Someting Vile This Way Comes: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics’ #1044
by Scott Redmond
Detective Comics really leans into the fear part of Fear State by telling a tightly confined horror story within the heart of Gotham, continuing the odd couple pairing of Batman and Mayor Nakano. This art team has brought new life and energy to Gotham City as a whole and that continues here as they flex their muscles with making Gotham’s sewers energetic but also truly utterly terrifying to boot.
Despite the best efforts of many involved, Gotham City is once more being put through the wringer as the Scarecrow and Magistrate planned Fear State is in full effect within the dark and broken city. Mayor Nakano was almost assassinated and is lost in the sewers, City Hall is under siege, and the Mayor’s only hope is the main vigilante that he vowed to ban when he ran for office: Batman.
The last issue was pretty fast-paced from Mariko Tamaki as she shifted focus to Nakano and his attempts to wrest back control after turning to Simon Saint and the Magistrate. Here we get a bit slower still ground-level contained story that kicks off with reporter Deb Donovan and Batman both opining through their captions about the rottenness that festers under and within Gotham City.
While this story is both part of the overall line event and still has ties to the long first arc about the new villain Vile, it’s still pretty contained. This sort of close-to-the-ground smaller story was the sort of one that intrigued me about this new run and its promises. We got a bit of that to kick things off before it went up a notch with the over-the-top stuff from Mr. Worth. All the upcoming bits about when this series goes weekly in 2022 seem to indicate that this focus that really shows off Gotham and street-level stuff will continue, which is pretty great.
Tamaki writes a very solid Batman, and she gives a lot of great life to Nakano who is a newer character and makes her own created character Deb Donovan feel like she’s been around forever. There is a great mix of lighter, horrific terrifying, and even fun scenes within the issue. The reveal of Batwoman and how she deals with the situation in the Mayor’s office was just top-notch. As were the horror scenes with the hatching Vile spawn in the sewers.
All of this is really set up with the forever amazing work that Dan Mora and Jordie Bellaire do with one another. Through various issues references were made in these reviews to how beautiful and distinct and personality-filled they make Gotham City look, and their ability to bring life to the city doesn’t stop at the surface. The sewers are dark and dank but bright and scary and filled with their own personality within these pages.
Mora brings things to really detailed solid life, really hitting the tone perfectly for whatever emotion is needed but especially in the really gross horror-like pages. There is a really great thought put into the paneling of this issue, as it shifts from a lot of big splashes and mixed paneling to some really slimmer more tight ones near the end that ratchet up the fear considerably. Even the panels feel confined and almost claustrophobic like the sewers that are being depicted within these same panels.
Bellaire never shies away from the brighter, often almost neon, colors for many pages from the bright reds and blues to even greens at times. Yet, she also does fantastic work at depicting actual true darkness and shadows. Often these types of panels come with lighting that is meant to make it not be true ‘dark’, but not here. There is blackness and then bursts of light and color (like the bright red Vile eggs against the pure darkness of the background) that make things beyond striking.
Then there are pages like the one with Nakano’s ‘origin’ from Joker War that is full of flames and broken bodies as a backdrop to him and Batman talking. Powerful and painful and just all-around amazing.
Speaking of amazing, Aditya Bidikar always does amazing fantastic lettering work and it fits with the rest of the stellar art to complete the package. There are a lot of standard bubbles with great spacing and placement as well as emphasis markers, but then there are ones that visually show off an echo or yelling, or other effects. It’s one thing to let our imagination fill in the blanks about how a character might be talking in a moment, but it’s another even better thing to make sure w know what is happening within this story moment.
Also, the SFX work is top-notch, and in many cases helps make the scenes work even more. The pop sounds of the Vile eggs hatching is creepy and make one imagine the squishy popping sound and shudder.
A new round of backups starts with this issue, this time centered around the history of Arkham Asylum and the new Arkham Tower being built in Gotham. These will tie into the aforementioned weekly Detective Comics issues that plan to tackle this new Arkham. Stephanie Phillips, David Lapham, Trish Mulvhill, and Rob Leigh really keep the horror vibes going with this backup.
Lapham’s artwork really nails the creepy feeling that surrounds the original Arkham massacre in the past as well as the stirrings of a similar event in the present day. At the same time, the non-horror portions have good energy and feeling to them, because Lapham has a very distinct and welcome style. Mulvhill’s colors complement this well, going for a more neutral sort of dull level with the colors that match the story tone. Leigh does great work as always with the heavy amount of dialogue these backups seem to come with, really elevating the horror vibes with his SFX and the ways that the dialogue bubbles change through the story.
Where this fits into the overall Bat stuff at the moment is unclear, but Phillips does a good job with the characters and setting up this story and world. It provides a counter to the really great work she’s doing in Harley Quinn, and shows what range she has and a deep familiarity and connection to the Gotham realm as a whole.
Detective Comics #1044 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.