Monday, July 15, 2024

Detective Comics Celebrates With Three Crazy Hooks

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays]
There’s something to be said about a milestone like this. With relaunches, reboots, and short-form comics becoming more and more common, a number higher than 52 is a rare sight to see out of DC, while a number higher than the inexplicable 19 is rarer still from Marvel. There are, of course, exceptions. But not many of them. Not everything can be Saga or Wic/Div, or even The Walking Dead. Or Spawn, I guess?

Point is, longevity is difficult. Keeping interest with a monthly periodical is even more difficult. Of course, 950 issues of Detective Comics isn’t entirely accurate. That’s not counting the 31 Annuals, two #0s, a #1,000,000, a Future’s End tie-in, an Endgame tie-in, the two-part Convergence tie-in and four “villain month” specials. I’m probably missing some, but that brings the total count to…

991. Still not that coveted 1,000, but closer than we thought.

Anyway, this “oversized anniversary edition” of Detective Comics certainly lives up to the name. Since, y’know, three more mysteries. Eh?

Cassandra Brings Us Into Her Shadow

From the very start of Tynion’s run on Detective Comics, Cass has been in the background. Sure, she pops up to deliver a badass one-liner, or kick someone’s butt, but for the most part we haven’t exactly seen the nuances of her motivation. What makes her who she is, and why she continues to stay with the team even after Steph’s most likely temporary, but no less cathartic departure.

For those of us who do know her history, whether that be the revised version portrayed in Batman and Robin Eternal or the original shown through the pages of No Man’s Land and the first Batgirl series, it’s far less of a mystery. The core is the same: redemption. But, unlike her Pre-Flashpoint incarnation, there is one very important key difference to the life and times of Cassandra Cain.

Her brain wasn’t rewritten by a random telepath so that she could fully comprehend spoken language instead of body language. Really. That was issue #4 of her 73-issue ongoing. Clearly, this was done to make Cass easier to write, as without any form of internal narration it can be quite difficult to get inside of her head. Of course, Tynion got around that problem by doing third person narration.

And I don’t think it’s omniscient, but we’ll get back to that.

Nature vs Nurture, amirite?

The results, when combined with Marcio Takara’s expressive linework that feels almost slathered in shadow and Dean White’s ever-so-slightly muted coloring, create a story that could only be told through the eyes of Cassandra Cain. Or, rather, someone very similar to her, but, again, we’ll come back to that. Faces and bodies are sharp and highly detailed, while everything else is a little muddled. Which makes sense, as those are the only things that Cass can really truly “see” to their fullest extent.

Lonely, Silent Knight

The night we follow Cass appears to be that of a routine, for the most part. We’ve seen her take a great interest in ballet all the way back in Batman and Robin Eternal, as well as Detective Comics #936. However, it’s a routine that seems to have been broken by the chaos of the previous arcs. Her typical coping mechanisms don’t work anymore. Dancing makes her feel isolated and feared, rather than free.

“The morning is evil.” – Avatar Korra, 170 A.G.

Harper’s open and compassionate presence is too much to handle even as Cass tries to explain what’s wrong. Because she does try. She tries so hard to communicate with her best friend, since she’s the first person she ran to, but ultimately can’t. Tim’s death, Steph’s betrayal, and even the Monster Men have taken their toll on Cass. And it really pulls on your heartstrings.

Even as she listens on on a conversation between Mayor Sebastian Hady (yes, he’s Mayor S. Hady), Batman and Jim she can’t seem to focus. The circumstance itself, with the Mayor “turning over a new leaf”, is extremely clever in pushing Cass’s mindset further. As readers, we’re preconditioned to ignore everything a Gotham City politician says.

They’re all corrupt, they’re all liars. We’ve been shown this a thousand times before.

