Monday, November 10, 2014

Detective Comics Vol. 6: ICARUS by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccelatto

It just came to my attention that Francis Manapul is a Filipino. I'm quite happy about that now, considering I had no idea the entire time I have reviewed his Icarus story arc earlier this afternoon. It was only after I looked at his Goodreads profile that I discovered it. I'm both pleased and embarrassed about this information. Pleased because this is the first time I ever encountered a Filipino writing and illustrating for an internationally recognized industry like DC comics. Embarrassed because I should have known in the first place. Still, this is the best surprise I've ever received this year, and that's because I connected with this story so readily and not just because of one of the writers' nationality--I connected with it because it was genuinely goddamn beautiful. Knowing Manapul is a fellow Filipino is just a bonus treat.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's debut collaboration is one of the best visual experiences I've ever had in New 52 for a Bat-title since Capullo-Miki-FCO brought me Batman: Zero Year, and I'm telling you that there is nothing more thrilling to peruse through than a comic book with such fluidity in the motion of its panels, and this issue has plenty of that to share. I ate up every gorgeous scenery as I read this! I was that hypnotized by the artwork.

For just one night, I was able to read and finish all five issues of Icarus, and my eyes have been seduced and pleasured sufficiently by Manapul and Buccellato because their complimentary visual style had a deftness and vibrancy to it that intimately captures the essence of what Batman has been in the pages of comic books since his conception; a lone shadowy figure lingering across skyscrapers in the dead of night, a creature in the darkness who fights crimes and punishes the cowardly lot who commit them.

A lot of this team's illustrations reminded me of his earlier roots so much, and even more so now because there is a more varied color palette available these days than decades ago when Batman first appeared. It's just a great experience to look at Batman in their depictions and remember with an assaulting clarity why I fell in love with this timeless caped crusader. There is nothing like being reminded about why your first love is your first love to begin with.

It's so easy to neglect sometimes that Batman originally debuted in Detective Comics and that this title is DC's flagship after all. We've been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight this year and I believe that means we should remember Batman's early days which are elegant in its simplicity. We live in a very technologically advanced world that a great amount of stories I read in Batman comic books these days now reflects what superhero movie franchises are about: gadgets, special effects, entertaining action and some humor in between, and more gadgets. John Layman incorporated lots of eye-candy gadgetry in his sixteen-issued run but this was luckily balanced by his superb storytelling which do emphasize Batman's sleuth skills as oppose to predecessor Tony Daniel's kick-the-shit-out-of-thugs characterization of Batman that was one of the reasons why his issues became an utter failure.

Manapul and Buccaletto's groundwork for their story is reminiscent of old-school Batman in the most flattering sense where we see the Dark Knight rely on his abilities and not merely on his gadgets and that foremost includes his mental acuity.

Manapul and Buccelatto's visual approach in telling this story is quite cinematic in such a way that they omitted narration boxes altogether and allowed Batman's actions in panels to show as oppose to tell the sequence at hand. It's marvelous! There was no need for speech bubbles for readers to understand Batman's process of thinking which is a welcome change for me because comic books after all are supposed to be primarily visual and it's been a while since I've gotten exactly that from a Batman story. I also enjoy the fact that we see him gathering evidence and connecting events using his own reasoning without always relying on machines to give him the answers which most Batman stories often do for a long time now just for the sake of moving things along. I'm happy these two did not take that route and truly put some great effort to make most of sequential storytelling which should be visual more or less. Hey, I love a great dialogue and narrative (Snyder's prose always gets to me) but for a title that emphasizes the 'detective' side of Batman, this is probably the best approach to tell all his cases from now on.

This is Gotham and the darkest hour is all upon us, and yet Manapul and Buccaletto, thankfully enough, are able to depict such an ugly world with their beautiful colors. The only downside, truthfully, is the last issue. It ended with a generic comic-book pay-off that's merely passable in a good day and disappointing at best. It totally defeats the purpose of its conception and development in the first place. But it did not truly diminish it. Icarus is still one of the best things I've read in a Bat-title, and you should still read it. I encourage you. I appeal to your sensibilities even. Who knows, maybe you'll be fine with the ending because that's what it was ultimately: It was FINE.

For a story that unfolded with a great command of its scenery, characters and exposition, it just went out with a whimper (or, in this case, with a series of literal explosions and misplaced action sequences that underhanded its more intimate and intellectual aspects). But that flaw should not undermine your enjoyment for Manapul and Buccaletto's volume. It was unique and daring; it packed a lot of punches. It also brought back a lot of the old-school Batman that we don't experience as often now in New 52, while also innovating the way comic books are illustrated as a sequential storytelling tool. Detective Comics Volume 6: Icarus will always have a special place in my shelf.


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