Posted - January 31, 2011 | Updated : February 27, 2011 | April 9 & 10, 2011 | July 4, 2011 | August 16, 2015

Previous: The Dark Knight Returns

Selected Tales from Detective Comics

Detective Comics 579

Batman Had Difficulty In A Fistfight - With A Doctor?

On their regular night rounds Batman and Robin bust an illegal medical smuggling ring which leads them to a confrontation with the Crime Doctor, right before a grisly heart transplant is to be performed. During the ensuing fight, there is a bit of an unbelievable moment when Batman actually has difficulty on a hand-to-hand fight with the Crime Doctor! And had to be saved by the patient! I'd be upset, but its too ridiculous that I actually enjoyed it. It's Breyfogle's art that makes this issue for me - I just like the way he lays down his strokes and how his pencils get a bit abstract at times.

Detective Comics panel : batman and robin

Detective Comics 582

Millenium Was Bad, So This Isn't A Surprise

I'm not blaming Jo Duffy for this atrocious issue for a number of reasons. First, I've seen her work in Defenders - she's a strong writer. Second, this is a Millenium crossover, so the storyline was editorially dictated to an extent; the parts that where not Millenium subplots were not so bad. The Manhunters as depicted in Millenium are certainly a pet peeve of mine. They are poorly designed tin soldiers and look particularly bad when depicted in bunches. The only thing that kept this from being awful was Breyfogle's art. If you're in the mood for a bad comic. You've found it.

Detective Comics panel : evil gordon

Detective Comics 583-584

The Ventriloquist Is Added to Batman's Lore

The two-story arc deals with drugs. Specifically, capsules of a substance known as Feverol Trinitrite (I have a feeling the name isn't scientific at all but its appreciated that Wagner and Grant took the effort) - also known as Fever. The usual effect is uncontrollable wildness for half an hour then lingering addiction. Reminds me of Ecstacy tablets.

The many levels of a drug syndicate are here,  from the Fever makers in Mexico, the couriers, the hired thugs, and the distributors in Gotham headed by the pair shown below.

Detective Comics panel :the ventriloquist and his dummy - scarface

Yes, the one on the left is a wooden dummy known as Scarface and the guy with glasses on the right is called the Ventriloquist. A big part of why the story is interesting is because of these two crazies and their thugs. The whole crime organization actually takes orders from the dummy. Scarface is filthy mouthed, brutal and murderous while the Ventriloquist acts sensitive and sentimental - all along they are one and the same person and everybody knows it! All that's needed is for Wagner and Grant to run with this, and they do, balancing  the casual cruelty of Scarface with the even more insidious evil of the Ventriloquist.

The plot is centered on the Ventriloquist and his gang with Gotham as a backdrop. As night falls on the city, we go to the ground level, running around with the cops and the pimps and the Gotham rich in the red light district. We are never far from Gotham during the the story (except for a brief visit to Tijuana, Mexico) and the city takes on a life of its own - as if it were a character in the tale. This is a wonderful effect achieved by the creative team.

Through it all moves the Batman; as smart and as tough as we need him to be. We get to see the Batman's place in the life of Gotham, even with as little a thing as his shadow falling on some cops making a bust or something as significant as being able to go to effect changes that the police cannot. The relationship between Gotham and the Bat is very clear in this storyline.

Now let's get to Norm Breyfogle's art. I did a review of Detective Comics 590 and was deeply impressed by his art. That issue was cover dated September 1988, this story was several months back in February and Breyfogle's' art isn't as polished but there are some noteworthy panels :

This is the classic Breyfogle Batman in action. First of all, notice the shaded face which automatically gives a feeling of fierceness. Then the kick itself. Look at the leg - not only does it convey strength but also speed.

Detective Comics panel :batman kicks out

When I first saw this panel my eyes immediately fell to the Batmobile. What is that? Looks like a modified version of a Corvette. But then I saw the entire panel; the layout is pretty slick what with the cityscape in the background.

Detective Comics panel :batmobile with city backdrop

Here's another shot of the Batmobile. Look at those distinctive bubble windshields. It doesn't look like a Corvette now, it just looks weird. Another thing to note is the cornering. No oversteer or understeer, just stick-to-the-ground at high speed. Real world sports cars would kill for this kind of cornering (okay, not you drifters).

Detective Comics panel :batmobile

I love the city skyline backdrop with the buildings all lighted up, I just wish the sky was blue instead of this pink shade. Once again the layout is top class showing Batman sneaking into the Rizzo funeral parlor where the Ventriloquist and company are doing some truly disgusting things.

