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July 23, 2017

Detective Comics #935 (review)


Detective Comics #935 (review)
(DC Comics, August 2016)
Writer: James Tynion IV

This story follows the classic bridge format of serialised superhero comic books: a pillar of action at both ends, supporting a broad span of melodrama. It stars DC Comics’ major character property, Batman, and over half-a-dozen ancillary characters: Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, Azrael, Batwoman and her father Colonel Kane, a young Clayface, and Batman’s loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth. Missing are the other significant associates: Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, Man-Bat, and Batgirl, no doubt caught up in their own or other titles.

At the beginning we have a training session whereby the various Batman sidekicks are ground into the mud quite literally, under the unrelenting scrutiny of another (and perhaps the most intriguing) of Batman’s clique, Batwoman. This is the sugar hit, the instant gratification of softcore superhero violence there to satisfy readers and capture their attention within the first three pages.

At the end, we have Batman fighting a brigade of adversaries called “The Colony”. This is the hook, to ensnare readers and compel them to buy the next issue whereby the hero extracts himself from danger or defeat.

In between is the characterisation. For a loner and outsider traumatised by the death of his parents, the writers and editors of the various “Batman” titles have ensured that the character is surrounded by an evolving and colourful crowd of personnel which once used to be called the “Batman Family” (and in fact was the name of a title published from 1975 to 1978) before DC Comics decided that was too cheesy. If this indeed is a family, with the operatics very teen in nature – the romances, the anguish, and the self-doubt – then Batman is the father (quite literally, in respect of the character currently in the role of Robin) and Batwoman plays the mother.

To entirely strip the possibility of romance between the characters beyond Batwoman’s well-established lesbianism, DC Comics’ editors have indulged in the improbability of making Batman and Batwoman cousins. The only benefit to that remarkable coincidence (Batwoman is established as having chosen her nom de plume well-before meeting Batman let alone knowing his true identity) is the attention given to Batman’s long dead mother, Martha Wayne.

Martha Wayne’s main role in comic books since the 1930s has been as a corpse, aside from being cast as the guide to the afterlife in Neil Gaiman’s story, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”(2009). In this comic, she is the lost sister of Colonel Kane, and was a woman who fought her father when she started dating Thomas Wayne, a member of the family which were the arch-rivals of the Kanes.

If not a family, then, it is best to consider the ensemble of characters as pieces on a chessboard. Batwoman, Alfred and Azrael are backrow pieces, leaving the balance of characters in the unfortunate position of being pawns. The primary role of pawns is sacrifice as part of a greater strategy. Editors in American superhero comic books have a bad habit of killing ancillary characters as a way of lifting sales – noting that at least three of the characters appearing in this particular issue have died and been brought back over the years. How long each of these characters last in this title remains to be seen.

This title is formulaic, precise, under rigid editorial control, and does its job as the solid work horse it is. Perhaps the most striking element of this comics is the enumeration. This title is around five years away from reaching issue 1000. In an age where titles are repeatedly restarted with issue 1 in an effort to not disencourage new readers daunted by a high number of issues, “Detective Comics” plows on, intent on achieving its legacy.

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