Monday, May 26, 2014

[New 52] Detective Comics by John Layman issue #27

Detective Comics celebrates the glorious and enduring symbol of the Batman in this special 75th anniversary issue with a tantalizing cover art by Greg Capullo. It's an image that we all have seen before countless of times; the ominous figure of the Dark Knight standing above a gargoyle statue as the bat-signal illuminates the sky. For his most devoted fans such as myself, it is not simply an iconic image-- it also speaks to a promise of better times ahead regardless of how strong the darkness had claimed our lives; a promise that has spanned across seven-plus decades in the pages of comic books and on-screen. 

Needless to say, the seven stories incorporated in this issue are not absolutely perfect nor could they be considered immediate classic tales. But each story had its heart in the right place, and they were written for this issue in service of what Batman represents, and to encapsulate the successful run of this immortal hero, and the qualities which defined his legacy and why he never fails to capture the imagination of his fanbase from the very beginning and to this very moment. Granted, a few of these stories could have been expounded or explored with a more nuanced approach if the purpose is to create groundbreaking stories for the 75th anniversary. But I think that would be an erroneous point of view because what truly matters for this particular issue is that it pays tribute to everything that Batman is all about. 

The Case of the Chemical Syndicate 
While in the middle of trying to apprehend a murder as it takes place, Batman examines the reasons why he is a vigilante. The constant phrase "I do it because (insert reason)" inner monologues did get old pretty quick but the message of the story was simply to echo what was already well-established about Bruce Wayne's childhood trauma which propelled him to put on a mask, and how this singular motivation kept him dedicated in ridding the streets of Gotham from crime and its other villains because no one else has the power or will to stand up for a greater good in the city. 

Old School 
 Illustrated by the legendary Neal Adams, this was a befitting tribute to the evolution of Batman across the years. It almost serves as a post-modern commentary of the passage of time inside the Batman universe, and the milestones that he had to overcome in order to be the hero we know and love. He was joined here by Robin and his infamous rogue's gallery in an almost topsy-turvy chase where his change of costume designs in the process was also symbolic of how he must keep up with the dynamic social climate both in and out of the fictional constraints of his writers and readers. It's also very pleasant to look at Neal Adams' art again. 

Better Days 
Penned by Peter J. Tomasi, what started as a tongue-in-cheek situation where a retired Bruce Wayne celebrates his 75th birthday surrounded by Barbara Gordon, Alfred, Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and Tim Drake (with cake) easily turned into a comedic yet still a heartfelt homage as to how a hero never truly puts away his mask when the city he loves and sacrificed so much for still needs him. 

This really short piece is a reference to Scott Snyder's earlier Batman work, The Black Mirror which will only confuse readers who haven't read it. I admit that I was dumbfounded the first time I read it before it finally clicked. Though astoundingly drawn, the story is far too alienating because of its obscure reference. 

The Sacrifice 
This is easily my most favorite piece of all the stories. In a very Dickensian fashion, The Phantom Stranger takes Batman into an alternate reality where his parents were never killed, but the cost of that fulfillment of a happy, normal life for Bruce Wayne is the absence of Batman which Gotham City desperately needs. This stirred my emotions viscerally. I almost wept. However, I do believe that five pages are not enough to tell the story with bolder, more vibrant strokes. It felt real enough to wound me and bring tears to my eyes, but I would have preferred at least 3 or 4 more pages to really craft the piece into perfection because there's more to it than meets the eye. 

This is the first part of three issues as stated at the end credits of the story. In this scenario, Gotham City is apparently the safest place in America and that alone is enough to send chills in my spine if not make me laugh out loud because it felt wrong to even read that on page. And only rightly so because, as it turns out, someone is playing with the strings and making everyone believe that Gotham is crime-free--including Batman himself. The story ends in a cliffhanger because you have to read the next installments later on. I suppose I understand adding this story into the anniversary mix and it has certainly piqued my interest. It does, however, feel out of place for this issue. 

The last story left me confounded but in the most thrilling sense. A sci-fi take that even surpasses the Batman Beyond storyline, this one offers us a glimpse to a more complex way of how Batman operates as a crime fighter, and what steps he took to ensure that he will be able to keep up with the changing times. It's a rather viable concept, considering how obsessively driven Bruce Wayne is originally so the twist, though surprising, is not unexpected. I don't want to give any more hints about this story because I'd like you to read it yourself and enjoy it as much as I did. I certainly want a sequel! 

I would also like to commend the fantastic full-paged artwork found inside. Despite the limitations in length, most of the stories stuck to their landing in the best way they can, with only one or two out of seven that are instantly stellar exceptions. For an anniversary special, Detective Comics #27 had been a great ride teeming with the numerous, unforgettable things that we have always loved and enjoyed the most about Batman.


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