Stories have power. They entertain. They inform. They give insight. They tell us where we’ve been and where we might be going. Whether fictional or non-fictional, they paint a picture that can accomplish a multitude of things at once or sometimes just one thing with spectacular clarity and thought.
Detective Comics is itself a story in its existence and lifespan as a title and it has been telling a story for most of a year now that inherently speaks to many of the notions of storytelling. Through ten issues, plus an annual, Ram V has been running a masterclass on how to engage in not just long-form storytelling within a monthly medium such as comics but how to do so while engaging a character/space at its core and doing something new while also paying respect to everything that came before. This is not a run that washed away what previous creators have done or ignored those things, it is clearly a run that is meant to be a culmination of all that we know and have accepted in the space of Batman for the last 84 years.
We get a story within a story here as Talia al Ghul continues to regale Batman with the history of the Orghams and her father, how they came to be blood enemies, and how the Orgham’s lust for power and control began. Ra’s al Ghul is such a natural character to connect to this other powerful ancient family, and we even get the other immortal DC character Vandal Savage playing a big role in this issue and clearly moving forward. These are more pieces that have been added to an already very full board, yet it doesn’t feel overcrowded in any sense.
In many cases having this many characters zipping in and out, whether playing huge roles or essentially cameos, would begin to pull the narrative down a bit. There is a reason that team books in comics are generally capped at certain sizes because too many characters run the risk of not doing them all justice or leaving someone to be lost in the shuffle. Ram V though knows exactly how to play each piece and when, his plan so intricate and precise in what story he’s wanting to tell with this series. Two-Face was enjoying a massive spotlight that was some of the best work the character has seen but he’s been naturally moved off the board (for the time being) so that others can shift in, and it doesn’t take away from the story or feel like it was abrupt or forced.
Instead, this story has been moving smoothly and steadily through the eleven issues so far, building up characters and the foundation so that now we can begin to move into the actual deeper meat of things. Each issue has been filled with enough juicy moments to sate our story hunger and doing so in a way that the stretched-out mysteries and unanswered questions don’t become an anchor that holds us back or upsets us but become the thing that spurs us to keep running back for more.
Trust. That’s a keyword here. We have an inherent trust built through not just this story, but also through other work that has come before it, that this writer will not lead us astray. Will not leave us hanging or unsatisfied once all is said and done. Such trust when dealing with this type of storytelling, compared to others where you’re consuming a whole story in one go, is paramount. Knowing and believing that this will all have something meaningful and powerful or just well-crafted and fun by the end makes it smoother to accept waiting a month between chapters. Without that trust and the structure to back it up, long-form storytelling in comics is a shaky proposition at best.
Comic book issues/arcs having a variety of artists tapping in to create the story is a very common situation in this era. Often the changes in artwork aren’t precise in where it changes in any given issue, but sometimes the presentation of a story is perfect for a variety of artistic styles. That’s what we get here as we move back to a bevy of artists with Stefano Raffaele, Ivan Reis, and Eduardo Pansica handling the penciling with Raffaele, Danny Miki, Joe Prado, Julio Ferreira, and Juan Castro on inks and colors being handled by Brad Anderson and Adriano Lucas.
Having the various artists and inkers handling different time periods and spaces really helps with having so many hands on the book. It gives each sequence its own look yet there is enough that connects them. As with all art in this book so far there is an inherent roughness to all of the styles that plays into the darker and rougher quality of this story, filled with such depth and detail across the pages. This is a lived-in world with expressive characters, with all the action sliding around the page with movement of its own. Each of the artists also employs such solid panel layout choices allowing the panels to shift and change by the page in order to achieve the best way to tell that given part of the story.
Allowing the panels to be on top of one another, alongside each other, dominate a page or separate a page, often slipping into the style of one massive panel with others imposed over it to maximize how much is shown and at the same time show how its all connected. There is a heaviness to it all and the flashbacks feel real and deep but also have a bit to them that makes them feel like a story being told, since that is what is happening (the framing present day story being Talia telling Batman the past story, and Vandal Savage coming after the Orghams).
Anderson and Lucas bring similar color sensibilities to the page alongside their unique styles, playing into the darker heavier colors and shadows allowing for pops of vibrant colors to flow through the pages. Many of the spaces are a more natural lighter style of colors so that the bolder and bigger elements can be heavier and more vivid to pop more on the page. It gives a unique feel to each space as these various countries and realms we pass through are so wildly different in appearance which is fabulous.
As this is a story being told within an issue that is a story being told to us, there is a lot of lettering to be found with captions and dialogue. Ariana Maher makes it flow so smoothly per usual, giving every little bit there its own flair and flashes of personality. None of the conversations feel static or likely to be confused about who is speaking or giving the sentiment, as we can feel their ‘voice’ through the words. Giving different colors to the caption boxes for different characters definitely helps as it personalizes that even more for them, allowing them to fully own the words they are saying or thinking.
In the backup we reach the final part of this piece of the overarching story, ending the encounter between Doctor Mead and Mister Freeze. Each of these backups has allowed Simon Spurrier to really delve into some of the rogues appearing in the main story, expanding what Ram V has touched on in those stories. Here we get a portrait of a broken man, one who wasn’t actually planning to use this device on his wife Nora as Mead had assumed, but on himself to potentially get back to being the man that he was before the cryo accident. Spurrier easily taps into that space where what these characters do is wrong and terrible in some cases but there is enough humanity behind them that we can sympathize with and understand even as we might condemn them.
Every bit of this story has just been so gorgeous to behold because Casper Wijngaard has such a whimsical, colorful, vivid, and unique art style. I would love to see a full issue with Wijngaard’s artwork and watch how it brings a really unique energy and life to Gotham City and its other characters. While it’s very surreal with the colors that are so vivid, there is a realness that permeates the work because the figures are so life-like and emotive. It feels like a world that we know but one that is also touched by the fantastical just a bit.
It pairs great with the lettering work of Steve Wands which plays into the fantastical at times, such as the more melodical looking lettering for the musical whisper being that Mead is dealing with, but also at times has a heavy normalness to it that plays into that whole realistic feeling part. I love how the whispers or quieter moments are faded out and shrunk down to indicate this, while the bigger moments are clear in their boldness and increased fonts.
Detective Comics #1071 is now available from DC Comics.
Stories have power. They entertain. They inform. They give insight. They tell us where we’ve been and where we mightCOMICONRead More