Detective Comics panel :batman breaks into rizzo's funeral parlor

Once in a while its great to see Batman in action not against some costumed villain but against organized crime in Gotham - the story makes me feel that this is what he usually does during his nightly patrols and that the city owes him a lot for helping to depress the crime rate. Granted that the Ventriloquist is far from a regular crime boss but he definitely isn't a super-villain. It's a solid story with spot-on characterization and wonderful pacing, and that's why it makes it into Comics Recommended.

By the way, the cover of 583 is from the legendary Mike Mignola.

Detective Comics 585-586

Don't Be Late For The Tour Next Stop : The Sewers of Gotham

Breyfogle came on board on 579, but his art approaches its peak in these two issues (590 is even better). A big attraction of this arc is the ickiness factor. Batman has to descend into the sewers of Gotham and there are rats. Lots and lots of rats, crawling all over the place, all over the people. It's easy to underestimate the villainous Ratcatcher, but he does stretch the Batman's resourcefulness here. Wagner and Grant give him a convincingly solid origin and motivations. At least I think its Wagner and Grant. Alan Grant revealed later on that John Wagner left after only a few issues of their Detective run but his name was kept on the credits because Grant was concerned that DC might revoke his contract if they found out the partnership was no longer active.  No matter, this is a great pair of issues.

Detective Comics 587-589

Alan Grant Gives Us A Great Ride

Alan Grant uses an FM broadcast like a string, wrapping the storyline together throughout the three issues. It's a great accompaniment to the traditional narrator's box. These issues are packed with multiple subplots involving illegal chemical shipments, a horrible accident that creates a monster called the Corrosive Man and serial killings in Gotham. Everything happens in one night so the Batman is kept busy. This is good old-fashioned Bat comics at its best. Breyfogle is in top form all throughout, his slight abstractions easy on the eyes and his layout is near faultless.

Detective Comics 590

My Favorite Issue in the Grant-Breyfogle Run

The cover alone is worth the price of the whole book. Look at the way Batman is drawn - standing still yet dynamic. Look at Big Ben in the distance, it's in silhouette but the clock details still give it three dimensionality. The bats coming out are just perfect together with the painstaking detail of the tree branches. The colors are a close match and  are subdued - with only the moon and the logo serving as contrast. The mood is somber and chill. The artist is Norm Breyfogle, he also does the rest of the issue.

I originally wanted to approach this issue of Detective Comics a showcase of Breyfogle art but John Wagner's and Alan Grant's script is so good I'll highlight points in both writing and art.

The issue starts with a terrorist attack on some Vietnam War veterans in Gotham. This sordid scene is discovered by Batman.

detective comics 590 : batman discovers dead veterans

As expected, he is furious.

Look at the stylized way Batman is drawn. This is trademark Breyfogle and I'm loving it.

The Gotham police inform Bats that the one responsible has diplomatic immunity and therefore, cannot be prosecuted and has already boarded a flight to London.

Batman gets even more furious.

Batman swings off into the night and the next day Bruce Wayne decides to go on a vacation - to London. He he he.

Breyfogle's London is gorgeous, as is heralded by Big Ben on the cover. Here's a sampling:

detective comics 590 : parliament

detective comics 590 : london landmarks

While Batman is in his hotel some kids celebrating Guy Fawke's Night are shown outside. Breyfogle's layout and paneling is well worth showing as well as what I would take to be the traditional rhyme for this occasion.

detective comics 590 : kids celebrating guy fawkes night as bruce wayne looks on

Now it is the writing's turn to take the spotlight. During his battle with the terrorist we get a a bit of a sermon from the guy responsible for killing those veterans in Gotham.

detective comics 590 : a terrorist explains himself

The wonderful thing about this issue is that Batman himself gives an answer to this piece of terrorist reasoning not so much by his words but by his actions when he makes his way into the terrorist hideout.

detective comics 590 : batman knocks out some goons and leaves

Do you see it? The terrorist holds an entire group to blame for the actions of a few individuals - considering innocent men somehow guilty of acts they have nothing to do with. Batman stands as the polar opposite as can be seen in the narration by the Caped Crusader in the panel above.

I think that's an artful and subtle piece of writing from Wagner and Grant, a good complement to Breyfogle's art.

Before Batman leaves London, he throws his costume in the bonfire so as to make it easier for him to go through Customs. I love Breyfogle's rendition of the burning costume and those kids in the background not quite believing what they are seeing in the flames.

detective comics 590 : batman cowl in a bonfire

Detective Comics 591

Boomerang vs. Batarang!

