Monday, August 15, 2011

Detective Comics #881

An interesting thing about children – sometimes they don't fall far from the tree, as the old adage says, but sometimes that fruit lands on a slope and rolls into dark, unfamiliar territory. Such is the case with Commissioner James Gordon, whose biological son and adopted daughter are the figureheads of this month's drama. While Barbara has always embraced the path of the righteous, fighting crime as both Batgirl and Oracle, James Junior has traveled an entirely different route that's culminated in stays with Arkham Asylum and fraternizations with many of Gotham's most colorful enemies.

Gordon's son is different from the rogues Batman has traditionally stared down without a flinch. He doesn't believe in cronies, mindless brawls or elaborate costumes – truly his father's offspring, he relies on cool logic and calculated moves to solve the problems he perceives before him. That makes him a nice change of pace from the usual business, with a few inherent personal feelings of abandonment and jealousy as they relate to his father and sister only adding fuel to the fire. The man is crazy, criminally so, but he's not stupid and that's the kind of enemy that's often the most dangerous.

It's that same careful balance that writer Scott Snyder hopes to capitalize on, but I found the accompanying plot to be a bit too heavy on the build-up and shockingly light on the climax. More than half the issue is dedicated to James Junior's overly verbose explanation of his master plans, a character flaw that even poor captive Barbara can't help but point out, and his lack of an effective follow-through left me wondering how brilliant he actually was. Snyder's heart is in the right place, and on a few occasions he provides a rare, empathic peek into the mind of a psychotically disturbed individual, but the issue's dialog repeats itself fairly regularly and the story's hurried conclusion does nothing to address the deeper issues he hints at. In the end it's just another day at the office masquerading as something more substantial.

The artwork, provided by the team of Jock and Francesco Francavilla, varies from moody and unsettling to chaotic and twisted. Each artist works with a light touch; showing restraint and a solid eye for composition, they both manage to do more with less. There's a pretty clear moment about two-thirds of the way through the issue where the style shifts and it's obvious that we've changed artists, but the styles compliment one another decently enough that such a shakeup isn't unsettling. There's really nothing wrong with the way this issue looks, but it doesn't exactly leap up and take control of the reader's imagination, either - it's suitable but not spectacular.

It's clear from the way he writes the character that Scott Snyder understands the need for a difference between Bruce Wayne's Batman and Dick Grayson's. It's important enough that he even grants the issue's villain a few panels on the subject. There's a rare opportunity to redefine this character at hand, but it's going to take something with a bit more daring than this month's issue to get us there. In a few select panels, Snyder scratches the surface of something with potential, but by the time he's reached the back cover, those glimpses remain just that - peeks of promise that are left unparsed. It's a perfectly decent issue, one that inches the greater plot forward a tiny bit, but not exactly required reading. Borrow it to stay current, just don't expect to come back to it any time soon.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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