Detective Comics #939
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Now this is how you make a superhero comic book.
With Batman and his team of trainees coming together to battle Col. Jacob Kane and his team of secret troopers known as the Colony, it’d be easy for James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows to rest on their laurels, to just pour on the meaningless fisticuffs one issue before they conclude their first arc. But it’s a testament to this creative team that they not only keep their momentum going, but actually raise the stakes to new heights.
While Tynion begins his issue with a nice flashback that positions the dynamic between Bruce Wayne, Kate Kane and her father, one glance at the cover should be enough to tell you who really steals the show this issue: namely, Tim Drake. Tynion has said many times how Tim is one of his favorite characters, and after five issues of deftly balancing the team, he really gives Red Robin some of the juiciest beats here, as he not only gets to show off his brainpower with cool new gadgetry like a self-healing Batcave, but also wrestles with a very compelling internal drama as he decides whether or not to hang up the cape in order to study at Ivy University. “This is a thought problem, not a fight,” Tim says, as Tynion builds up this issue to a tremendous crescendo. “And there’s nobody in this city smarter than you.”
Even as Red Robin gets the best moments of the issue, that’s not to say the rest of the Bat-family gets left out. As the Colony sends a swarm of drones to raze parts of Gotham City, Batman and company have to think fast in order to evacuate civilians and draw Col. Kane’s fire, and there are some great beats here, like Clayface trying (and failing miserably) to use his shapeshifting abilities to try to impersonate Batman, or Orphan’s terse commands to get a building full of people out. While Batman and Batwoman get to hash out the final strokes of their partnership, the Dark Knight himself gets to be more of a mystery as he begins to weave the threads of a plan together - as he calls friends in high places, he also gets to express some genuine emotion as he races to protect one of his proteges from nearly certain death.
And that’s not even getting into the artwork. Eddy Barrows has found his home with Detective Comics, effortlessly juggling packed panel layouts without sacrificing a hint of clarity or drama. At times, he’ll employ unorthodox configurations and dutch angles to goose the dynamics of a particularly talky scene, and he and colorist Adriano Lucas’s occasional use of painterly panels is an effective way of showing us which moments we’re really supposed to get into our heroes’ heads. Barrows also does some breathtaking work executing Tynion’s big, operatic moments, like the Colony’s flying cruiser entering Gotham City limits, or a panel of Batman and Batwoman standing silently on the spires of a building, or - my favorite - a small beat with Tim Drake giving a smirk as he flips the tables on the Colony’s entire operation.
When you read as many comic books as I do, it’s easy to point out which ones work and which ones don’t - but it’s also easy to see that plenty of comic books wind up toeing the line between “average” and merely forgettable. But seeing a team book with this much energy, characterization and skill is a rare feat in today’s event-driven Big Two ecosystem, and so seeing a book as successful, engaging and fun as Detective Comics brings me a lot of hope for cape comics. If you buy only one book from the Big Two this week, you could do a lot worse than this.