Monday, September 19, 2011

Detective Comics #1

DC Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99

Writer/penciler: Tony Salvador Daniel
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Conceptually, Detective Comics picks up where Justice League left off: accessibility. Batman is still hunted by the police, which is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, obviously. The creators take great pains to provide a story that any potential new reader might be able to follow. The page layouts are fairly straightforward, and some of the core points of the Batman cosmos are established, such as the protagonist’s relationships with Commissioner Gordon, his arch-nemesis the Joker or his manservant Alfred, all of whom make their first appearance in the relaunched DC Universe here.

The page-to-page execution falls terribly flat, though. For all his efforts to provide an accessible comic, writer and artist Tony Daniel fails to name Gordon—he’s only referred to as “the commissioner,” and only after his major part in the book is over and done with. And Daniel’s Joker is a run-of-the-mill bloodthirsty lunatic with added make-up.

The dialogue, in particular, is just painful. Alfred’s more formal language proves too much of a challenge, and when characters start using phrases like “not a snowflake’s chance in Lucifer’s toilet,” it’s probably time to wonder if, maybe, someone’s trying just a little bit too hard here.

Daniel’s Batman says things like “I own the night,” or “I am Gotham.” He’s constantly rambling to himself in mind-numbing internal monologues that ruminate on things the reader has already figured out—or worse: seen—and reveal nothing of consequence or interest. “The ride back to the Batcave gives my brain time to dissect what I saw tonight,” he goes. “I’m trying to figure out what the Joker was doing naked… does he always remove his clothes first?”

Imagine this: The Joker just murdered some guy with some kind of skin mask, whose little daughter was also present, and then he escaped. And Batman’s chief concern is what happened to his clothes. It reads like the parody of a Frank Miller story, and it drones on and on.

Daniel’s art gets the job done, but still lacks a distinctive voice of its own. Stylistically, his pencils seem all over the place, with influences shifting from one page to the next—a little David Finch here, a little Andy Kubert there, some Frank Miller in the next shot, and so on. There’s nothing that quite screams “Tony Daniel” here.

To his credit, Daniel seems to be coming in with the best of intentions. But as an introduction to what’s arguably the publisher’s most significant property, this is a disaster—unless you want your audience to wonder if a proper writer just wasn’t in the budget this year.

Grade: D

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