by: Bob Holt
I have talked about my love of Batman on this blog, and especially defending his greatness on Twitter, but I haven’t actually discussed a Batman comic book yet. Admittedly, most of my favorite Batman storylines were written in the 80’s and 90’s. I am a lapsed comic collector, but have recently gotten back into the game. Since the launch of what is being called ‘The New 52’ – there are a slew of relaunched Batman titles. Some have already come and went, while other are thriving. Time has not been on my side, as I have started my reconfirmation as a comic book reader and I have had to parse through which stories I’d want to kick off with. The first was Batman: Eternal (an ongoing 52 week series that is in week 11) and the story line I am here to discuss today. That series is Detective Comics.
Since the relaunch of the series with the New 52, there have been five story arcs: Faces of Death and Scare Tactics by Tony S Daniel followed by Emperor Penguin, The Wrath, and Gothopia by John Layman. I haven’t read these arcs, but have heard good things, especially about Scare Tactics and Emperor Penguin. The arc I was to start with is entitled ‘Icarus’ brought to us by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul. The team’s previous work includes a notable run on ‘The Flash’ and Francis Manapul was recognized in 2010 with the All-in-One Award; an award for being a rare comic book artist who pencils, inks, and colors all of his own work.
There are three things I want to emphasize as to why you should be checking this out:
1.) The Art
I can’t say enough how much I love the art in this series. Manapul’s pencil work is so stylistic and refreshing. It feels hand drawn, whereas so many books today feel created digitally. I mean, it doesn’t just feel hand drawn, it is. Francis Manapul has a fantastic drawing table site (http://francismanapul.com/) where he posts in progress shots of his work and you can see images progress from pencils to inkings to color. Another aspect of the art which makes it engrossing and unique is that it is painted with watercolor. The coloring is masterful, depth and mixing is tremendous. It’s like reading a Batman story where Gotham is painted by Van Gogh due to its richness. It creates a comic page that looks like it is still wet to the touch; like Manapul painted MY copy.
Further, the structure of the comic panels is such that it flows naturally for action. Small zoom windows and superimposition are coupled with a panel layout that aids the reader to see the action in true motion.
2.) The Focus On Detective
For a book titled Detective Comics, featuring a character that is described as “The World’s Greatest Detective” – the New 52 Detective Comic series has been light on actual detecting. It is a tricky balance between writing to sell books and writing to serve fans; many story arcs try to include one of the major villains or a plot with huge consequences to draw in the casual reader. A long time fan like myself however, knows the big name villains so well I find a smaller scale story to be much more refreshing. The story in ‘Icarus’ is a very small scale story revolving around Batman and Detective Harvey Bullock investigated the murder of a business partner of Wayne Industries and what the mysterious drug icarus has to do with why she was murdered. It seems to obvious to say that I am excited that a book called Detective Comics is focus on a detective story, but if you knew how little that element has been emphasized in the stories, you would be excited too.
3.) Cover Art
In the digital age of media consumption, I find myself less and less interested in purchasing physical comic book issues. I do something that we are all told not to do as children and judge the book by its cover. I don’t determine if I will like the book based on cover art, but the cover and interior art definitely play the large role in whether I will purchase a physical copy. These books have some of the best covers I’ve ever seen. In fact, the cover for the first issue of the arc (pictured below) is my favorite cover of any issue from the New 52. Not only is the style alluring, each over is a little bit of a puzzle that foreshadows story elements. They are meant not just to be eye catching, but also to be studied. Manapul often layers patterns on top of one another to created outlines for the next layer or element of the cover. It is masterful, truly.
We are currently in the third issue of this story arc, it comprises issues #30-32 of the New 52 Batman: Detective Comics. The beautiful writing includes murder, crime scene investigation, a drug that causes spontaneous combustion, and a giant squid. Certainly, that may seem just as zany as a man in a refrigerated suit trying to heal a cryogenically frozen wife or a guy that wears a burlap sack on his head and sprays fear toxin; the scripting makes its feel just as grounded as anything in Batman’s universe. I recommend running out and picking up the arc. It is the most refreshing Batman story I’ve read in several years. The next issue is due out July 2, 2014.
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