An amount of research was done on this one by Alan Grant on ancient Australian aboriginal culture and lore which really enhances the story. At one point, Batman confronts the warrior Umbaluru and Umbaluru calls him a 'Night Spirit'; at that moment, I realized how nicely the mystique of the Batman fit in with the mystical lore of ancient Australia. In another exchange near the end, Batman reveals his unique stance as a vigilante. He insists that wrongdoers be captured so they can be then tried according to the law. This is in contrast to the traditional vigilante stance of judge, jury and executioner typified by Umbaluru. A great story by Grant all the better because of Breyfogle's' excellent visuals.

Detective Comics 592 & 593 : The Fear

Trapped By A Torturer

Sometimes I hear comments about comics no longer being for kids and of some people having to shoo away their children from some of the books. These two books belong to that pile. The villain is too intense and the crimes too graphically portrayed. If you're an adult that's actually a plus. I enjoyed the no holds barred rendition of of a psychopathic torture killer presented in these pages. The storyline is gripping. This is the fastest pacing I've seen from Grant so far during his Detective run; and, of course, you can never go wrong with Breyfogle art. Watch for the wonderful moment when Batman shows just how strong he is. Great read but not for kids.

Detective Comics 594

This Anti-Drug Issue Is Way Out There

For the last nine consecutive issues this creative team has been turning out work that I have been rating four stars or 'Exceptional'. Unfortunately, the streak ends here. Just like issues 583 and 584, this is an anti-drug issue. The drug in question is the famous night club pill, Ecstasy. So the guy who took Ecstasy starts running around killing people like a terrorist. Not even guys on cocaine do this. So I looked up the symptoms of Ecstasy on the net and it is nowhere near like the depiction in this comic. Next, there is a scene here where a bunch of joy riders get blown up while riding a Porsche right in front of the Batman and a private investigator. This car just doesn't blow up but this seems to be lost on the Bat, until the P.I. points out that there must have been some kind of bomb. Lastly, the P.I. is a guy named Joe Potato. Yes. And . . . and, he looks just like a potato. Yes. And he makes lame potato jokes all throughout the issue - they are so lame that I actually chuckled near the end when he was throwing it out like Spider-Man during a battle. This all adds up to  a 'Bad' rating for this comic. It's an off issue for Grant but you can console yourself with the great Breyfogle art.

Detective Comics 617

Good Old-Fashioned Batman vs. Joker Fun!

This is a done-in-one issue battle between the arch foes: Batman and the Joker. The battle itself is stupendous, highlighting the ruthless madness of the Joker and the iron will of the Batman. Don't miss the two-page spread as the two collide while the Joker drive's his very nicely rendered vintage car. Yes, the talented Mr. Breyfogle in top form as usual. Embellishing this main event is Alan Grant who has obviously done research on the historical meaning of the tarot and the symbolism of the bat. He uses the knowledge to further enrich the issue.

Detective Comics 871-873

The New Batman In An Adventure About People Who Collect Batman Villain Memorabilia

First of all, the art is ravishing. Not gorgeous. Not beautiful. Ravishing - lush and rich and yes, sexy. Kudos to Jock, who did the art for this story arc. In particular look for the two page spread with the red sky and the bat moon with Batman and Gordon talking on the GCPD rooftop. This is in 871.

detective comics 871 : red skies over gotham

There is a one pager in 872 when Batman leaps off after his meeting with Oracle - I was tempted to tear it off and frame it.

detective comics 871 : batman leaps off

Writing flows, with nary a boring moment and there are very well placed cliff hangers between issues. There is reference in 871 to a corrupt cop, Becca Mulcahey, an alleged associate of the infamous Jim Corrigan. Sure enough she's there when I checked out my old issues of Gotham Central.

The backup tale in 871 and 872 is about Jim Gordon and is interesting enough but it does not conclude during the course of this three issue arc.

Detective Comics 874-875

The Mystery Of James Gordon

These two issues, and the backup stories from 871 and 872, form a story that, in turn, forms a question and the question is never answered. Like a multi-faceted gem the question is presented to the reader, it's various facets introduced; there is depth in this question and there is mystery. It is a measure of Scott Snyder's skill that his delicate balance is maintained and we do not get frustrated at the tale. The tale is told as it should be and presented with great artistry by the writer. An artistry that is handily matched by the artist. Francavilla's particular strength is action. Batman and Red Robin in motion is a joy to behold. Francavilla's inks are rightfully heavy keeping a tone that suggests Miller and Colan. The range of the color palette used for each set of related panels is carefully limited, helping to evoke mood.  But it is the writing that draws us back. Notice the subtlety with which Mr. Snyder fills out the character of James Gordon, a dialogue here, a scene there. A lesser writer would have succumbed to stereotypes. As I turn the last page  I think it only right that DC assigns its top talents to do such an iconic title as 'Detective Comics'.

Next: Gotham Central