With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re going to look at the opening arc of a modern superhero classic.
In 2016, DC Comics relaunched their line with a slew of new #1’s, and a shift back to legacy numbering for two long-running titles. With the old numbering of Detective Comics came a fresh new concept for DC’s flagship series (hell, it’s the series that DC takes its name from). James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Al Barrionuevo, Eber Ferreria, Raul Fernandez, Adriano Lucas, Brad Anderson, and Marilyn Patrizio gave the book the freshest take it had seen in a long time. The first arc is now collected as Detective Comics: Rise of the Batmen.
When Batman uncovers evidence of the deadliest threat to Gotham that he’s faced in his career, he recruits his cousin, Kate Kane AKA Batwoman, to help him form a team to defend the city. With a team consisting of Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan and Clayface, they begin training to save Gotham. In the shadows though, that threat is about to make itself known, and one of Batman’s closest allies is about to pay the ultimate price to stop it…
Tony Thornley: So we’ve kicked around doing this series for a VERY long time (originally when we covered Justice League Dark we had this book on tap but we couldn’t track down a review copy). This volume might be my favorite Batman story. I’m really not a Batman fan. Like Spider-Man, Superman, the X-Men? I always have at least one series starring them in my pull list at any time. But Batman? I really have to dig what’s happening in the series for me to consider it a favorite.
Also, I have to say the timing is completely coincidental, given Tynion’s huge announcement last week of basically shifting away from work for hire comics. So what did you think of this book?
Brendan Allen: It’s a good read. Batman has always been a favorite of mine, even when I wasn’t really reading comics. I have had at least a half dozen Batman shirts in my closet at any given time since I was about 14. Some of the stories don’t really showcase the whole ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ thing very well (cough cough HUSH cough), but it’s front and center in this one, and those are the Batman arcs that really draw me in.
Tony: Yeah, this story really does a great job of that. It’s not even just Bruce that’s a detective here — Kate, Tim and Steph all get a moment to shine as detectives. Also, the best thing I can say about Hush was that it sure was pretty!
I think the thing that drew me into this book first was the concept. Taking a team of Bat-heroes who don’t have their own series and transforming Detective Comics into an X-Men-esque team/found family just worked. And the found family element of it makes it work even better. You have the orphaned hero, his sisterly cousin, his adopted son and his girlfriend, his adopted daughter, and then a wild card in Clayface…
Honestly, my biggest disappointment in this concept is that almost immediately after Tynion leaves, they ditch it.
Brendan: That always sucks. I get why it happens, but it still sucks.
Now, clue me in on why the art changes so much in this one. I thought at first there was a flashback thing going on the first time it switched up, but then it kept happening in the later chapters.
Tony: Okay, that’s a very interesting historical relic of this book. After five years of a (frankly disastrous) reboot in the New 52, DC Rebirth was meant as a back to basics. It restored a bunch of lost continuity through shenanigans, brought a bunch of fan favorite characters back to prominence, et cetera.
So one of the things they did with the Rebirth relaunch is release practically the entire line biweekly, so you’d have Detective, Batman, Detective, Batman alternating like that every week (they also did this with the Superman titles, Green Lantern titles, Wonder Woman and a handful of others). That did mean the art teams were extremely inconsistent. We saw that with the Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason Superman series we talked about a few months ago.
I really feel like the Batman titles handled that best. Sure, here we got a mid-arc art switch, but Barrows and Martinez really complemented each other stylistically. It’s not like Green Lanterns which had four pencillers on one early issue.
Brendan: Aha. That makes sense, I guess. It’s not uncommon for monthly titles to even fall behind here and there. A biweekly is twice the pages in the same period. Were they trying to burn out their entire creative pool?
Tony: It sure felt like it at the time. I mean, I’ll point to Green Lanterns again. I think that series was only three issues in when it went off the rails that badly. It recovered later, but damn.
And speaking of Barrows and Martinez, WOW. I think these two really did some incredible work across the series. I want to say this was Martinez’s biggest book to date at the time, while Barrows was one of DC’s top pencillers. They both just knocked it out of the park.
Brendan: One of the slick little visual tricks that I especially like about the Batman titles is when they break away from the standard six panel layouts. There are a bunch of spots in this volume where the gutters get torqued out of shape and twisted into cool shapes, like a bat symbol in the middle of a two page spread. Or stacked panels that make up a pint glass full of beer. It’s a cool little detail that I always look forward to.
Tony: Yeah, I was going to mention that. They both did some really cool layouts. I also thought they did some great fight work too, just creating a fantastic scope for all the action.
Another thing I loved about the art? Barrows has this amazing habit of doing a single panel on every page in this astonishing ink wash style. Every page I had to pause on that panel and just take it in for a second.
Brendan: You know, I may have missed that. I usually read these on ‘guided view,’ which pops from panel to panel, so sometimes I miss the page turns. That may have contributed to my confusion about the art. It went from one style, to another, right back to the first. Probably has a different effect when viewing the page as a whole.
Tony: Yeah, that’s interesting to consider. But think of the splash page where the Colony takes out Tim? He does a panel in that style on every page and it really just deepens the entire experience.
Brendan: I just scrolled back through on the two-page view, and I’ll be damned, you’re right. Something to note I guess, read how you read, but occasionally back out to the wide view to get the whole effect.
Tony: Oh yeah. That’s why (if I’m reading on my phone) I like turning on the setting on Comixology to view the whole page either before or after moving to a new page.
You know, and we jumped straight into the art here, but I want to jump back to the story. Besides the very cool concept, Tynion just does a stellar job with the entire book. I think by expanding the cast and introducing a lot of very Marvel-style soap opera elements, it made for a much more impactful read. If you didn’t know Kate, Tim or Basil before this story, by the end of this volume, you’re invested.
Hell, of the Batman family, I’ve read more Tim Drake comics than any other character, and he still got me reinvested in the character. The page where Steph gives Bruce Tim’s college acceptance letter… It‘s a gut punch every time I see it, but this read-through I actually teared up.
Brendan: Yeah, that’ll hit you right in the stupid feels.
Tony: It did. A lot of stupid feels. (Again, worth noting with the big Tim news last week, we had this book on our schedule for at least two months.)
So I think this is the most we’ve chatted about a superhero book to date. I think it’s a given coming out of this to say that Tynion is one of the best writers working in comics right now. I think this is one of the best Batman runs of the last twenty years, at least, and the only reason I wouldn’t say THE best is that it’s not JUST a Batman story.
Where do you fall on it?
Brendan: This is the best superhero book you’ve put up to date. This is exactly what I look for in a Batman story. Well played.
Tony: I figured you’d like it! I think you’re going to dig the next couple DC books I put on the schedule too, but this is probably the best one. What do we have up next?
Brendan: We’ll be hitting up a unique take on a very old story, BOOM! Studios’ Dark Ark Vol. 1, by Cullen Bunn and Juan Doe.
Detective Comics: Rise of the Batmen is available now in print and digital editions from DC Comics.