Detective Comics #945
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Al Barrionuevo, Carmen Carnero, Scott Hanna and Adriano Lucas
Letters by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jon Arvedon
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Detective Comics #944 ended on a cliffhanger, with a bed-ridden Stephanie Brown being confronted by the enigmatic First Victim. In Detective Comics #945, the fallout of this, and more, are explored as part three of “The Victim Syndicate” unfolds. However, this time it’s not just the syndicate themselves that are unwilling to absolve the Dark Knight of his actions, in an issue aptly subtitled “Unforgiven.”
Coming as a bit of a surprise, the opening page of Detective Comics #945 has Batman interrogating Stephanie after her aforementioned encounter with the First Victim. Given the tension-filled manner in which #944 concluded, it was a little jarring to see this issue pick up on the aftermath of the confrontation, rather than exploring the conflict itself. However, from a storytelling perspective, it makes sense as it allows writer James Tynion IV to set a good pace to a narrative that spends more time dealing with the fracturing dynamic of the team, rather than the Victim Syndicate themselves.
Don’t be mistaken - the Victim Syndicate still play a large role in this issue, both in terms of direct conflict, as well as the residual repercussions of their previous attacks. But what Tynion does in this chapter of his story, though, is put further emphasis on the latter. Couple this with the loss of Tim Drake, and much like a small crack in a window, the damage begins the radiate outwards. It now feels as though it’s only a matter of time before the pane inevitably shatters, leaving the faces of each member of the once-united team relegated to individual shards of glass as they fall to the floor.
Tynion’s deep, heartfelt dialogue projecting from Stephanie serves as an emotional highlight to the issue, as Spoiler displays a level of assertion against the Caped Crusader that can only be rivaled by the likes of Amanda Waller (“That’s what this whole Batman thing has always been about. Making you feel better, at everybody else’s expense”). Tynion expertly channels the sympathy for Spoiler he’s instilled in the reader into a well-rationalized verbal attack of Batman’s sometimes questionable methodologies, while still ensuring he doesn’t cast too dark a shadow over the brooding Dark Knight.
The signs of distress and inner-turmoil are most evident in the sequences featuring Spoiler, but they’re not exclusive to her, alone. Tynion further progresses the continued head-butting we’ve seen between Batwoman and Batwing and this time, we begin to see the gloves come off (“You don’t know what you’re fighting for, Luke. That’s my problem,” Kate says when Luke questions her animosity towards him). Meanwhile, the slow build towards Clayface’s regression also receives some additional padding, with the character symbolically reverting to his monstrous form while being counseled by Leslie Thompkins. His ensuing identity crisis, combined with the apprehension brought on by the discovery of Glory Griffin’s descent makes for a wildly intriguing subplot to complement the overarching narrative.
Speaking of complementing the narrative, Detective Comics #945 deviates away from the usual rotating panel of Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez on pencils, with Al Barrionuevo and Carmen Carnero tag-teaming the pencil duties of this book. The switch-off actually works quite nicely, and neither artist’s style overpowers the other, despite having their own unique artistic nuances. With Barrionuevo, we get aesthetics that have a more cinematic feel, which correlate appropriately with the sections of Tynion’s script they accompany. The double-page spread showcasing the Batmobile speeding through the crowded streets of Gotham brings to mind the opening credits of an action film. In the subsequent scene, as Spoiler prepares to enter the Belfry, she reminisces about Tim’s final moments. The atmosphere Barrionuevo sets, thanks to his soft line work and Scott Hanna’s thick inks, truly emphasizes Stephanie’s heartache. We see one panel showing her hand on the ground as she lands, and the next showing Tim’s hand in the air, just moments before he’s incinerated. Despite the lack of dialogue, the visuals speak for themselves, depicting the simple things that still trigger painful memories of Tim’s loss for the grieving Stephanie, with a panel of her shedding a single tear serving as the exclamation point to the sequence.
In the pages by Carnero, meanwhile, the imagery is a bit more grounded, with panel layouts better suited for the increased amount of word balloons. Her layouts also utilize more negative space, adding a fresh dose of contrast, while also helping to establish clear focal points that draw your eyes to the money shot of each page. As mentioned before, Spoiler’s level of assertion in this issue is on par with Amanda Waller. That comparison couldn’t be any clearer than the panel where Spoiler presses her finger to Batman’s chest while lashing out against her mentor, a blatant visual callback to John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s “Against the Wall.”
Regardless of which artist is laying down the framework, the compositions are all brought to life once they’re injected with colorist Adriano Lucas’ stellar palette selection. The vast reds and purples are densely saturated, emphasizing the look of characters like Spoiler and Batwoman throughout the issue. The primarily cool hues give the book a distinct feel, further enhancing the previously mentioned cinematic nature of the line work. However, the red-hot intensity of the fire engulfing Azrael’s sword adds a much-welcomed taste of fiery oranges and yellows that explode off the page, while casting a dreamlike luminous glow on Jean-Paul’s face as his blood begins to boil.
Detective Comics #945 is yet another example of Tynion’s outstanding ability to juggle multiple profound plot points, while simultaneously fleshing out a diverse and dynamic ensemble cast. Like the previous issue, the cliffhanger conclusion of this chapter highlights Tynion’s level of expertise when it comes to the serialized format. Despite the unfamiliar additions to the art team, the sequentials round out what ends up being one of the most captivating issues of Detective Comics under Tynion’s reign. Whether the reveal on the final page is an ephemeral plot device or merely a red herring shouldn’t take long to be answered. In any case, the suspense will likely have you be chomping at the bit for #946 when it finally hits stands.