Being Batman is tough. Sure, the sheer physical demand of the role would destroy the bodies of even the most fit and capable people who would dare don the cape and cowl, but the mental strain somehow seems even more punishing. Bruce Wayne is a man driven by a self-sanctimonious notion. He has written a code for himself, and that code is applied to an open-ended crusade. There is no end to being Batman. There's no retirement party or a farewell watch bequeath to whomever steps down from being the Dark Knight. At best, they would age out of the position and quietly pass the mantle along. At worst, the ending would be anything but quiet. And now, Detective Comics #999 reveals the lengths Batman is willing to go reconcile his mission.
With Issue #1000 right around the corner, it would be easy to kick out a lackluster Batman story in the chapter leading to the milestone. But Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke instead crafted a solid, multi-part tale exploring the mind of Bruce Wayne and what makes him tick. Our story begins with Batman facing off against a young man who has been acting as a dark mirror to show Bruce the darkest recesses of his mind. Without getting into spoilers, while that reveal may seem a bit cheap to some readers, I personally felt it worked.
Batman, as a character, has always been rooted in the idea of fear being what drives him. The fear of loss and the fear of letting the horrible fate which befell his parents affect another Gotham City Resident give Bruce fuel for his fire. Fear is also his greatest tool in perusing his endless crusade. His legend is one built it. This gives creators a lot of room to play with the psyche of Batman in interesting ways. Tomasi has done great work in this field, crafting smart and exciting stories featuring a character who has been around for nearly a century and has been tackled from just about every conceivable angle. And while this particular tale may not be ground-breaking in terms of revealing things we didn't know about Batman, it's well-told with smart dialogue and kinetic pacing.
As solid as the writing is in this issue, however, it's the art that truly draws you in. Some artists leave their marks in various eras of comics, and even now, when I see work by Jim Lee or the Kubert Brothers, I'm instantly reminded of the X-Men comics of my childhood. But with Mahnke's art, I don't date it to when I first discovered it. Mahnke's work has a classic comic vibe that somehow feels fresh, no matter how familiar it is. It's simply ageless. Now, I know Mahnke was drawing comics in the '90s (the guy co-created The Mask, for the love of Pete), and I know I read some of the books he illustrated around the same time I was reading those Jim Lee X-books, but it's his work on Batman that has continued to define him in my mind, and, I'm sure, in other fans' as well.
Detective Comics #999 is a fantastic lead into DC Comics' next big milestone. Not everyone gets to boast about a quadruple digit issue hitting the stands, and Tomasi and Mahnke have set the bar for their next story, which will undoubtedly have thousands of new readers, extremely high.