Review: Batman: The Detective hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I’m of two minds whether the meme that “everything DC publishes is Batman” is wearing itself out or not. On one hand, it is, they do; on the other hand, with a Batman movie coming out in less than a month that they yet again desperately hope will be the start of a successful cinematic movie-verse, I’m not sure what else we might expect (not that DC’s The Batman movie and their “all hands on Batman” craze are necessarily interdependent).

Irrespective, especially in a period where DC’s week-by-week volume of collections output has been significantly reduced, I’ve found new appreciation for the random disconnected Batman miniseries-of-the-week (particularly given Black Label, where about all the stories are random and disconnected and the characters can occasionally utter a curse word). Believe you me, I like continuity, but I also see the value in “you don’t have to read anything before that” when you’re just looking for something to read, especially if there’s a particular creator’s vision of (mostly) Batman or Harley Quinn to the plumbed at the same time. It puts me in mind of the mid-1990s when in any given year you might have half a dozen random Elseworlds specials on top of an off-the-cuff Batman miniseries and a a-continuity prestige format inter-company crossover. We never knew how good we had it.

As such, Tom Taylor and Andy Kubert’s Batman: The Detective arrives at just the right time, a palate-cleanser after my Sandman read (and to be followed by Batman: The Imposter) before I finally dive in to the Future State collections. But your own enjoyment of Detective will depend on how much patience you have for “yet another Batman story.” Indeed it is one of those books like the Elseworlds (an “Elseworld” itself, in a fashion), a random DC publication that I’m not entirely sure why it is DC published it, a “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” kind of book.

Taylor and Kubert both do good work, yes. I liked it, yes. But ardent fans will have heard most of the points this book makes about Batman before, and also for a book that calls itself “The Detective,” sleuthing isn’t particularly this book’s focus. All of that should be warning to the audience not to expect more than The Detective will deliver.

[Review contains spoilers]

I know as you do that this book was originally solicited as Batman: The Dark Knight, which I don’t think is particularly better but as least doesn’t give the impression, as Detective does, that the story will involve a whodunit-type mystery that Batman and the audience might solve. Were it not that it would suggest some humorous connotations, DC might’ve just called this Batman: Old Man Bruce, because that’s what it really is — a story, outside continuity, about a gruff, hardened Bruce Wayne late in his career for whom a mystery in Europe is as much an excuse as anything to wrap up his affairs and leave Gotham, maybe for good.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Going in, I already knew the Europe part but didn’t know the “old man Bruce” part, so orienting myself to the story took a minute. This is further complicated by that among the catalysts for Bruce leaving Gotham is that Alfred has just died, as Alfred has just died in the mainstream DCU. It took until pretty late in the first chapter before I realized this was meant to be a Bruce older and whose life history didn’t match the main.

Still, when one thinks of Tom Taylor and Batman, what likely first comes to mind is Taylor’s well-regarded “Father’s Day” story from 2019’s Batman Annual #3, an ode to Alfred’s parentage of Bruce shortly before Alfred would be killed off in Tom King’s run. So that Taylor’s story should pick up from Alfred’s death seems of a piece, at least in the Taylor Bat-verse, and also the book’s underlying theme of Bruce’s “fathers” — Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, and, begrudgingly, Henri Ducard.

In the genre of Batman stories, this is a Henri Ducard story, with all that entails. (Among other draws to The Detective would be for big fans of Ducard or the British Knight and Squire.) That Taylor should feature Ducard in a one-off Batman story like this with a “young Batman” movie on the rise feels both familiar and anachronous, like The Detective ought have been published around 2005’s Batman Begins.

And unfortunately, when all is said and done, Taylor can never quite get this to be more than a Ducard story, aping significantly both Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin Ducard work and even sentiments as recent as in James Tynion’s Batman run — the other student of Ducard’s, the vigilante with Batman’s same training but without his compunction against killing, etc. Further, Taylor is never able to deliver on the magnitude of what he sets up, either; he can never give a good explanation for how the villain Equilibrium manages to have such detailed records on everyone whom Batman has saved, nor even how she managed to get 147 people that Batman saved all onto the same plane, including Knight Beryl Hutchinson.

Where The Detective succeeds then — and this is no small matter — is in Taylor’s seeming inherent delightfulness as a writer. His Batman is way too much in the “doesn’t explain, never needs help” genre, but lines like “I punched a ghost” are genuinely funny. So too ideas like that Batman keeps a Batmobile parked on every continent in the world, or that Alfred would have stocked a mobile European “Bat-cave” with a small dinosaur figurine holding a penny. The Detective makes up for an overall boilerplate story with a big helping of personality.

2.25

Rating

Of course, at risk of stating the obvious, Batman: The Detective also serves as a creator spotlight book, both for Tom Taylor — can we even say his star is on the rise anymore or has it indeed risen? — and artist Andy Kubert. Kubert does stalwart work here, among his shining moments being a monstrous Gentleman Ghost redesign; I wondered at that point if Detective might be a Hush-esque opportunity for Kubert to redesign a swath of Bat-villains, but it’s not to be. Fans of Kubert’s Batman and Son/Batman: RIP-era work with Grant Morrison will feel at home here, especially in Kubert’s depiction of a gargantuan Bat-hooded henchman.

A distraction, but a good one, if that’s what you’re looking for.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

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2 comments:

  1. Great review as always. That gargantuan hooded Batman was pretty much the same character design that Kubert used on his run with Morrison. The artwork had a similar feel throughout, with Kubert relying on his usual artistic strengths (and he is a classic artist no doubt). In the same vein, I thought that this was Tom Taylor's weaker stories.....the whole thing had a been there done that feel to it.

    That's not to say that it wasn't enjoyable - It was a fun if forgettable adventure. Given the talent involved, I was just expecting a bit more and felt overall underwhelmed.

    Some great one liners though as you mentioned.

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    1. Yeah, it's like Tom Taylor + Andy Kubert ought be a cut above, and it was good, but not by any stretch the instant classic one might have expected.

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