John Layman and Jason Fabok’s run on “Detective Comics” has been a lovely surprise in terms of quality and strength, and that’s more or less what I expected in “Detective Comics” #18. While the comic is still very good, there are unfortunately two little bits here and there that just don’t match up to the top-notch nature of what’s come up before.
First the good news: on the whole, the Emperor Penguin storyline in “Detective Comics” #18 is as good as ever. This issue shows just how the Penguin discovers that Ogilvy has swooped in and taken over his empire, and it’s just as satisfying as you might expect. Layman continues to give the Penguin a great deal of respect, even as he continues on a downward spiral when everything is taken away from him.
What makes this story work is that it doesn’t treat the Penguin like an idiot, but rather someone who was merely complacent. It’s a good tactic (and echoes back to an earlier issue of “Detective Comics” by Layman and Fabok where Batman tells Robin that to defeat the Penguin, you just have to be patient), and one that respects the character when taking him down. Ogilvy meanwhile continues to prove to be an intriguing villain, even as Layman has him use another Bat-villain to get his way. It’s a storyline that’s building to be more and more effective with each month.
With that in mind, though, the one part of the main story this month that feels out of place is the two-page sequence where Batman pauses to grieve the loss of Damian from last week’s “Batman Incorporated” #8. I get that Layman and his editors are trying to keep “Detective Comics” current with those recent events, but it still feels jarring and out of the blue. In many ways the scene feels almost grafted on; it’s a strange tonal shift that doesn’t quite integrate with the pages before and after. As soon as the moment is over, it’s back to business as usual, and not a second too soon.
Fabok’s art continues to look as handsome as always. It’s got some nice clean lines, and good storytelling on every page. I love that uncluttered art is becoming more and more popular these days, because it opens the door for artists like Fabok to show some solid sequential art techniques in a timeless style. I do think that the monthly grind might have caught up with Fabok a bit, though, since this issue is starting to show some panels that were clearly reused from earlier in the book with minor tweaking. At the bottom of page eight, the face of the Penguin as he says, “Do you know who I am?” is at least partially replicated on page nine when he says, “I’m the Penguin, you lummox.” He’s altered the mouth a bit and added a crease to his cheek accordingly — and I appreciate that Fabok understands the need to do so — but the lines around the eyes in particular are the giveaway that corners are being cut. Still, on the whole, it looks great.
After having Andy Clarke the past few months draw the back-up feature, it’s a bit of a disappointment to not see him here this issue. Instead Henrik Jonsson steps in to draw the first part of a story about Mr. Zsasz. In general, it’s the back-up that is the other small stumbling block this month. The story feels a little unnecessary and doesn’t add anything extra to the main story arc like previous months did, as we get a revamp of Zsasz’s origin connecting him to the Penguin. The art also isn’t quite up to the high standard that Clarke had established; if there was ever a story that could have used his fine line work, it’s one starring a madman who leaves tick marks all over his body. Jonsson’s art isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have the menace that I think this script required to make it memorable. Instead it comes across a little too light for the dark story trying to be told here.
Even though “Detective Comics” #18 isn’t quite up to par with the past five months, Layman and Fabok have still done a nice job. I like what they’re doing on the title, and I’m definitely sticking around for the months to come. While this is a good issue, I hope next month returns to what I’ve come to expect: a great issue.