DC Comics’ weekly Shadows of the Bat event kicks off in a smashing bloody way that stays true to the world and to all the various characters that populate this story. A beautiful debut by the first of the three new art teams, boosted by a stunning back-up that dives deeper into the effects Batman, Arkham, and others have on Gotham as a whole.
It’s a brand-new year and a whole new era is beginning in Gotham City, one where Batman is taking a bit of a break from his city. There are plenty of bat and bat-adjacent family members still around to keep the city going as the massive 12-part weekly Shadows of the Bat kicks off with Detective Comics #1047.
A weekly 12-part storyline is quite a massive undertaking, and since those actual weeks might fly by telling a story that is memorable is most certainly a goal. With stories like this, there are a number of directions one can go, but generally, there are two major choices. The first being a slow build where it’s like a full roller coaster that includes the slow ascent up the hill before the drop. On the other side is the choice to open in the middle of the plot, in medias res, and plunge you right off the first roller coaster drop from the word go.
We get a really neat variation of that second choice within this first issue.
Arkham Tower has been building across the last handful of issues of this series (main stories and backup) as well as being mentioned in other titles. Here we begin with the new facility already up and running, the new man in charge Doctor Wear showcasing the “success” of the facility, and then plunge right into everything falling apart into absolute bloody chaos.
Since taking over this title Mariko Tamaki has shown a deft ability to capture the voice/character of so many of the bat family (adding more here like Nightwing) while making a slew of new or newer characters feel just as fleshed out and as important as the ones we’ve known for years Stories work whether the plot leads or the character leads, but I would contend that character leading the way enhances the plot to all-new levels. This issue would be an example of that.
Arkham as a concept failing or even just a prison riot style situation is a pretty common plot, but it takes on a new life when the characters we know/care about (whether the new or the old) are caught up in the danger and we do not know the hows or whys quite yet. Truly another way that this story hits different is not only the absence of Batman/focus on others of the Bat-family or the inclusion of great new characters like Deb Donovan, but it’s the focus on patients in this new Arkham that feel more down to Earth.
By that I mean it’s not the usual rogues being focused on right now, the types that take up all the air in the room by just being around. We got Roy Dowd/Nero XIX from the ‘Fear State’ arc of this book and then the dangerous Anna Vulsion who was introduced and captured by the Bat-family in the last issue. Other known characters are bound to show up soon, but right away we’re building up with focuses on a variety of characters which is refreshing. Especially when they are all are such full and weighty characters.
A twelve-part storyline like this needs all hands on deck, and that brings us three separate art teams that will handle four parts of this story each. Kicking us off is the team of Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson, and what a start it is. Reis’s artwork is just electric here as it vividly brings this story to life and exactly fits the tone needed to leap from the slower more steady moments at the start to the more plunging roller coaster moments that dominate the story. He has very realistic feeling energy that still at the same time screams comic books in the best way possible.
Miki’s inks bring such depth to the work, and overall it very much fits the darker more ominous tone that inherently will come with a big Gotham story like this. This is also showcased in the colors that Anderson brings which slide between the shinier brighter ones needed for the first looks at Arkham (which stands out perfectly as the sore thumb among the older looking parts of Gotham) but then plunge right into darker and haunting and ominous for when things go quite bad.
Ariana Maher has been part of a lot of books lately with lettering and it’s not surprising why, as she brings such great energy and skill to anything she works on. There are little things that she does that just help make dialogue stand out more and even feel more real. Such as how bubble font shrinks to accurately portray a whisper or grows for a yell or even just the nice touch of having the various Bat-family comm chat bubbles being different corresponding colors to make sure we know who is saying what. And cannot forget the immersive varying and energetic SFX that just blend perfectly into the space they need to on each page.
As part of this twelve-part epic, we’re also getting a twelve-part backup storyline, that is the right kind of companion to the first one. From Matthew Rosenberg, Fernando Blanco, Jordie Bellaire, and Rob Leigh the story known as House of Gotham focuses on a young man whose world is thrown into chaos after an encounter with Joker and Batman.
There is terrifying energy right away once it’s made clear that the Joker came after this boy’s family and was close to getting him, but honestly, the true horror is how the story ends and where it’s clearly going. As noted above what is making this Arkham story stand out is the inclusion of others who are being subjected to the baggage that the name Arkham always brings with it. Here we are going to see a young man that was allowed to fall through the cracks and be changed by spending time in that place that seemingly doesn’t heal people but just makes things worse.
Rosenberg really hits home how terrifyingly chaotic Joker is and ominous Batman can be, but despite those two heavyweights appearing the focus on the young boy doesn’t waver. This is his story and the other known characters are just pieces in that story, some of them more impactful than others.
Blanco and Bellaire are a fantastic combo on the art and they were pulling off some stunning stuff during their time together on Catwoman recently, but it’s like they leveled up even more which feels almost impossible. This story is just stunning to look at in both detail and style (there are some really cool ways that shots are framed like the final page) but also the colors that really nail the moody and ominous tone of the story. There is this smoothness to the whole thing that just makes it hit even harder.
Leigh has been doing the lettering of the backups for this series lately and keeps bringing the same awesome work to each story he does. The changes done to the Joker’s dialogue, making the bubbles and the font sort of wavy and chaotic, is a perfect touch here. It fits the character so much, compared to how ‘normal’ the dialogue of others is around him. There is a lot of good moments too where the dialogue and the SFX both noticeably change to showcase that a sound or conversation is happening further away/is muffled/is quieter which is such a good touch for immersion.
Detective Comics #1047 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.