Right so, we’ll get to the action sequence. I promise, we will, but there are some other things I wanted to touch on first…one of which is that Bruce is apparently one highly developed sixteen-year-old kid. I thought he was supposed to be 19, but if Zatanna is 15 (and extremely adept at innuendos for some reason?) then they are definitely not schtupping with that kind of age dynamic. But if he’s 16, well, they’re totally dry humping and making out. Or whatever.
Anyway, the way in which Zatanna explains the different levels of magic, similar to that of exponential differences, was extremely entertaining to watch as she was the one who held all the cards. Eh? Well, she did! Zatara breaks up their fun mid-argument with everyone’s favorite demon head, name-dropping the Obeah Man, the voodoo villain who murdered Tim Drake’s mother (I had to look this up) Pre-Flashpoint. Zatara, not being a slouch, deduces what Zatanna has done wipes Bruce’s memories in a panel that looks almost exactly the same as that other one I mentioned a while back. Remember this?
I’ll admit it’s a tiny bit strange that this is the panel that was chosen to homage, since I actually pulled that from somewhere that wasn’t the original Identity Crisis mini-series. It was a recap flashback in…I want to say JLA? Maybe it’s just a far more well known panel, but I really have no idea. Still, cool to see that explicitly called back to instead of just hinted at.
Then we’re back in the present, and Zatanna does actually kind of address my confusion from the last issue, wherein Metron’s Chair was still a thing that happened, talking about how if everything is known to be preordained it would poison the experience of life itself. Which is, y’know, accurate, since Bruce turned into even more of a creeper with that chair, but—yeah, it just goes back to the fact that you can’t “hack” magic.
And also Bruce says his family is in trouble. First the hugs, now this? What is he, becoming emotionally healthier? Can he be? Please? That would be so much more interesting if he actually came to the conclusion that he doesn’t have to be Batman, but that he wants to be Batman as his (admittedly absurd) method of coping with loss. Seems like that’s what Tom King’s Batman run, coupled with the growth of his family in Detective Comics, is pointing to! I hope.
Jean-Paul argues with a toddler who believes himself to also be Ascalon within his own brain, and this kid is freaking terrifying. Got that whole WRATHFUL GOD thing down quite pat. Apparently he’s the manifestation of Jean-Paul’s original brainwashing, and has no patience for the imperfections of humanity. Even though, by his own assertion, he seems to be implying that he is the face of God, meaning that human perfect is the face of God, which it can’t be because even perfection is imperfect by definition. It’s a paradox, since to lack all flaws is in itself a glaring flaw. Then again he’s choosing the form of a toddler so he might not get the nuance there quite yet. Give him to middle school, and he’ll figure it out.
Die Hard Boiled: Fury Reloaded
Right, so, the action sequence. This was…guys. Guys, do you know how hard it is to do action in a comic? Like, good action sequences? It’s one of the single rarest things in comics, same as a well executed one in film. Now, animation can do it rather frequently because animators have complete and total control over the camera and everything within each shot. Actors, props, the environment; physics need not apply.
Comics, however, are a very different story. It’s sequential art, so we’re talking storyboards and nothing else. These are your key frames, and that’s all you get. The environment is redrawn in each panel, same as each shot of animation, but continuity between frames is far more difficult because the camera isn’t moving. Typically, that means that the environment is inconsequential to an action scene in a comic, even though stock art (specific layouts of the physical space of a scene better map blocking and character spacing) is rarely not a resource.
What does this mean? Well, simply put, it means that crafting an action sequence that uses a consistent environment, three actors (including battle damage), multiple props (many from said environment) and three levels of versatility while maintaining flawless continuity between panels is like…WHAT. How?! Honestly, this is miles and miles more impressive than that time Cass punched all of the ninjas, as gorgeous as Takara’s art was, because we actually get to see every single bit of this fight. And it all made sense.
Every fight tells a story, even the bad ones. The great ones say more than dialogue ever could. Actions speak louder than words, right? An action sequence should inform character in more ways than you might expect, and this one sure as hell does. You may not have noticed it, but your brain did. Let’s break down exactly why this works so fucking well because oh my god I cannot get over this. Specifically how this even starts is brilliant.
See, we don’t specifically know what Azrael’s threat level is at the beginning. We’ve never seen him go up against any of his teammates, though we did see him maul giant robots that one time so we know he’s capable. We just don’t know how deadly he is to Kate (or anyone for that matter) until he tries to slice Luke in half. In the process of pushing Luke out of the way, Kate gets her cape torn up by Azrael’s flame-gauntlets to the point that the inner lining is now visible. We’ve seen this cape deflect bullets, and Azrael just went through it like it was wet paper.