Which is what makes it so brilliant. Even if this does come into play down the line, and it most likely will, it’s still written as if it’s entirely irrelevant. I read through the scene three or four times and I couldn’t tell you what the Mayor was talking about if I tried. I do remember him hiding behind the stairwell and offering his hand to Batman, but that’s about it. Something tells me that’s all Cass got from that conversation, too.

The Deadly Dance of Death

What follows is a stunning sequence of elegance and brutality. Takara really emphasizes Cass’s passion for dance by creating an action sequence where every movement and strike are, as far as I can see, highly recognizable ballet positions repurposed into violence. Tynion’s narration describes this happening, but it’s rare to see synchronization of this caliber. Especially with how it almost perfectly mirrors her final splash page at the end of her story.

I’m sure there’s a joke here about the Konami Code or video games being art.

After taking out the human traffickers, which couldn’t be more apt a target for Cass, Batman gives her some advice on how to improve. Only for her to desperately want to scream in his face that she knows this already. That her own abilities terrify her and that even though he means well, she still knows exactly how to kill him in a single strike he couldn’t possibly defend against. And chooses not to.

Every. Time.

She leaves again, her inability to make others understand once again becoming too emotionally exhausting. So, she goes to the one place she can still find some solace and affirmation that she’s doing the right thing. That she’s on the right path. The Belfry.

We’re then treated to a rather depressing conversation between Clayface and Luke, as he continues Tim’s work in ensuring Clayface can return to a normal life as Basil Karlo. Unfortunately, and we knew this was coming, that may not be possible at all.

Why would you make it sound all awesome and then drop a bombshell on him? That’s just bad bedside manner.

The device that allows him to change back into Basil Karlo is a bit of a Catch-22. If he uses it for too long, it could cause some irreversible damage to his physical form. And if he doesn’t use it, his Clayface form will force a sort of psychotic break and he’ll become the monster he fears he could once again become. Whether or not Tynion will be the one to write Clayface’s inevitable return to villainy remains to be seen, but the narrative device for that to happen is in place.

This stands in stark contrast to the conversation with the Mayor, as this is clearly meant to be something not only important to us but more importantly to Cass. Even if she’s not exactly getting all of the words, she understands the tone and turning point in the exchange she overhears. Clayface is crestfallen, and we see what she sees.

Which brings us back to that Clayface and Cass friendship I dug into a while back.

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Unseen and Unheard

Cass then moves through the rest of the Belfry, taking notice of the rest of her teammates. And, once again, she desperately wishes she could tell them just how much they mean to her. How important their work is, and how inspiring they are to her. Not only that, but that she understands the why of it. Why they’re here. Why they chose this life. What makes them continue to live it, day in and day out.

In Luke, she sees someone she could never be, but can always support. Azrael, a living example that what she desires is possible. That redemption and acceptance are within her grasp if she can find her own path to it. If Steph and Tim were still around, I’m sure this would apply to them as well. However, there is one person she can’t quite figure out.


Because of course the three panels she cameos in overshadow almost everything else. Almost.

She sees that Kate has forged herself into a weapon, just like her. But the missing piece, the one thing she knows she can’t learn on her own, is the very same thing that sets Kate apart. Her honor. Her integrity. Laugh if you want, but there was a damn good reason Kate is centered around those concepts. All goes back to DADT, which I’ve spoken about to hell and back at this point.

Anyway, this is long overdue. Y’know, because of their surnames? Remember? Kane? Cain? Stabbed through the heart? Twice Named Daughter of Kane/Cain? It was a whole thing!

She got better.

Told you so.

After all of that, Cass returns to her apartment and dances her frustration, her sadness and everything else she’s feeling.

You can dance if you want to, leave your friends behind…

And then her part of the issue ends with, well—okay, so I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. Tynion name dropped her many months ago, before Victim Syndicate even began, and since we’d already met David Cain…the point is that Cass’s story drew me in so much that the final reveal actually surprised the hell out of me. As in, I sort of jumped in my seat and got super excited.

