When it comes to Batman stories, the trick isn't finding new ways to challenge the Dark Knight. Over the character's extensive history, creators somehow have always found new pockets of story to explore and new chaos to bring into Gotham or, at a minimum, different ways of approaching existing elements, though even successes are often mixed. Instead, the challenge is in keeping things fresh even when the fundamentals of the character, the setting, and the story are all familiar. It's that "keep things fresh" challenge that Batman: Dear Detective #1 takes on, but while this issue does so with a great deal of beauty due to its impressive artwork, it is yet another case of mixed results.
Batman: Dear Detective #1 works best if you consider it what it really is: a collection of art with a bit of narrative acting as connective tissue and less of an actual comic book. The issue, written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, is at its core simply an exquisite collection of Bermejo's unbelievably detailed and beautiful cover art stitched together with a letter from the "real" adversary that Batman faces. And I'm not making this up – the issue itself states that that the book is a "collection of groundbreaking cover art" from Bermejo, specifically curated to illustrate Batman's crusade against crime. When taken for face value, this is an outstanding volume. Bermejo draws Batman and the other characters that inhabit his world like no other artist. There are rich details and colors, often possessing an unsettling degree of realism and that is all on display here. There are pages upon pages of these covers that, despite simply being printed on the page, have a life and a texture that one could swear they can feel in their hands. There is nothing quite like this issue visually and the way it is curated, the order of the images in a sense pull you through Batman's story. This would, no doubt, make for a fine coffee table book for the discerning Batman fan.
The narrative thread, on the other hand, feels secondary. Yes, it is nice to have something to guide this visual walk through a dark alley, as it were, but it feels a bit lost within the artwork of the comic. Told as something of a coded letter, the sender has quite a bit to say about Batman, his flaws, his strengths, and it serves as villain monologuing – which of course subtly leads to increasing levels of personal clues about the writer and perhaps what they actually aim to achieve. By itself? It's an interesting take on antagonizing Batman, but it feels a little too understated going up against such impressive art. However, while it doesn't quite stand up to the artwork and doesn't really feel like much of a story—there will be plenty of critics who see this approach as a bit of a gimmick simply to sell a book—there is something to be said for this juxtaposition of the art that is at equal turns realistic and bombastic, feeling like the very essence of Batman's crusade for justice and a story that strips away all that artifice. And, of course, it would be wrong to not acknowledge Jared Fletcher's lettering here, which feels minimal and raw in a perfectly fitting tone.
Overall, Batman: Dear Detective is going to be a divisive comic book because it's neither a true comic book nor an art book, exactly, but tries to land somewhere between the two concepts. It doesn't quite accomplish that, and it doesn't quite offer much in the way of new perspective in its approach. However, it's an elegant and interesting study of Batman in a purely visual sense, with the stripped-down narrative leaving the reader—or viewer, really—in a place to truly examine the character through their own lenses and ask what it really means to be the Dark Knight and inhabit his world.
Published by DC Comics
On September 6, 2022
Written by Lee Bermejo
Art by Lee Bermejo
Colors by Lee Bermejo
Letters by Jared Fletcher
Cover by Lee Bermejo