Celebrating what would’ve be the 900th issue of DC’s longest running series, the over-sized “Detective Comics” #19 is packed full of anthology style stories and pinups expected in an anniversary issue. The question is, does all the fanfare and extra content justify a $7.99 price tag?
Written by John Layman and James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke, Mikel Janin, Henrik Jonsson, and Jason Masters
• In a special oversized celebratory issue, Batman is challenged by the “Mystery of the 900!”
The folks in charge of solicits should really check the definition of “mystery,” as this eponymous 900 in the lead story is anything but mysterious. When you get past the rather arbitrary homage to “Detective Comics'” 900th issue, you’re left with a book that might as well have “Go Read Other Batman Books” plastered on the cover.
For clarification, ‘The 900′ contains no less than five editorial notes citing events from various Bat-family books. That should give you an idea of how convoluted the story is. The plot centers around an outbreak of Man-Bats in Gotham, as well as the New 52 debut of Dr. Kirk Langstrom, creator of the Man-Bat serum. An army of Man-Bats should seem extremely familiar to readers of Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated,” something referenced several times throughout the issue. Many of those same readers may remember the serum was stolen from Dr. Kirk Langstrom by Talia al Ghul in Morrison’s pre-New 52 “Batman” run. However, changes introduced here to Langstrom’s history create a real “chicken vs. egg” scenario that will leave long-time Bat-fans scratching their heads.
Other continuity plugs include references to ‘Death of the Family’ and an unnecessary check in with “Batwoman.” While the fallout of ‘Death of the Family’ was somewhat derailed by the events of “Batman Incorporated” #8, Layman takes some time to deal with the new fractured status quo of the Bat-family. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of heavy handed dialogue and poor characterization. For instance, rather than answering Bruce’s call for help, we see Nightwing speeding out of Gotham towards Chicago. While this is meant to be a reference to events in Kyle Higgins’ “Nightwing” series, it seems extremely odd to see Dick desert Gotham while it’s under siege by hundreds of flying mutated citizens, regardless of how he feels about Bruce.
All this attention paid to the rest of the bat-universe chokes the life from Layman’s own story. threads. Prominent characters and plots from Layman’s run pop in and out in a span of pages, adding to this story’s lack of cohesion.
The best part of ‘The 900′ is without a doubt Jason Fabok’s artwork. With the detail of David Finch and the smooth and frenetic action of Tony Daniel, Fabok’s work is a perfect fit for Batman. His depiction of the transformation into a vicious Man-Bat is suitably disturbing, and there are several fantastic double page spreads. However, there are few moments when his characters are stiff and posed, which can be a little campy and distracting.
‘Birth of a Family,’ featuring art by Andy Clarke, is an epilogue of sorts and one of the few bright spots in this issue. The short story tells about the story of the Langstroms and their research using bat-DNA to cure deafness. It’s an emotional story in light of the events of ‘The 900,’ and it sets up some interesting potential plotlines for the Langstroms. Clarke is an extremely underrated artist who has been doing fantastic work in the back up features of ‘Batman’ and ‘Detective Comics.’ His work is very reminiscent of Gary Frank, extremely detailed and expressive.
‘War Council,’ the only story not written by John Layman, sticks out like a sore thumb. Written by “Talon” scribe James Tynion IV and drawn by Mikel Janin, the short story deals with and an altercation between Bane and the Court of Owls. The story itself is isn’t bad, and fans of Scott Snyder and Tynion’s ‘Court of the Owls’ saga may find something of interest here. However, it’s inclusion would make more sense in the pages of “Batman” or “Talon.” Readers are advised to follow the story into “Talon,” making its inclusion in an issue of “Detective Comics” all the more confusing. Janin’s art is exceptional as always, and is complemented well by the colors of Dave McCaig and Brad Anderson.
‘Birdwatching’ is easily the most superfluous and disappointing of the stories collected here, detailing a series of heists made by the Emperor Penguin’s lieutenants in the midst of ‘The 900.’ The plot is inconsequential and acts only to set up Oswald Copplepot’s eventual return to prominence. Henrik Jonsson is a newcomer artist whose style fits in well with Jason Fabok and Andy Clarke, though not quite up to the level of those artists.
‘Through a Blue Lens’ is perhaps the most unique of the stories featured. In the fallout of ‘The 900,’ a GCPD cop recovers from his Man-Bat transformation in the company of his fellow servicemen. The crux of the story revolves around the perception of the Batman among the GCPD. Layman handles this well-worn concept with care, and while it may be wishful thing, the writer perfectly sets the stage for a new “Gotham Central” series. This would be a fantastic use of Layman’s talents, should DC choose to pursue something of the sort. Jason Masters, who has recently filled in for Chris Burnham in “Batman Incorporated,” is the weakest artistic link of the issue.
Like most anniversary issues, “Detective Comics” #19 features a great pin-up gallery from noteworthy artists like Francesco Francavilla, Cameron Stewart, Dustin Nguyen, Alex Maleev. However, even several of these are disappointing considering the talent involved.
“Detective Comics” #19 is packed with content, and while there are a few diamonds in the rough, it’s ultimately not worth the hefty price tag. The creative talent is there, but it seems DC intends for “Detective Comics” to act as little more than the gateway to other Batman books. This not only limits the ability of the creators to tell fresh and innovative stories, it also undermines the legacy of one of the oldest books in mainstream comics.
Final Verdict: 2.5 – Pass. For the most hardcore Batman fans only.