DETECTIVE COMICS #997

#1
This week Detective Comics #997 comes out and brings us closer to the 2nd milestone event in DC Comics history. This series will be the 2nd series to reach issue #1000 and what better writer to lead the way to this achievement. Since Peter J. Tomasi has taken over on Detective Comics, it’s been one hell of a ride. As I read this issue, I kept thinking to myself ‘THIS is what Batman is supposed to be!’ Not to throw any shade at the other writer currently writing for the Caped Crusader, but this is what Batman is supposed to be. I’ve loved everything about Tomasi’s run so far and it just keeps getting better.

This issue puts Batman and Thaddeus Brown in a pretty tight spot, having them both bound up while water continues to rise over their heads. If being deprived of oxygen wasn’t enough, they must also deal with the threat of sharks and piranhas. Really simple story telling but the art team and Tomasi really found a way to make this thrilling. Having Batman’s inner monologue laying out the details of this amazing escape really kicked it up and made it a blast to read.



Of course with Batman, escaping the trap is never enough, because once he frees himself and Thaddeus, he finds himself face to face with the shape shifting creature he’s been dealing with since the start of this run. Only this time, the creature takes the form of Batman himself and tries to deal a little psychological warfare. Of course, Batman comes out victorious, has a quick moment with Thaddeus before heading off to deal with one of Batman’s well-known rogues from his gallery.

This story kept the action ramped up and really drew me in. Honestly, the pages just flew by as I read this story. It is so nice to have a real Batman story I can enjoy, from a writer that understands the character. I cannot give Tomasi enough praise for his work so far; however, he isn’t working alone and credit must be given to the team of artist that really made this issue come alive. The way this team was able to create the series of events and make it gripping is truly a work of art in itself. Watching Batman do his best to survive this trap while dealing with the sharks and piranhas is amazing and credit is given all to this team of artists. There was no doubt in my mind this was a 5 star issue by the time I hit the end of this issue. If you haven’t been keeping up with this series since Tomasi came onboard then I highly suggest you do so. This has been an action packed and thrilling ride that is sure to make any Batman fans happy.



 
#2
Summary

This issues picks up with last issue’s cliffhanger as Batman has walked into a trap with Thaddeus Brown, the original Mister Miracle. The pair are trapped in an airtight room filled with water and sharks all while being bound by leather straps. Needless to say, they are in trouble. Batman not only saves himself, but Brown as well, something he hasn’t been able to do for all his “teachers” that have been targeted.



Upon escape, Batman must face the shape shifting creature again. Batman succeeds in stopping it, but apparently has no new leads…or does he? The issue ends with Batman arriving at Hugo Strange’s lab looking for answers….

Positives

This issue is a bit of a mixed bag…the whole escape sequence is well paced and exciting. Batman’s thoughts are clear and the reader understands his plan as he executes it. The drama is heightened at just the right moments and Batman’s desire to save Thaddeus are relatable and engaging. This could’ve been the whole issue and it would’ve been enough.



This is probably the best Mahnke’s art has looked so far in this storyline. The underwater effects by the entire art team of Mahnke, Alamy, Irwin and Baron work exceptionally well. There’s no doubt they are underwater as they are able to affect a muddled clarity to the sequence.

Negatives

The biggest drawback to the issue is the redundant fight with the shape shifter. Its dialogue is over the top and elusive and it doesn’t really add to the story. We learn nothing more about it than we knew last issue. It chose different people in Batman’s life to taunt the Dark Knight, but it added no real substance. It actually detracts from the issue as a whole. Finally it’s a bit out of nowhere that Batman decides to seek out Hugo Strange, unless he’s putting two and two together and coming up with shape shifter=Hugo Strange’s monster men, despite having more the abilities of Clayface.



Verdict

While this issue doesn’t move the story forward as much as last issue, the escape is well executed and an exciting bit of reading. Additionally, the insight into Batman’s mind on both a personal and technical level is interesting and unique. We don’t always get that deep inside Batman’s head to understand how he sees and feels these situation. Keeping the fight with the shape shifter to a minimum and showing more of Batman’s thought process to go after Hugo Strange next would have improved the issue.
 
#3
Peter J. Tomasi just accomplished in less than a single issue of his “Mythology” arc all the same angst and drama, questions, fears, and craziness that has been pounded on for the last six months in the Batman title book. And he did it in a way that’s thrilling and heart-wrenching and absolutely crazy-making: by taking real chances and playing to both nostalgia and the current need for big action and fun.

And no question about it: there’s some nutty good-old-fashioned comic-booky insanity in this issue. Where’s the Shark Repellent when you need it, Bats?

