomasi has to put all the story’s pieces back where they were when he finishes, even more or less as it relates to Victor and Nora Fries. Given its build-up over previous volumes, the six-part Mr. Freeze story (and “Year of the Villain” tie-in) presented here ought mark an inflection point for Tomasi’s Detective. Also, when we consider the first volume’s disqualifying twist, count the second volume’s multipart story as the “premiere,” and then take the third volume’s collection of short stories, Cold Vengeance is about the first time this book gets down to an overarching plot for this run. But while it’s a good Batman story, it’s a Batman story of no great consequence — not to the Bat-verse overall, nor does this book have any internal subplots ongoing — reinforcing once again that all the action is really over in the Batman title proper.

Rounding out the book is a nice one-off story by Tom Taylor and Fernando Blanco, and then a two-parter by Tomasi and Scott Godlewski. This might be Tomasi’s better story of the book, what seems at first to be the unlikely story of Batman vs. a time-traveling Norse chieftan. Things are not in the end so far-fetched, but there is an element of the supernatural, which Tomasi handles well by pulling the narration back a bit and waxing poetic again. Tomasi’s Batman simultaneously recognizes that the rampaging demon isn’t his element but that he knows how to deal with it, a good balance between writing Batman as too unflappable or too taken aback, and that made Batman fighting the arcane more palatable than I might otherwise ordinarily find it.

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Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Cold Vengeance is another good but not spectacular entry in Peter Tomasi’s Detective Comics run. I know Tomasi’s recent works have been popular with many (and again, this was one of my favorite writers back in his Green Lantern Corps days), but for me this is part of a trail of “good not great” works that started in his Batman and Robin run and continued through Superman and beyond. Again, I’m likely in the minority here, but I’m not sure the Bat-verse (and the Super-verse, which was often just a spin-off of Tomasi’s Bat-verse) has necessarily been where his best work has come from. Tomasi is next to do another Super Sons title, which I perceive is where he’s happiest, but I’d be elated to see him on another Green Lantern or space-faring title (or even Black Adam) and maybe some of that old magic could be regained.

[Includes original and variant covers, pencils]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. It boggles my mind that anyone could still take Tomasi for granted despite what I still contend to be the definitive Batman of the New 52 being his work. At some point, maybe, people will look past the bombast of Snyder and find the beating heart of that era.


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