Shiny Shelf

OYL Me Up: Detective Comics #817

By Mark Clapham on 03 March 2006

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The DC universe has jumped ‘one year later’ in continuity this month, and everything has changed in Gotham city. James Gordon is Commissioner. Detective Harvey Bullock is working a murder case. And, when the signal goes out from GCPD headquarters, Batman and Robin answer the call to the cheers of the citizens below.

Yes, it’s a big big reset switch, taking us back to the old school Batman set-up we all recognise by unwinding a few years of plot developments from the good (‘Officer Down’) to the risible (‘War Games/Crimes’). It’s not adventurous, but it’s pleasing.

There’s at least one interesting surprise (which I won’t spoil), a death of a long-standing character to give that essential ‘illusion of change’, and some hints of mysterious developments in the intervening year (‘Remember that thing you did with that stuff that time? Wow!’), but this is in essence a return to as stable a status quo for telling Batman stories as you could get. Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Batman as a sober but sane and heroic lead – it’s all here, stripping away some of the dead ends that various creative teams have written themselves into over the last few years.

The eight-part story beginning in this issue, ‘Face to Face’, is very much an exercise in re-establishing Batman and his world before new permanent creative teams take over ‘Tec’ and ‘Batman’. The new writers will be Paul Dini and Grant Morrison, and this is a Batman they can both gleefully write for, one which strikes the same classic balance as the nineties animated series that Dini worked on – a happy medium between Tim Burton and Dick Sprang, straight-faced vigilantism with an undertone of warmth and charm. Both Morrison and Dini should find plenty to run with here, enabling them to tell their own stories while maintaining consistent characterisation.

Tasked with the job of laying the groundwork for the incoming superstars is James Robinson, a writer with a dedicated cult following thanks to ‘Starman’. He’s an ideal choice for a story that is never spectacularly inventive, but which demonstrates a deep understanding of the characters and their appeal. Robinson’s story (aforementioned interesting twist aside) isn’t going to radically alter anyone’s perceptions of what constitutes a Batman story, but it captures the essence of what we like about Bats and his world, and is full of nice character touches. Readers who don’t smile at Gordon activating the bat-signal for the first time in years may wish to ask their doctor about having their soulectomy reversed.

Art is from an odd team-up of former ‘Supergirl’ artist Leonard Kirk on layouts, and finishes by Andy Clarke of ‘Shimura’ (a ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ strip, thrill-suckers) non-fame. The partnership works well, with Kirk’s clarity of composition augmented by Clarke’s organic, Frank Quitely-esque layer of detail to produce art full of noirish contrast.

While the age of Dini and Morrison is eagerly anticipated, for the moment it’s just good to be back in the old Gotham with familiar faces. If ‘One Year Later’ is intended to reassert the strengths of DC’s characters, then this is a fine start.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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