The Masks That We Wear: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics’ #1063
by Scott Redmond
‘Detective Comics’ new moody operatic story arc continues to deeply explore Batman and Gotham City in a darkly gorgeous but deeply human way building a very interesting new foundation for the city and various well-known characters. Everything about this issue, both main & backup story, radiates the exact vibes one would expect from Batman-related types of stories while bringing a bunch of their own unique powerful energy to play.
Sometimes in life there comes a moment where someone might try a recipe, they got from a friend that combines a few pieces of food that they don’t usually mix, but on the surface, they are perfectly suited for one another. Putting them together is just natural to the point that you wonder “Why the heck haven’t I done this before?”
Like the beloved mix that is peanut butter and chocolate, Batman and gothic opera are a match made in heaven. Especially when it’s coming from Ram V, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave Stewart, and Ariana Maher. That’s a dream team on every level right there, taking Batman to a very musical and interesting place while also hitting a lot of the street-level detective vibes that one might expect from the series the character debuted within so many decades ago.
Hitting that tone requires a great many things working in tandem, and right away it’s set by the artwork that Albuquerque and Stewart are bringing. It’s so inherently moody and shadowy and dark, with great depth and detail. Just a gorgeous sight to behold, as all the various actions, from simple to complex, are flowing through the panels/pages like a dark chaotic but also ordered dance of some kind.
Many of the panels have sparse, just color and shadow backgrounds, allowing the characters and their actions or the items that are the focus to stand out and take our attention. Just a scene that can be seen as simple as multiple panels of a coin being spun till it falls becomes something powerful and easily captures the attention. Standard style paneling is a classic and works wonderfully, but there is something about shifting and moving panels around with each page that can make the mood of a story even more tangible. As we watch Batman/Bruce struggle with losing control of the city and feeling something gnawing at him, the panels of his work through the city are scattered around and come with frantic energy to match.
While there are the aforementioned shadows and darker tones, Stewart employs the right amount of splashes of brighter color while keeping them toned down and somewhat rough in quality. This isn’t a slicker or shinier superhero type of story, this is a gothic street-level horror type of story, and we can see and feel that on every single page.
Coming into a story of this type means that there is plenty of room for everyone involved to stretch themselves, creating visuals that are outside the ‘normal’ for most comics but match this tone. Maher is a great choice to turn to for lettering something like this because her work always has that powerful outside-the-box sort of energy and feel to it, morphing to fit any required story. In the last issue, there was the dream-like wavy bubbles/font that came to play, and here we get the inspired choice to have the opening club singers’ lyrics floating through the panel beside her rather than in bubbles. It might seem small in some ways, but it fits the more eerie or almost otherworldly intention of the work.
Cannot leave out the variety of changes to bubbles, fonts, and caption boxes that come through the issue showcasing different tones/volumes and personalities of a variety of characters. All that red and broken crooked font at the end for the re-emergence of Two-Face within Harvey’s mind is truly chilling and heartbreaking at the same time.
Ram V has showcased through so many series from a variety of publishers why he’s such a fantastic writer, bringing a whole new type of energy alongside a new generation of writers who bring diverse and different voices to the fold. This truly was a series he was meant to write, because this Batman just feels right and the tone for the story is something that feels one hundred percent natural to the character.
We’re given a bit more stuff to mull over from this issue including the conversation with Harvey Dent (poor poor Harvey Dent, perhaps one day an attempt to be in a better place will work out for him), to more about the Orghams/Arkhams, more of the slowly unraveling mystery, more Barbatos, and so much more. All of that without it ever feeling like too much being thrown onto the pages. Instead, it all weaves together seamlessly, making the issue feel even deeper and longer than it truly is with the page count. Leaving an issue feeling like you read enough stuff for two issues, to me is always a very good sign.
While the first story is gothic horror, the second story has a lot of those ominous or spooky vibes but is also a much more noir-like tone which fits the finding his place James Gordon. This second of three stories from Simon Spurrier, Dani, Stewart, and Steve Wands does so much with Gordon and Gotham and feels heavy but light and smooth at the same time.
Gordon is an intrinsic character to the Batman mythos, and what Spurrier is doing with the character is really nice to see as it also builds off what James Tynion IV was doing with him within the recent Joker series. A grizzled drifting former cop trying to find his way, trying to still make a difference of some kind but not sure where he fits. Being pulled into something that is far beyond him.
Dani’s artwork is just so creative and fun to view because it’s a bit rough and hits all the right grimy or pulpy tones while doing its own thing. All the white space helps hold the attention and spreads the panels apart, adding to the overwhelming emotions that are inherent in the story. Truly, Dani was meant to draw Gotham City and play within the world of Batman.
A lot of the same heaviness or darkness that Stewart brought to play in the first story of the issue is also found here, but the colors are similar yet different. They are a bit rougher and more Earth here, matching Dani’s style perfectly. It’s amazing to witness colorists who are able to maintain a style of their own while also allowing their work to morph and change to match whatever energy the art requires.
Also maintaining the energy is the lettering from Wands, keeping a lot of those noir vibes with the typewriter-like font filling parts of the white spaces and the yellowed paper-like caption boxes. As well as really heavy work with the dialogue, making all the right moves to showcase tone and volume within any given moment.
Detective Comics #1063 is now available now from DC Comics