Because, uhm, as I alluded to back in my Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #6 review when she was name dropped once more, well…

[incoherent swearing commences]
Lady Shiva. Lady freaking Shiva. Detroit-born (no, really!) Sandra “I Collect People Who Could Kill Me And Then Kill Them” Wusan (or is it Woosan?). Here, hold on, let me list the number of people who have bested her in combat.

  1. Cassandra Cain
  2. Tim Drake (disqualified as he poisoned her food beforehand, so not a “fair” fight)
  3. Cheshire (disqualified due to context)
  4. Prometheus (disqualified due to Cry for Justice and also a magic helmet)

That’s it. Her daughter—not a spoiler since that’s from a decade old storyline—was the only person capable of doing that, and she didn’t even kill her. Everyone who faces her either ends up dead or escapes with their life barely intact. Mostly because she lets them improve so they can try again. She has the same abilities as Cassandra, but she’s better and trained herself to be that way.

So, in short: everyone is going to die/get their butts handed to them eighteen thousand ways from Sunday. Or, Wednesday.

Also to get back to what I was hinting at way at the top of the review, I don’t think the narration here is omniscient. I think it’s Shiva fully understanding Cassandra’s entire emotional state. It’s completely within character for Shiva to watch and cultivate fighters before engaging them, and if anyone could break into the Belfry undetected it would be her. Plus, it makes that final line make a lot more sense.

Instead of her just happening to answer a plea that Cassandra has been making this entire time, she’s been hearing her in full. All of the singing and screaming.

So, that’s Detective Comics’ first hook. Lady Shiva. On to the second!

Faith in the Machine

Azrael and Batwing run a simulation in the Mud Room against giant vigilante seeking robots. This story is rendered beautifully, as always, by Alvaro Martinez’s slick and absurdly detailed penciling. I swear, if we can get one full arc done by only his team I’ll cheer till my voice is hoarse. His team’s work is stylized juuuuuust the right amount for a book like this, specifically when it comes to light sources. Heightened, yet simultaneously grounded without being gritty.

Something about how he renders everything makes it all so much more memorable, too. Can’t quite put my finger on that. Did you know he drew the issue where Cass first saw the ballet in Prague? I did. Because it was stunning and it stuck with me.

Anyway, after a quick prayer, Azrael proceeds to obliterate the robots while Luke is almost immediately smashed into the ground by one of their fists. As it turns out, Luke has been trying to beat that simulation for quite some time and can’t figure out how a change of location, a fancy cathedral in Gotham, made any kind of difference.

The explanation he does get is, at first, uncommon for comics. Or, really, most mainstream media.

Religion will always be a topic to tread lightly on, even if this one is technically mostly made up. I mean, there’s no actual Saint Dumas, but the concept behind that organization is based around the Knights Templar, so that should explain most of it.

See, my original thinking when reading this was that Jean-Paul simply surrendered himself to his instincts and trusted that his training, and his faith, would guide him to victory. Best part about something like that is that one could easily explain it as him clearing his mind to become a more effective fighter, thus removing all doubts and hesitation. Or you could take what he was saying as the real deal, if you so chose. That way, everyone’s happy.

Personally, I like a mix of both. But this is also DC Comics, where literally every religion and belief is true. I mean, Luke has actually been to hell. No, really, he got dragged there back in Batman Eternal while learning about the supernatural. He’s seen the Spectre, the actual manifestation of God’s wrath, obliterate demons due to their wickedness. So, kinda strange that he doesn’t at least consider that maybe Jean-Paul is telling the truth and can talk to God.

Or, in this case, one of many the God. If that makes sense.

Unfortunately, the explanation is far more mundane. Still cool, though.

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Yeah, so, Jean-Paul was speaking quite literally. He basically has a sentient version of Midnighter’s (think Batman but gay and also kills people) fight computer implant. The idea that the Order of Saint Dumas seeks to replicate the act of creation itself to, in a twisted sort of way, become closer to God, reminds me very much of Wolfenstein: The New Order’s Da’at Yichud.

