Batman: The Detective #1 begins a 6-part miniseries from writer Tom Taylor, artist Andy Kubert, and colorist Brad Anderson set in the midst of DC’s Infinite Frontier line. The series begins with a tragic event in England that quickly pulls Batman into a fraught investigation that proves to be frighteningly personal. The creative talent assembled to tell this superhero-mystery is top-notch, but the underlying conspiracy may prevent them from elevating this story above the tawdry and familiar.
The inciting incident sets the stakes plenty high and justifies the sprawl of a miniseries with extended page counts as a plane crashes into the countryside killing 147 passengers on board. If that wasn’t enough to demand serious attention, someone also paints the phrase “BATMAN 147” on a nearby structure because it’s all really about Batman. That’s a running theme in this issue; no matter what arises, the only thing that matters is how it connects to Batman.
It’s also an unfortunate preoccupation because the best elements of Batman: The Detective are the unexpected bits. A fight with Gentlemen Ghost provides the best action sequence of the entire issue (which is stuffed with 3 notable brawls). The blunt oddity of how Batman confronts the apparition and Kubert’s closely framed panels of the punch up are a delight. Small interactions, like a joke about that ghostly encounter passed between Knight and Batman, also provide Taylor’s trademark knack for characterization in dialogue. Humor finds opportunities amidst so much death and misery.
Kubert delivers some of his best recent work here playing up that dark tone, as well. Some pages read like he was carefully studying Eduardo Risso’s work in Gotham City with cleaner lines and forms defined by shadow. The refinement in Kubert’s finished figures make for more impactful fights and deliver an incredibly moody atmosphere.
That moodiness isn’t focused on the 147 dead in the English countryside or an aesthetic overwhelming readers for its own sake; this story is dark and sad because Batman is dark and sad. An introductory monologue reads like a prelude to The Dark Knight Returns with Bruce ruminating on his many injuries and aging. He is a broken man mourning the loss of his father, Alfred, and left alone. It is a deservedly angsty position, but one that struggles to align with the continuity of which it is a part. However, what makes this tone detrimental to the story requires one notable spoiler, so feel free to skip the next paragraph and keep reading after the image if you’d prefer to avoid the cliffhanger…
It’s clearly awful enough that 147 people have been murdered by a gang of unknown individuals dressed as bleached Batmen, but to make each of those victims someone Batman had previously saved pushes this story into the realm of perverse egocentrism. This revelation transforms the 147 into a simple number to motivate Batman; the story that was about solving a terrible crime becomes a story about Batman salvaging his own good deeds.
That intense focus on the Batman of it all is simply exhausting. After Batman walks readers through how little he has accomplished, the focus of an obvious tragedy must become Batman. It undermines the miniseries’ subtitle because Batman is not so much the detective as he is the aggrieved party seeking vengeance. After years of Batman stories that define families and cities primarily (often solely) by how they connect to their central character, isn’t there space to allow Batman to simply be part of a larger story?
Unfortunately, the final pages of Batman: The Detective #1 wed themselves to the worst elements of an otherwise strong debut, and make the entire issue read as another indulgence incapable of looking beyond the most recognizable character in DC Comics stable. Kubert’s keen eye for imposing compositions (assisted by Anderson’s atypical palette choices) and Taylor’s gift for quick, memorable characterization are overwhelmed by the shadow of the Bat. If the series is defined by this arrangement, then it will be a notable missed opportunity to tell an original and compelling Batman story.
Published by DC Comics
On April 13, 2021
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Andy Kubert
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson