Detective Comics #948
Written by James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett
Art by Ben Oliver
Lettering by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Detective Comics has been a real diamond in the rough for the "Rebirth" era. Until now, James Tynion IV has guided what essentially amounts to a band of Bat-family misfits through some of the stranger trials and tribulations that Gotham has to offer and in doing so, he’s injected the DCU and specifically the Bat-books with a pathos that hasn’t been felt in some time. So it makes sense that leading up to Batwoman’s new solo series by Marguerite Bennett and Steve Epting that we’d get a little primer to set the stage. Bennett joins Tynion and artist Ben Oliver to dig a little deeper into Kate Kane’s story. The result is something that tiptoes between established work by Greg Rucka, JH Williams III, and W Haden Blackman as well as Tynion himself, while expanding Kate’s mythology.
On paper, Tynion’s run on Detective Comics is more than a little weird. The roster of various Bat allies plus Clayface gives us a unique perspective on what it means to be a superhero and whether or not it’s worth it. Batman’s penchant for inspiring (or demanding, depending on how you want to read it) broken people to join his cause hsa lead to a lot of doubt and fractured relationships in the name of heroism. These characters don’t get to really have normal lives and the loss of Tim Drake really underlined that for the team.
Of anyone, Kate Kane one of the most directly broken relationships as a result of being Batwoman. Her father Jacob is being held in the team’s HQ, the Belfry, and refusing to talk to anyone but her about what he knows. Batman and Batwoman are two sides of the same coin. Kate’s military service instilled in her a sense of duty and a purpose but that purpose was ripped away when she was outed. On some level, Batwoman allows Kate to serve again. She’s a bit lost if she can’t do good. But if that’s true, if she and Bruce are so similar, then what sets her apart? That’s the question that Tynion and Bennett are starting to answer here. They juxtapose an early mission that Kate did with her dad’s supervision to track Batman with Kate’s current outing with the Dark Knight himself but there aren’t any real conclusions to be drawn just yet. Tynion and Bennett put the question “what can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?” in readers’ minds but they’re far from answering it (likely saving that serious expansion of that thread for the solo series) and instead they put some lost Batman history front and center.
As it turns out, A.R.G.U.S. still hasn’t moved one of the monster corpses from the “Night of the Monster Men” arc opting to study the effects of Hugo Strange’s “monster venom” concoction. We’re introduced to Dr. Victoria October, a trans woman who has an existing connection to Batman but one still shrouded in mystery. And here’s where Tynion and Bennett do some really good work. They introduce a brand new character, lay off heavy-handed exposition (only familiar readers will understand the reference to October’s deadname), establish her role in the world and just let her exist. As a result, she feels like a natural extension of the DCU. Are there questions? Sure! But the idea that these heroes have a history and adventures that we haven’t seen or aren’t seeing is really exciting. The best writers make their characters feel like real people even when the story has them talking seriously about the effects of a drug that basically turns people into kaiju. It might seem really simple but it turns a lot of comic book conventions on their head. The reader is not entitled to all the information and if the story is written well, they shouldn’t need it spouted at them in order to comprehend the story.
Ben Oliver is tapped for this little arc and his work should prove to be an easy transition into Steve Epting’s on Batwoman’s forthcoming solo title. Oliver doesn’t take a lot of chances with his art. But there aren’t really a lot of opportunities for him to really let loose. This is a fairly talky book. It’s dialogue-driven and it focuses on setting the tone and mood for the themes that will be explored moving forward. Oliver serves that purpose. He employs a couple of different approaches; lots of close-crops while Kate surveys Batman, an almost Rockwellian look in the scene between Kate and Jacob and then much more traditional superhero take through the end of the book. There aren’t a lot of big “wow!” moments, but there are some panels that’ll make you take pause. Oliver’s expression work is spot-on and his inks are tasteful and effective even if he occasionally undermines their contrast with some bad computer lighting effects. Overall, it’s a good looking book. Oliver doesn’t try to do too much and really lets the characters shine through on this one.
There’s an aspect of this book that feels like a break from Detective Comics’ regularly scheduled programming but after the event of the last two arcs, it’s nice to have a bit of a breather. This is a relatively breezy book that has a lot of heavier implications. Ben Oliver is a big reason that’s the case because his narrative sense is on point. But the big reveal at the end notwithstanding, Tynion and Bennett have worked together to make Kate’s story have weight. Her last solo outing ended pretty unceremoniously, taking the character in a direction that lacked empathy and stakes. Rather than build on top of a foundation with some cracks in it, they’ve managed to bring to strengthen the good work that’s been done with the character. Every character has some regrettable stories in their history but by underlining the aspects of the character that are essential, those bad outings become easier to forget and allow for better stories moving forward.