The Man In The Golden Mask: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics’ #1051
by Scott Redmond
Act two of’ Shadows of The Bat’ kicks off as ‘Detective Comics’ #1051 begins to peel back the curtain around ‘Doctor Ocean’ and just how the patients of Arkham Tower are being “helped,” as the house of cards that is the tower begins to sway towards its inevitable collapse. Another gorgeous character deep issue brings a lot of energy and keeps developing the big Gotham-centric plotlines while showcasing all that makes this new run fantastic.
Over the decades, there have been an enormous number of characters introduced within the variety of DC Comics universes and timelines. Some of them go on to have huge impacts or appear all the time, whether they are the top tier iconic characters or the next level still well-known level of characters. Then there are others who have appeared but maybe don’t have as much depth to them even if they have appeared in important stories.
This would be somewhat where the character Psycho Pirate falls.
While the codename and the current bearer of it, Roger Hayden, have a history that extends back deep into the many decades DC has existed, the character is probably most known by many for his part within multiversal event stories such as Crisis On Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and the recent Dark Nights: Death Metal/Infinite Frontier among others. In fact, they’ve become so intertwined with multiversal stuff it might be hard at times to remember that they have a more down to Earth origin and person behind the mask.
That very notion is one that Mariko Tamaki has very wonderfully tapped into with the current ‘Shadows of the Bat’ storyline. Solicits and covers made it clear that Psycho-Pirate was involved in this story, and this made sense with how the patients of Arkham Asylum were all being pacified, which is what Psycho-Pirates powers can do. What wasn’t expected potentially was the fact that he got his own highlight issue that was a very solid read.
Grounding Psycho-Pirate by focusing on his relationship to Doctor Wear and how they grew up together in Gotham, running cons, is a great touch. It makes the character feel less like an overwhelming über-powered multiversal force and more a guy that has always been in way over his head. We see this visualized by the fact that he is crumbling before our eyes here trying to hold Arkham Tower together, and almost fails. This also sets up the eventual total collapse of the Tower that we already saw is coming thanks to issue one’s flash forward.
How Tamaki handles this entire plot event is truly great because it feels big, and Gotham sized but also very down to Earth because the character focus and work are top-notch. Her version of Gotham hits all the right notes for a broken chaotic place but also feels lived in rather than just being a set-piece as it can often feel in various Batman-related stories. Great deep character work and a deep love for the characters and this world is one of many things that makes this run such a joy to be reading with every issue.
As the event moves into the second act, it comes with an artistic team change on a couple of counts. While letterer Ariana Maher is still on board to bring her magic to the title, the trio of Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson have handed the reigns over to Max Raynor and Luis Guerrero for art and colors respectively. Changing art teams for a long story such as this is not uncommon and sometimes it leads to art styles that are wildly different, but here we get a change that is on the same wavelength.
There is a lot of the same detail and weight and energy that was in the first arc with Raynor’s style being just a slight big different than Reis. While there is the depth and weight, I would say that while Reis’ art had a bit of a rougher edge to it, with Miki’s inks enhancing that, there is a bit of an almost lighter or animated quality to Raynor’s work that actually fits with the Psycho-Pirate’s energy and what goes down in this issue.
Over the last year of writing reviews, my appreciation has grown immensely for different aspects of what artists bring to the pages and one of those realms is to do with paneling. Raynor has a very good paneling sense about where to go for different scenes, with the use of smaller panels or inset ones or panels over panels over panels. I love a good use of white space on pages, and Raynor actually uses it in an interesting way where the white space around panels isn’t used on every single page. It’s used on most, but others are allowed to bleed their panels from border to border of the pages and it’s really effective.
Guerrero has been doing fantastic work over in fellow Bat-line book Robin lately and continues that here. There is a seamless marriage of bright popping colors and a shadowy aspect with a ton of depth to the world. Things are colorful, as they should be with a world full of folks like a man that calls himself Psycho-Pirate, but there is always that ever-encroaching darkness that is a paramount trait of Gotham City and anything that happens within its borders. Even with the shadows and somewhat muted tones, there are a great number of panels that just stand out with the use of bright reds or yellows or greens that catch the eye and make you take notice of what is happening.
These stories are full of a lot of conflicting emotions, especially since the Psycho-Pirate is manipulating folks, and this can be felt in various ways throughout the issue. A major way is through the lettering that Maher provides here. One of many great things about her work is how she makes sure that the variety of dialogue feels authentic (larger fonts for yelling/smaller for whispering, wavering bubbles for tired, etc.) but also very emotionally charged. A good example is how we can feel the frantic nature of Doctor Wear as he becomes more and more agitated with his plan crumbling, to Psycho-Pirates becoming more and more drained as his bubbles become weary too. Or how Arkham patient Manuel returns to form and laughs during an attack with a super emphasized ‘Ha’ that takes up all the bubble space and makes the bubble conform to it.
Also, I’ll always love the amount of energy and personality that are put into Maher’s SFX work as they all have a life of their own and help to enhance the scenes greatly. SFX does not have to go all out to be effective in helping us ‘hear’ what is happening in the scene but they’re a hell of a lot more fun and memorable when a letterer chooses to take them to the next level like this.
Back-up stories are of course short pieces to go alongside the main story, but when done well they do not feel short at all. House of Gotham continues into its fifth chapter, and Matthew Rosenberg, Fernando Blanco, Jordie Bellaire, and Rob Leigh make this one feel just super packed for the ten pages it takes up.
While having the still-unnamed boy end up crossing paths with so many of Batman’s foes at such an early point in Batman’s history could feel like fan service or trying to play with all the toys, it never feels that way at all with how Rosenberg goes about it. In fact, the way that they cross the boy’s path feels not only logical but overly tragic in just how logical it is after his path was all but determined following his encounter with Joker and Batman. Penguin is a natural fit here, and it’s terrifying in so many effective ways as we watch what this city and the war that is being fought is doing to one particular citizen of Gotham.
Blanco and Bellaire are truly a fantastic duo that one can’t help but keep singing the praises of with every book/issue they work on together. It’s almost like they were meant to work together, bringing their artistic sensibilities to the same place to wow us all. Such a great level of detail within the artwork that highlights the sheer fantastical nature of this world but also the grounded terror that can be found here. Highlighted by the perfect color palette choices of Bellaire, which often just dives headfirst into bringing a bright colorful filter to any given page from the blues of the Iceberg lounge to reds of its backrooms and then the neon greens that permeate the last brutal pages.
Just within a few pages, we’re given the view of how Gotham can be a beautiful welcoming place right next to the reasons that it’s such a dark and often harmful place. A lot of Blanco’s paneling choices help with this, especially at really homing in on the horrific elements of this underworld and what it will do to a person.
Leigh’s lettering work matches the tone of whatever the variety of backup stories he’s been part of all these months are asking for. In the last issue, there were a lot of creepy elements added to Scarecrow’s speech bubbles or hopeful light added to Robin’s dialogue. Here though the tone is much more ‘grounded’ as we enter the Underworld that Penguin represents. The dialogue is more ‘normal,’ if one wants to use that word, but still full of personality and little flairs that make each person stand out some. There is a sharp edge that can be felt behind all of Penguin’s words.
Where the few SFX of the issue come into play, they are effective in displaying just how horrifying the brutal moments they are part of truly are. Mixed with the bloody close-up face shot, the ‘Shunk’ that comes with Penguin’s ‘lesson’ moment leaves little doubt what the man did before you even see the end result.
Detective Comics #1051 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.