So, now we know the danger that Kate is in: like, a lot. She’s not a tank, if you’ll forgive me dipping into MMORPG terms. Kate can tank damage (that is, take the hits so others do the job) but that’s not her specialty. She’s more of an off-tank; the one who can do it in a pinch, but is really more grounded in close-range DPS (damage per second). Cass, as we already know all too well, is pure close range DPS. It is almost impossible to tag her, and she basically only lands critical hits. She’s a glass cannon, if you will.
Cass showing up to team with Kate, by Kate’s own admission, evens the odds. Whatever buff Azrael has is overpowered as hell, so she needs to cheat, just like she always does. What happens next is choreographed bliss. Both Cass and Kate use the environment to their advantage, Cass with her versatility (demonstrating once again that she’s been watching Kate more than anyone) and Kate with the fire extinguisher. Kate’s attempt at a sneak attack backfires because she’s so focused on keeping Cass out of the line of literal fire. The glancing blow Kate takes to her arm is…deep. And here’s where the genius really sets in. Kate uses the fire extinguisher in a different way, as well as Cass, to disable Azrael’s most deadly weapon: his gauntlets.
I know that seems very basic, but that’s just because it makes sense. You’d be hard pressed to name another instance of something like this outside of films in the same vein as Die Hard, Hard Boiled, Old Boy, The Matrix, Mad Max: Fury Road and hopefully Atomic Blonde.
Anyway, that tactic appears to backfire, but in reality it had the intended effect. Kate aggros Azrael, knocking her down a level of stairs and thus reasserting his perceived dominance in the fight, allowing Cass to score some quick hits, which lets Kate crack open his mask. It’s only when Azrael overextends himself and manages to hit Cass that he loses the fight. He puts all of his attention on Kate, after she cracks open his armor again, and tries to smash her skull and neck. Cass, having been knocked away, comes swinging in on a crane that we saw last issue and earlier in this one.
Those tracks didn’t just magically appear! She knocks Azrael into one of Luke’s robot suits and, in a reversal of their roles from the initial failed sneak attack, Kate stuns him using a batarang we’ve seen her use before, and Cass uses the helmet that has just fallen to the floor to “end” the fight.
Yes, ultimately it is Zatanna who KOs Azrael, but even still. Everything I just went over was conveyed through, what five and a half pages? Kate’s mentality as a leader, tactician and protector are on full display. Cass acts independently but synchronizes perfectly with Kate’s adapting approach to Azrael, whose lethality and more brutal nature (while controlled by Toddler!Ascalon) is shown to be both deadly and ultimately lacking in nuance. We must have gone through four or five shifts in strategy in that one sequence, without it really being explicitly stated. Sure, Kate asks for cover, to take out the legs, and go for the gauntlets, but that’s minimal information. The larger purpose of each action is so clearly communicated through the art alone that it’s kind of jaw dropping.
There’s also the fun dynamic of Azrael screaming about God’s vengeance and salvation in a very Christian sort of way at a Jewish woman who happens to know a thing or two about God’s judgement.
“And That’s Why You Always
Leave A Note Bring A Healer.”
Kate, having gotten herself absolutely fucked up, is now rambling about how sex is an okay excuse for being late but not beating up vampires. Because she fucking hates vampires. And she dated one once, which, uh, yeah, she unfortunately did.
Clayface and Nomoz are cornered by a legion of Batwings and NotToddler!Ascalon, who amusingly responds to “God”. Instead of doing the thing they shouldn’t do, which is lock Jean-Paul up in the Belfry, Luke reveals that the reason Rookie is able to function independently of a pilot (this actually answers a lot of weird questions I had from the tail end of the New52) is that it as a built-in morality A.I. based on…Batman. So it’s literally a Batman robot. Well, now that’s clever, huh? Anyway, Luke steps back to reveal, surprise, the 90s are back and ready to rock. Just…without the grimdark this time.
I am seriously running out of ways to compliment this book. Eventually there’s just gonna be a thousand words on how I have nothing more to add and everything that could possibly be said has been said. Well, I mean, unless they keep surprising me, which they do so…huh. Guess we’ll see.
NEXT WEEK: …nothing? Kind of a bummer.
DETECTIVE COMICS #961
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Alvaro Martinez
Inks: Raul Fernandez
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Sal Cipriano