If “Detective Comics” hadn’t started its renumbering with the launch of the New 52, then this month would have been “Detective Comics” #900. With that in mind, it’s fun to see the company recognize that fact with a huge 80-page issue, complete with a lead story by John Layman and Jason Fabok titled, “The 900.”
Featuring the return of Man-Bat to the re-launched DC universe (despite them already appearing in “Batman Incorporated,” a fact that Layman works into the story), “Detective Comics” #19’s lead story is exactly the sort of comic I’ve quickly grown to expect from Layman and Fabok. It uses classic Batman villains in a story that can be read as a one-off, but at the same time integrates it into their larger “Emperor Penguin” story arc. It’s a clever way to keep building up a big story, but at the same time keep it from feeling overly long or drawn out.
“The 900” itself is another solid read. Layman has firmly cast the story of Man-Bat as a tragedy, something that often got lost with different interpretations of the character over the years. And while the science is a little odd in places, there’s something wonderfully creepy about an airborne Man-Bat virus that makes this story zip along. A lot of the props have to go to Fabok this month, though; the scene in the convenience store at the start of the comic sets the tone perfectly with the horror of a forced transformation. Fabok captures the duo at just the right moment between human and Man-Bat, and it’s a lovely “gotcha!” moment for the comic.
“The 900” also feels like “Detective Comics” is in some ways stepping to the front of the line as the Batman comic that deals the most with the other series being published. With “Batman” preparing to step into the past for “Zero Year” this choice makes sense, and here we get some glimpses into the fallout between Batman and his “family” of associates, as well as tie-ins to events from “Batman Incorporated,” “Batwoman,” and “Nightwing.” Layman and Fabok juggle the challenges of a shared universe well here, and I feel like the line is in good hands with them.
The four back-up stories also all are good, with three of them tying in directly to “The 900.” Layman and Andy Clarke gives us some more backstory to Kirk Langstrom, even as it also moves the story forward post-“The 900” conclusion. It helps flesh out both characters, and doesn’t lose track of the tragedy nature of the first story even as it makes both of them a bit more sinister. Clarke’s art is great here; highly detailed and realistic, but there’s one scene in the lab (you’ll know it when you see it) which is wonderfully twisted and warped. It’s in such defiance to Clarke’s normal adherence to reality that it jumps out as a result.
James Tynion IV and Mikel Janin are up next, with the one story that stands on its own. Their job is to bring Bane back into the New 52, and sticking it in this high-profile title (especially as the new lynchpin for the Batman line) makes sense enough. It’s in many ways a prequel to an upcoming “Talon” storyline, as it links Bane to that title while taking the villain back to his roots. Those who fell in love with the character in “Secret Six” will be a little disappointed that his recasting has been discarded, but for people who only knew him from “The Dark Knight Rises” it’ll be a bit more familiar a face here. It’s a good story overall, with both Tynion and Janin turning in good looking and easily-flowing pages.
Layman and Henrik Jonsson team up for the next story, one that follows up a bit more on the overall “Emperor Penguin” storyline that’s touched on in “The 900” even as it takes place during the outbreak of Man-Bats. It’s another fun reminder from Layman on how Emperor Penguin uses the plethora of villains in Gotham City to his advantage, even as we see just what Penguin’s been up to in the meantime. More importantly, though, I think this is Jonsson’s best art I’ve seen yet. Penguin’s lined, squinting face looks a little old and weary, which fits in well with what he’s going through in this story. I love the tuxedo-and-swirly-head look of new villain Headlamp here, and the Man-Bats also look sufficiently scary. This is the third comic I’ve seen Jonsson draw, and I’m pleased to see that everything has visually clicked into place. More comics like this from Jonsson, please.
Last up is a story where Layman and Jason Masters give us a few of “The 900” through the eyes of the Gotham City Police Department. It’s a short but pleasing story about what happens when a police officer is caught up in the Man-Bat virus; the script is nice and it gives us a glimpse into a group of characters that all feel real. It’s also nice to see Masters (probably best known for assisting Chris Bunham with a few pages of the last couple issues of “Batman Incorporated”) get to draw a complete story. It’s a very clean and crisp style, and considering this is a story where a lot of it is set in a hospital room, it’s got a strong sense of storytelling. I’m definitely down for getting more art from Masters down the line.
“Detective Comics” #19 works very well; I appreciated that three of the four back-up stories tied directly into the main feature, something you rarely see in anniversary issues of this size. More importantly, all of the stories here were fun. There are dark moments in most of them, sure, but Layman in particular never loses sight of the fact that you’re supposed to be enjoying the experience of reading this comic. All in all, another victory for the new “Detective Comics” creative team, as well as all of the creative guest-stars. (And for those who like such things, there are even a bunch of bonus pin-ups included.) This is a nice way to turn 900.