“Waiting for a Miracle” re/introduces Thaddeus Brown to new and old readers alike: he’s been largely out of comics for nearly fifty years. And to be clear: this isn’t the Mister Miracle who’s been trotted around the DCU as one of the New Gods during the New 52, this is the original Kirby-created magician who was allegedly killed by Intergang all those years ago. So his role as one among many mentors for Batman is new, but makes perfect sense as he has a very particular escape artist skill that someone like Batman would covet.




Tomasi does a great job of getting all this exposition out of the way in a series of panels that shows our heroes bound in a room filling with water (we literally watch the water rising around them as they quickly hammer out what’s going on). This is critical because in a moment they’re going to be underwater and unable to communicate. To further enrich the dialogue, Tomasi gives our Miracle man a few funny quips. We get information, tension, character development, and humor in six panels that are basically profile shots of two men talking. It’s an excellent use of both tight dialogue and focused visuals to convey everything the audience needs to know in as tight a space imaginable.



If you have a fear of drowning, the terror here is palpable

What then follows is a lengthy escape sequence that may, for some, stretch credulity. The water is full of sharks, and their restraints are conveniently made of leather. And if this isn’t already a ridiculous “trap”, a window pops open to let in a whole school of piranha–in a feeding frenzy.

The way in which Batman talks himself through what to do as he’s doing it is reminiscent of a very similar comic we just read by another writer featuring the caped crusader, and the similarities between the two circumstances are pretty interesting. It’s starting to boggle the mind how these two titles are running alongside one another on the stands–it can’t be unintentional at this point. If it is, it’s mind-numbingly bizarre that editorial would just let this duplicative storytelling roll. If it’s intentional somehow, however, I can’t wait to see what in the world the payoff might be. The whole thing has the vague makings of some secret editorial pissing contest going on that DC is just letting it play out.

But let’s focus on Detective Comics; Batman and Mister Miracle are in quite the predicament and only Batman’s keen ability to…uh…strategically make sharks chew on his restraints…can save the day!

Look, it’s ridiculous. I didn’t exactly bray a laugh, but it was close. And you know what? I’m okay with it and here’s why: there’s some serious silliness in the whole scenario. This whole arrangement of being tied up and having to escape an overly complicated death trap is such a throwback to Batman’s golden age. I’m almost disappointed that Tomasi didn’t have Bats whip out a can of shark repellent, to be honest.



It’s not all laughs, though: Mahnke knows when to punch up the drama

From there the issue just gets crazier, but also goes straight to the heart of the matter. That creepy creature we thought Ducard took out in Paris? Yeah, it’s not going anywhere any time soon, and the gnarly iterations of Batfoes that it’s been spewing are now joined by Batfriends who aren’t being any more friendly. And if that’s not enough, Tomasi gives Batman some of the best one-liners we’ve had in I don’t know how long. Batman takes on this revolting creature and every negative, ugly thing it represents with the kind of control and panache and heroism that fans can absolutely revel in. And coupled with Doug Mahnke’s art, the whole sequence is phenomenal.

Mahnke’s pencils are incredible to begin with, but the added inks from Christian Alamy and Mark Irwin provide a particular contrast between the underwater portion of the book and the action that happens once our heroes are grounded again. Colorist David Baron contributes to this as well, with the water sequences being somewhat muted, the dispersing blood nicely pale and drifting, and a sort of murky haze to the overall effect: like we’re looking in through the density of the water or from the other side of a glass dividing us. But once the characters escape the shark and piranha pit, the colors are a bang-on assault on the senses. The blacks are deep and rich, the reds and yellows scream for attention, and the book really feels alive and trashing.

I read this book and then immediately wanted to read it again. Both for the words, and the art. This is the sort of comic that is largely action-based, but has just enough forward thrust on the story, character exploration, and genuine heart to make it well worth owning and re-reading.

Some parting notes on the conclusion:

Spoiler
Recommended If…
  • You want to learn something new about Batman’s past!
  • Batman vs. shark vs. piranha squad sounds like a good time.
  • Decapitations for everyone!
Overall
Tomasi’s “Mythology” arc goes for the gold! The golden era, that is, as Batman finds himself trapped and fighting man-eating sharks with an aging Mister Miracle. And if that’s not enough old-fashioned Dark Knight adventure for you, he brings back the mutating monster and all of it’s nightmarish projections. There’s a level of camp here that Tomasi embraces so unapologetically that you have to just sit back and enjoy the ride: part roller coaster, part underwater safari, and every bit of it just big noisy fun. This is a comic book that doesn’t worry about serving up grit, just a big ol’ delicious ham steak. Dig in!

SCORE: 10/10
 
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