Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellatto and Fernando Blanco’s “Detective Comics” #41 — the other big Batman release this week — focuses on the supporting cast of the Gotham City Police Department and especially Harvey Bullock as everyone adjusts to the idea of a new police-sanctioned Dark Knight. It’s a good companion piece to the eponymous title, featuring the welcome return of some familiar faces.
The strength of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellatto’s script is in the finer moments, narrowing down to Bullock or Maggie Sawyer. The plot doesn’t quite get off the ground with this opening chapter, which makes sense; readers need to get the lay of the land in this new status quo. Fernando Blanco fills in on art for Manapul and, though his layouts and character work aren’t as dynamic as the co-writer’s experimental draftsmanship, it delivers clean, readable action and emoting characters during the conversational scenes.
This issue is a character piece for certain; Batman pops around the edges of the pages in a context-less fight while readers flash back over the last several weeks with Bullock, through the buildup to the launch of the GCPD’s new shiny pal. The structure of the issue, jumping back and forth, feels like it covers up the lack of current action. The writers are in a bind, though; so much new status quo needs to be developed but, as the supporting title, they can’t really tell the story in a linear fashion. Readers will come in expecting the new Bat immediately and the creative team delivers, but the problem is that he is the focus of the least interesting moments of the story. Detective Bullock is the star here and it’s in the moments where readers travel with him that the story is far more enjoyable. His stubborn nature leads to the very welcome return of Renee Montoya as she takes the point for the new Batman Task Force. These characters bounce well off one another; their scenes are the most fun in this issue. Rebirth is the name of the game in Gotham right now and Batman gives everyone a new point of view on the city.
Blanco’s view of the city is high-quality, a mixture of Michael Lark’s classic “Gotham Central” style and Chris Samnee’s entertaining work on “Daredevil.” It’s unfair to compare him to Manapul, but it’s hard not to notice the page layouts are a bit more standard, especially under the gorgeous cover. Blanco uses a bit of expressionistic sensibility for his character work; as characters consider hard choices or are upset, their features become slightly more jagged or scratchy; in other moments of vulnerability or heroism, they are rendered in a curvier, softer view. The most interesting scene in both writing and art is the quiet taco night in the park that Bullock, Montoya and Yip all share after their bar fight. It allows the writers a chance to delve into each of these major players and establish their motives while giving the artist a chance to let them all emote. The visual style of the lettering — creating a hegemony with “Batman” in caption and narrative boxes — enforces that these books are now a unit, much like Batman and the police.
Though most eyes will be on the other “Batman” title this week, “Detective Comics” #41 serves as a great way to give the fan favorite characters of the GCPD and the wider cast outside of the Batfamily a chance to shine.