Although the cover does not indicate any connection to the “Death of a Family” storyline, “Detective Comics” #17 continues to investigate the influence the Joker wields on the denizens of Gotham City thanks to John Layman’s story and Jason Fabok’s acutely detailed artwork. The issue brings a close to the two-parter detailing the misdeeds of the League of Smiles: a quartet of deranged derelicts with distinct obsessions that have been molded to do the bidding of the Merrymaker, himself a mysterious villain set to draw the attention of the Joker.
Instead, and almost ridiculously conveniently, the League of Smiles meets up with Batman, who is understandably intense with this group, especially after figuring out the identity of their leader. Layman’s Batman maintains a degree of humanity and provides narration throughout “Detective Comics” #17, allowing the reader to peek into the inner workings of the Dark Knight Detective’s mind. Some of the connections are telegraphed a bit, but Layman leaves enough room for possibilities and probabilities to play out, leaving the reader guessing the whole way through.
Jason Fabok and Jeromy Cox blend nicely, sharing chores on detail work and design while complementing one another’s strengths quite well. Fabok’s Batman is looser than Ethan Van Sciver’s work on “Batman: the Dark Knight” and tighter than Greg Capullo on “Batman,” serving as a nice third option and individual interpretation of Batman’s world. For fans coming to Batman comic books from an appreciation of the character in other media, Fabok’s work will almost certainly have instant appeal. The artist’s knack for detail, enhanced by applied patterns from Cox, is not restricted to Batman. The duo provide just as much visual punch to the side of a brick building as they do the clown-painted faces of the League of Smiles.
A backup story written by Layman and drawn with significant detail by Andy Clarke gives some background and insight to the events that helped shape the League of Smiles. Layman and Clarke provide more story in those eight pages than some comic books deliver in twenty pages. The combination of lead and backup gives “Detective Comics” #17 an anthology feel, but the backup is less independent and more of a director’s cut extra scene, providing depth to the primary tale while teasing out adventures to come.
Plain and simple: Batman fans are spoiled right now when it comes to comic books. Between the work of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Gregg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver and the work of Layman and Fabok here, there are plenty of ways to get a Batman fix. The real problem is there is simply so much good Batman material right now that some lesser lights are certain to be ignored. At least they’ll be ignored in favor of comic books with good storytelling and fantastic art, like “Detective Comics” #17.