In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the chromium-embossed Detective Comics #675…
Detective Comics #675 (published June 1994) – script by Chuck Dixon, art by Graham Nolan and Scott Hanna
DC’s recent 75th anniversary celebration of Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (with the New 52 version of Detective #27) inspired me to seek out what I believe to be the first instance of a gimmick cover used by the long-running series. The chromium-embossed Detective #675 marks the final chapter of the “Knightquest: The Crusade” storyline, which features Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azrael, operating as a more violent, ethically ambivalent version of Batman, while Bruce Wayne recuperates from injuries suffered during his epic showdown with Bane.
But what about inside the comic?
Last August, I declared Batman #500 a “good” comic, based on the strength of Jean-Paul’s characterization, and its entertaining slugfest between AzBat and Bane. But nearly everything I liked about Batman #500 is nowhere to be found once the AzBat saga transitions from “Knightfall” to “Crusade.” By this point, Jean-Paul has been reduced to a cartoonishly one-dimensional sociopath packing more heavy duty artillery than the Punisher on his best days, and whose solution to Gotham’s problems is for the city’s streets to run red with the blood of the criminals he has apprehended. This is a far cry from the character who let Bane survive at the end of Batman #500, to the shock and surprise of Robin.
And I get that this characterization of Jean-Paul is very intentional from the creative team, and that it’s all a set-up for Bruce’s triumphant return as the Dark Knight down the road. It’s patently obvious that the creative team doesn’t want us to like AzBat and how he conducts business. It’s also not lost on me that Azrael has been brainwashed by “The System,” and has become increasingly more delusional and paranoid throughout “Crusade” as he receives “visits” from his father and Saint Dumas. But that doesn’t mean this specific comic is any good.
Detective #675 opens with Azrael upgrading his costume’s weaponry – something we’ve already seen the character do a number of times in previous issues. Again, I understand that the script’s repetition is intentional, and the reason we keep seeing Jean-Paul tweaking his armor and adding absurd gadgets like flamethrowers and shuriken shooters is because it demonstrates how psychologically and emotionally unfit he is to be a hero. But the comic is light on content as is. At 28 pages, including letters pages and multiple ads, I expect a little more bang for my chromium-enhanced buck. Starting the comic with three pages of AzBat playing with weapons comes across like the creative team is stretching things out a bit, especially as a final chapter to a multi-part storyline that stretches across all of the Batman titles.
Detective #675 also differs from the “Knightfall” finale in terms of the quality of antagonist being used. AzBat fights Gunhawk, aka, yet another 90s comic book character that carries a bunch of guns and likes to yell in ALL CAPS. The only thing that makes Gunhawk remotely interesting is how he’s carrying around his injured girlfriend Bunny in hopes of saving her. But then he goes and opens his mouth and I find myself rolling my eyes rather than caring one little bit about the character and his Bunny. In one scene he brags to AzBat that his gun is bigger, and then repeats himself “MINE’S BIGGER” (note: all caps again). This is the best dialogue Chuck Dixon could come up with?
The comic doesn’t so much end as it just stops. AzBat and Gunhawk go tumbling down a flight of stairs, leaving the villain critically injured (and asking about Bunny), while Jean-Paul disappears into the night. Granted, DC published an epilogue to “Crusade” in Robin #7 a month later, but considering Detective #675 was supposed to be the arc’s last chapter, the abruptness of the comic’s last two pages feels like Dixon and Graham Nolan either ran out of time or ideas. Perhaps fewer pages dedicated to Jean-Paul’s semi-automatic weapons and a more appropriate, well scripted and illustrated ending that resolved something, anything, could have been inserted.
Beyond the story, there’s something about the art that doesn’t sit quite right with me. I don’t know if it’s Scott Hanna’s inks, or something else, but there is a lack of depth to Nolan’s pencils that make elements of his AzBat look sketchy or incomplete. In a few scenes (and the cover), AzBat’s claws are positioned awkwardly and appear as if they’re stationary, resembling oversized over mitts rather than deadly weapons. But on other pages, the claws are more dynamic, clenching into fists. I am being nitpicky, but considering the level of detail AzBat put into his costume’s weaponry, I would hope Nolan and Hanna would be consistent in how they illustrate its capabilities.
Detective #675 is very emblematic of a “bad” 90s comic. The characters are so poorly written and the plot so shallow, that the creative team’s only response is to add more weapons and gadgets in order to distract people from the disappointing story. And to distract people even further, DC slapped some chromium on the front, jacked the price up a few dollars and declared it a “special” issue.