Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

December 7, 2022

Mariko Tamaki’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State is fantastic, offering just about everything I could want from a Batman comic, buoying even the rough holdovers from the last volume. And Dan Mora’s art is breathtaking — can’t wait for his World’s Finest.

Granted, this book has nothing to do with “Fear State” whatsoever, and it challenges the belief of even the most ardent continuity wonk that these events could be happening beside the Batman title, but no matter. This is Batman at his high politics finest.

[Review contains spoilers]

I’m not sure the word “Scarecrow” is even spoken in Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State. At best, the book keeps telling us that the main “Fear State”-branded events happen alongside Batman #113 in Batman Vol. 5: Fear State (purportedly at the same time Batman is involved in a virtual reality jaunt inside his own head with Ghost-Maker) and there’s one reference to Peacemaker-01 having gone rogue.

Otherwise, the “Fear State” connections are nil, and I would imagine someone interested in “Fear State” who came here might be disappointed (short of this book otherwise being awesome). It’s this kind of co-branding that gives co-branding a bad name, and DC might’ve been better off not putting “Fear State” on this book and just letting whatever thin ties be additive.

I’ve never been one to think just because Bruce Wayne is kidnapped by a rogue in his own title, Batman needs to be absent from that same month's Justice League or etc.; at worst, my mental model has one event happening Monday, the next Tuesday, and so on (superheroes have very busy weeks!). But it’s really a stretch to think that in between the pages of James Tynion’s Batman #113, while Batman is chatting with Commissioner Montoya, knocking together the heads of three high-powered Magistrate soldiers, and traversing a mindscape to check for the Scarecrow’s influence alongside Ghost-Maker, that Batman is also chasing new Gotham mayor Nakano into the sewers, electrocuting him to protect him from parasites, and then battling a gargantuan alien monster in the streets of downtown.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Clearly — and not really unexpectedly — Tamaki’s story is separate in everything but name from Tynion’s, and Tynion makes no nod to Tamaki’s story at all. This is not particularly different from Peter Tomasi’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 5: The Joker War tie-in to Tynion’s Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War, which too had a contrived connection ignored by the main book. Such is the fate particularly of the “always a bridesmaid” Detective Comics; even as the tie-ins of Bat-family books like Nightwing are also usually mostly ignored by the main book events, they’re often at least mildly referenced, moreso than Detective.

But none of that matters given the quality of Tamaki’s pseudo-“Fear State” story, subtitled “Nakano’s Nightmare.” Within, an attempt to take the policeman-turned-politician Nakano hostage ends up with Nakano in the sewers, endangered by the “Vile” alien parasites from Tamaki’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood, and with only Batman, whom Nakano distrusts, to save him.

Tamaki’s Nakano is great, an honest politician with a semi-legitimate grudge against Batman, making him antagonist but not villain, and with believable leading-man action-movie chops since he used to be Gotham police. Batman never feels absent from the story, but Tamaki goes a good nine pages focused on the people of Gotham, Nakano and the Magistrate’s Simon Saint’s political dealings, and then Nakano fighting a gunman. In the absence of James Gordon, Nakano is Tamaki’s James Gordon, and he’s got the stage presence to anchor the book on his own just like Gordon; that his relationship with Batman is refreshingly antagonistic makes it all the better.

My chief complaint about Tamaki’s The Neighborhood is what started out like a Knives Out whodunit becomes by the end an alien invader yarn; the varied suspects didn’t matter and Batman ultimately “solved” it all by fisticuffs. I generally prefer my Batman foes terrestrial, and at this point with the aliens involved in both stories collected here, Tamaki’s been going on with this boilerplate alien threat for about 10 issues now.

But here I thought the anonymity helped rather than hurt. There is a particularly generic alien facehugger threat in this book, but as such, for the most part “Nakano’s Nightmare” is villain-less. It’s not particularly different than if Batman and Nakano were trapped underwater or had to fight a bear; the conflict here is over Nakano and Batman trusting one another, not defeating a cackling foe. Politics, check; interpersonal drama (alongside and additive to the action), check. It’s about all I could want from a Batman book.

And yet, it gets better. Tamaki continues to use Huntress Helena Bertinelli, as rather close to the Chuck Dixon/Greg Rucka characterization as we’ve seen in a while. Around the edges, too, Tamaki has her character Deb Donovan — not only has Tamaki revitalized Gotham politics with Nakano, she’s also given Gotham a new grizzled reporter figure. Donovan comes to the forefront in a series of backup stories by Matthew Rosenberg collected in the end, co-starring Red Hood Jason Todd and leading in to Rosenberg’s Task Force Z. That’s preceded by a Man-Bat story by Dan Watters, bridging the end of Justice League Dark and the Bat-books; Tynion’s characterization of Man-Bat was one of my favorite parts of his Dark run, so it’s a thrill to see that depiction of Kirk Langstrom appear here.

3.0

Rating

Why does Mariko Tamaki have Batman don his yellow-oval costume in the first part of Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State (also with aliens, but also with Penguin and Mr. Worth)? Who knows, but it’s awesome. Also awesome is Dan Mora drawing an alien-infected Batman with Cthulhu tentacles coming out of his face, and Mora’s Batman battling in the rain, or Mora’s quieter scenes of Nakano standing in his ruined office — again, I’m very eager to see Mora’s clean, straight lines on both Batman and Superman in World’s Finest.

Detective’s “Fear State” tie-in, despite not being a “Fear State” tie-in, has a lot of things I want from a Batman book. I’m glad we’ve got a couple more high-profile volumes before Mariko Tamaki’s run concludes.

[Includes original and variant covers, afterword by Dan Mora, sketches and page layouts, character spotlight]

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