Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Peter Tomasi’s been shepherding the Bat-family for about 10 years now. Arguably he is as much, if not even more so, a steward of the modern Robin Damian Wayne as the character’s creator Grant Morrison is. Tomasi has seen Damian through a long (even death-defying) run on Batman and Robin, followed by a Superman run that was as much about the Kents as it was Superboy Jon Kent’s burgeoning friendship with Damian (not to mention Super Sons), and into Detective Comics, where Tomasi has narrated Bruce Wayne and Damian’s relationship hitting an increasingly rough patch.

So, with no new Bat-work on the horizon, Tomasi’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin is a notable book, the last in Tomasi’s decade-long Bat-adjacent work and his good-bye to Damian before another writer, Joshua Williamson, takes over Damian’s story in earnest. (Damian’s previous series by Tomasi’s frequent collaborator Patrick Gleason still felt very much within Tomasi’s jurisdiction.)

One does miss Gleason here, or Tomasi’s other frequent artist Doug Mahnke. The artists in Ruin — Brad Walker, Bilquis Evely, Nicola Scott, and Kenneth Rocafort — don’t lack for talent, but certain elements fall flat, as if they might be better handled by someone more familiar with Tomasi’s beats. Tomasi gets to say his farewells, really the important thing, but it’s amidst coincidences, storylines that don’t quite mesh, and poorly explained elements. This feels like a Detective volume caught between continuing on and closing up, and it’s the worse for it.

[Review contains spoilers]

I was reminded of Tomasi’s Superman Vol. 4: Black Dawn in the climactic story of Road to Ruin. Tomasi uses Hush, a weighty Batman villain for his time that gives the story some heft, just as he used Manchester Black in Superman — but like that story, Tomasi relies mainly on the reader’s prior knowledge of Hush for any sort of dramatic effect. Hush is simply, suddenly present, apparently able at a moment’s notice to take advantage of another villain’s chaos to single-handedly incapacitate and kidnap almost every member of the Bat-family, many of whom we’d consider among the best fighters in the DC world.

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Tomasi makes a lot of Hush Tommy Elliot’s hatred of Bruce Wayne, but he doesn’t have anything particularly new to say, nor does Hush’s vendetta have much to do with the conflict between Bruce and Damian that underscores the story. (Artist Walker also layers Bruce and Tommy’s childhood memories over their current fisticuffs in a way I found confusing and hard to read.) Without much work, Hush could as easily be Mad Hatter or Professor Pyg here, as much as it matters; clearly the villain isn’t the point, but then there’s a mismatch in Tomasi offering too much detail for Hush to be ignored entirely.

Add to that as well a sequence in which Damian discovers that Tommy paid his long-lost aunt to try to kill Bruce and Alfred when Bruce was a child — something that is total coincidence to Hush attacking the Bat-family now. This is meant to be a demonstration of Damian solving the unsolved cases in Batman’s Black Casebook, but much like Hush taking down Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, etc., the mind boggles that Damian could solve through one illicit perusal of Gotham PD’s files a case that apparently Batman couldn’t solve since his childhood. Clearly Tomasi knows what to do with Hush, he knows what to do with Bruce and Damian, but on the page it emerges unpolished.

The same is true of the book’s second story (following a one-off first issue). While I like the book’s thread of growing anti-vigilante sentiment, Tomasi expresses it through a villain called the Mirror, who not only shares a name and some visual attributes with a villain in Gail Simone’s Batgirl run, but also some looks and motivations with the First Victim of James Tynion’s Detective run. There’s that reductive element, and also that Tomasi’s writing of the Bat-family in the story seems off — Nightwing greeting Batman with “Hey, Bats,” and Cassandra Cain using even such mild slang as “for sure.” I adore Evely’s art, but here’s where I wonder if things were staged differently by another artist — Nightwing were swinging in or etc. — what seems unusual here might not otherwise be so strange.

Again, I do very much like the book’s thread of anti-vigilante sentiment. How much is Tomasi and how much is incoming writer Mariko Tamaki, I’m not sure (since Tamaki seems to be running with this storyline in a way that’s unusual for one writer following another). But while Batman with a Batman-hating mayor is a little old hat, the difference is that Christopher Nakano comes to his mistrust honestly, due to trauma and not because he’s trying to cover his own corruption. This gives Nakano’s story an honest political bent that’s enjoyable, and also the clash of pro- and anti-vigilante groups seems an obvious metaphor for the real-world political landscape. I am eager to see where Tamaki goes with this.

We find the real heart of Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin in the recalcitrant Damian attacking his father, but at the same time when they reach a stalemate, giving in with one final “tt.” And further, when the lives of the Bat-family are on the line, Damian’s dislike of his father is far lesser than his care for his friends, all of which Tomasi sees well. There’s a hokey “Let’s do this!” but also a nice page of flashbacks to Bruce and Damian’s greatest hits and a cameo by the Batman and Robin logo.

2.25

Rating

In 10 years of DC steadily shaving off Damian’s rough edges — even Peter Tomasi’s been guilty of this a time or two — I’m pleased to see Tomasi write Damian off into the sunset as someone still struggling to find his own way and his own set of morals, not just a copy of every Robin before him. Now, Damian next appears in a Robin series, so let’s not kid ourselves that DC’s really going to do anything markedly different with this character, but it’s good enough for Tomasi’s ending. That, and a car-full of Bruce and Damian’s Bat-menagerie, one more time.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]

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10 comments:

  1. Yeah, since Tomasi's tenure at DC is pretty much done, I can't really fault him for trying to write Damian one more time on the way out the door.

