Reinventing Detective Comics
by Travis Hedge Coke
Their first arc unfinished, I can tell, already, Ram V, Rafael Albuquerque, and their creative collaborators have found a different technology to making Batman and Detective Comics work. By making the gothic tone the primary instrument of the comic, traditional markers of what makes a crack superhero comic become immaterial, and the things which hold back modern Batman and many other modern superhero comics from seeming vital, emotionally engaging, or important are gone. This comic is important. These stories, these issues are vital. Intense. Engaging.
Dave Stewart is a genius of color and technique. With V and Albuquerque, Stewart creates an unrelenting evocation across every page, transforming Detective Comics into a sense of dread, of frustration and rumination, that flies in the face of traditional wisdom and practice. In what is so far the story of haunted men suspended in their own self-inflating mythologies, color and shadows, myths, men, figures and fugues tramp trenches and cross bridges with shaking hands and hunched shoulders, self-consciously vulnerable and radiating their aggression.
Batman, himself, has not seen this quick range of expressiveness since Chris Burnham or Neal Adams. A living, surrounded man, swallowed by a large, dark world of violence and confusion, trying to be a giant, a monster, a badass, sometimes suspended, now, paralyzed in the horror of a music box.
Ariana Maher should be proud how much she makes the lettering look a natural and invisible part of the world and each page of the comics, while also standing proud on its own, an irremovable piece of a clenched-fist world.
That no one in the talent pool steps on anyone else’s creation, that every page feels full of engagement from colorist, letterer, artist and writer, demonstrates a confidence in their own parts, in their own capabilities, and a lack of cowardice we love to see in any comic. Nothing is overly-careful, no risk is avoided solely to ensure a single collaborator shine over the others. They launched this run as a finely-oiled high quality machine of articulated horror.
In and out. The atmosphere grabs, throttles you, rifles your pockets, insinuates your weakness, and leaves you befuddled with your butt on the wet pavement of an alley at night even though you are sure you were just standing in the sun on a bridge overlooking the beach. It is the hard strike of a hammer on your finger when you are trying to look your toughest and tell yourself not to grieve. A betwixt muddle. A bemused pain. Enjoyable in sadly schadenfreude fashion, but the schadenfreude is for you.
Albuquerque and V have resurrected Bruce Wayne under the heavy mask of Batman in a different and as integral fashion than even recent wonderful artists and writers, on other books, and made all the “will this change the line” or “does this affect canon” questions typically asked by readers and more by speculators who are not yet reading, nothing but immature fancy. It does not matter. Who can worry about how this will affect stories two years from now if everyone dies today? How can we look at the horror Bruce experiences or the frustrated anxiousness of simply being Two-Face, in this, this horrible, dank, blotted world, and think of some upcoming crossover event somewhere far far far away?