Basically, they were a Jewish secret society of engineers and scientists who sought to understand and become closer to God by the means of, again, creation itself. Knowledge transformed into faith. Pretty awesome, right? And anything remotely similar to that sounds cool to me.

Anyway, thanks to Jean-Paul rejecting his genetic and psychological engineering at the end of Batman and Robin Eternal, he was able to awaken the Suit of Sorrows. Now, he believes that they work in tandem with one another. But, uh, that sounds like a bad thing to me?

Y’know, because Skynet and brainwashing and—

Yes, thank you Luke. Specifically all of the things you just said. I’m not exactly an Azrael expert, but I do recall that Jean-Paul went crazy thanks to programming in his brain during the Knightfall arc back in the early 90s. This seems like a pre-emptive subversion of that, suggesting that the Suit of Sorrows itself won’t do the same thing again.

Moving on, Azrael suggests they run the simulation again, but without the Suit of Sorrows, to make things fair. Luke agrees, and they head off to go get their butts kicked by giants once more. But, before they leave, Luke poses an interesting question.

He wonders aloud that it was rather strange that if the Order Saint Dumas was capable of creating functioning AI, why haven’t they tried to create an artificial wielder of the Sword of Azrael? If Jean-Paul was their greatest triumph over millennia of experimentation and conditioning, why wouldn’t they throw the idea of an organic artificial angel out the window and just go full robot?

Jean-Paul shrugs this off, saying that the Order has been around for so long that they’re unlikely to change their minds.


In Which Tim Is Smarter Than Everyone

This story might be the most important one of all, despite its length. At least, in how the Bat-Books are shaping up. And how they’re all far more connected than they appeared to be. Plus, it wouldn’t be Detective Comics under Tynion if something wasn’t drawn in cinematic styling of the Eddy Barrows-lead art team!

Bruce jumps off a roof after fighting…I dunno, Man-Bat? It’s not specified. Anyway, Tim picks him up in his version of the Batmobile, the Redbird, and proceeds to talk about all of the things that were happening around the time of Detective Comics #935, or would happen soon after.

And he appears to have figured something out.

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Hah. So, uh, all of that is entirely accurate. Dick is an “international strike force of one” and with Raptor’s help supposedly dismantled the Parliament of Owls. Jason took down Black Mask and proceeded to get quite a grip on his entire criminal organization which compromises quite a bit of Gotham’s organized crime.

Interesting that he doesn’t mention the Gotham or Gotham Girl, though. At the time, I think they were still active.

Damian did join (read: kidnap and then become friends with) the Teen Titans. Duke’s been training under the “Cursed Wheel” crash-course over in Snyder’s All-Star Batman. Private Justice League? Literally launched this week with JLA: Rebirth #1.

Hell, Batwoman’s solo series, which launches next week (watch the clock!) is about her travelling the globe to take down super-terrorists that have eluded everyone else. Well, okay, it’s more about Kate being her own greatest enemy, but you get the idea.

Tim asks why Bruce is preparing for war, and we know it’s not because of the League of Shadows since he refuses to entertain the possibility that Jacob Kane could be right about that. So, what is it? What is so damn big and terrifying that he can’t even know what he’s trying to defend against?

I have absolutely no idea, but it’s probably tied into the larger Rebirth mystery.

So, we’ll see, eh?


Writer: James Tynion IV

Prologue: Shadow of a Tear

Pencils/Inks: Marcio Takara

Colors: Dean White

Letterer: Marilyn Patrizio

Higher Powers

Pencils: Alvarao Martinez

Inks: Raul Fernandez

Colors: Brad Anderson

Letterer: Marilyn Patrizio

The Big Picture

Pencils: Eddy Barrows

Inks: Eber Ferreira

Colors: Adriano Lucas

Letterer: Marilyn Patrizio

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