    But I'm just sick of Hush at this point. It's been a decade since the character was last interesting for me (i.e. Paul Dini's seminal Detective Comics/Streets of Gotham run).

    I wonder, though, if Tomasi using Hush was motivated in part because the character had just appeared on the Batwoman show?

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    1. Well, I was wrong. Looks like Tomasi's getting (at least) one more swansong with Damian (and Jon):

      https://www.gamesradar.com/superman-robin-special-preview-covers/

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    2. Happy to see that he gets to write the characters as they were when his work was strongest. I think the two at this age are the fan favorites.....

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    3. That should be interesting. Admittedly Tomasi's Jon/Damian team is not my favorite, but I am curious to see him write them in their newest incarnations.

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    4. I'd add I hope it doesn't require a lot of knowledge of Tomasi's kind-of alt-continuity Super Sons miniseries.

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  2. It's nice that Tomasi got his chance to say goodbye - That being said, I don't think Tomasi's detective run really gelled too well. There were good stories, but it seemed like Tomasi was just playing second fiddle to whatever else was going on in the DCU within the main Batman books. He seemed like he was working in a bit of a bubble. Also, the changing artists hurt the run.

    I'm a big fan of Tomasi - especially his work on Green Lantern Corps and Batman and Robin......but this run just fell short for me.....

    As for Hush, it seems like no one really knows how to deal with the character in a new way (Other than Loeb and Dini). The character has fallen by the wayside......

    All in all though, I enjoyed Tomasi's run....I hope he is able to land another gig either at Marvel or another company as it seems he is done at DC for now.

    If you are looking for a great Tomasi read...I highly recommend his "The Bridge" graphic novel......which is a fascinating story on the history of the builders of the bridge.

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    1. "As for Hush, it seems like no one really knows how to deal with the character in a new way (Other than Loeb and Dini). The character has fallen by the wayside......"

      I'm not sure what else *can* be done with Thomas Elliot at this point.

      I mean, the basic idea behind Hush (as a dark mirror to Bruce's childhood) *isn't* inherently bad. If anything, Dini and Nguyen did superb work enriching the developing the broad strokes of that origin that Loeb and Lee established.

      But I think Dini took him as far as he could go. It's kinda that same issue within the Bat books, of how every creator's always adding villains to the roster in the hopes of making their mark on the iconography/popular culture.

      Yet, look at how many fall by the wayside after the creator leaves the book or if the concept can only be taken so far.

      Grant Morrison's Batman is a good example. Of the villains he introduced, the only that's had any true staying power is Professor Pyg -- and that's arguably because Lazlo Valentin is just memorably so screwed up even by the standards of Arkham.

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    2. Agreed; Hush's first appearance, especially, was so powerful that I think it's hard for another writer to do more later on. Pyg is a good example of a villain that's compelling but has never quite peaked like Hush, leaving room for further writers to take their shot.

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    3. Excellent points, and I agree.......but still keep hoping that a writer will come by and be able to come up with a fresh take on Hush.

      I totally agree, that so many writers create new villains, but rarely do any really catch on. Professor Pyg for sure, because he is still mysterious.....but any others? Perhaps the Court of Owls......but nothing comes to mind. We have another new one coming up (I believe Abyss) from Joshua Williamson.....

      Most of the time we get the rotating cast of the regular villains that each new writer tackles......Joker, Bane, Penguin, Scarecrow, Ras Al Ghul...and others.. over and over....with Gotham being the battleground.

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    4. "Excellent points, and I agree.......but still keep hoping that a writer will come by and be able to come up with a fresh take on Hush."

      Well, the 20th anniversary of Hush is coming up next year. I wonder if DC will be doing anything...and maybe some hotshot writer does have an idea, heh.


      "I totally agree, that so many writers create new villains, but rarely do any really catch on. Professor Pyg for sure, because he is still mysterious.....but any others? Perhaps the Court of Owls......but nothing comes to mind. We have another new one coming up (I believe Abyss) from Joshua Williamson....."

      You know, you reminded me of a retrospective The M0vie Blog did last year after Dennis O'Neill died:

      https://them0vieblog.com/2020/06/16/is-ras-al-ghul-immortal-denny-oneil-and-reflecting-on-a-bronze-age-batman-villain/

      It discusses that difficulty and argued that of all the many villains introduced in the last 50 years, only 3 have truly ascended to the upper echelons (Ra's, Bane, and Harley Quinn) and why:

      "Writers might introduce and feature new characters – like Grant Morrison with Professor Pyg or the Flamingo, Scott Snyder with Thomas Wayne – but they often fade to the background after the writer leaves. Those characters that stick around tend to endure because they fill a particular niche and serve a particular purpose."

      The analysis of why Bane's endured (which, despite growing up with Knightfall, I've often struggled to understand) also indirectly explains in part why Hush peaked.

      Bane filled a long-vacant position in the rogues gallery as the anti-Batman (and in a way even the Joker couldn't). Hush was trying to fill an already-filled niche (albeit the anti-Bruce Wayne more-so). Dini and Nguyen at least ran with the anti-Bruce elements, but again, I think they took them as far as they could go.

      I also think the Court of Owls has endured (when I ironically thought they'd peak) for a couple of reasons:

      1. The primal symbolism (Bats and Owls being natural predators).

      2. Embedding them in Gotham history as deeply as the Wayne Family history and contrasting their shadowy selfishness with Bruce's shadowy selflessness. It's a great dynamic.

      3. DC's wisely used them sparingly since Snyder and Capullo left. They still appear here and there, but their last major high-profile depiction was really Dark Nights: Metal.

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