Shiny Shelf

Detective Comics #821

By Jim Smith on 21 July 2006

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Maybe I lack a suitable sense of perspective but it seems to me that the world has been waiting for ages for Paul Dini and J H Williams III previously announced run on ‘Detective Comics’. That’s the nature of anticipation though, isn’t it? It seems to take an eternity for things we’re looking forward to to roll around, while the phone bill seems to arrive every other day. Another key feature of anticipation is, or seems to be if you listen to some people, that if you look forward to something too much you can only be disappointed with the end result.

Well, the ‘Dini Dini Dini Dini Dini Dini Dini Dini Bat-MAAAAAAN’ as we at Shiny Central have been excitedly calling it for a while now is here and not only is it not disappointing it’s quite obviously brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and blatantly worth every second of that time we’ve had to wait for it.

Dini’s script for this issue is perhaps a little verbose as comic scripts go, but it’s also a beautifully structured and paced single issue adventure; one which tells, in 22 pages, a story that not only seems much bigger than that but which also, somehow, both unfolds in a manner that doesn’t seem rushed while moving at an enthralling speed. Dini’s characterizations of Batman, Gordon and Alfred are exemplary, from Alfred’s fond sarcasm to Batman’s fiendishly sharp diagnostic inner monologues and Gordon’s stability, determination and compassion.

It’s also a ‘proper’ detective story. By that I mean there are enough clues for the audience to work out the solution for themselves should they have the smarts to but said solution is also sufficiently well hidden it’s not going to leap out at you and spoil the big reveal. Read the issue again, however, and you’ll start kicking yourself for being enough of a doofus to not spot it at once. This concentration on the ‘detective’ element of Batman’s character is very welcome, it gives this book its own unique identity amongst a plethora of books Batman appears in.

J H Williams’ art is gorgeous. Every bit as imaginative and unorthodox in terms of panel design as his work on ‘Promethea’ it also shares that series outstanding strength in visual storytelling. Williams’ Gotham is reminiscent of Tony Harris’ original take on Opal City in ‘Starman’, with subtle light coming through art deco lamps and windows and a feeling of opulence, aesthetically as well actually, existing cheek by jowl with grime and decay. He even makes that new Robin costume (of which I’m not a fan) look kinda good.

Featuring the debut of a new Batman villain too-good-to-be-throwaway but also so-lightly-treated-maybe-he-is, this is one of the most impressive, enjoyable, well-crafted comic books in years. No actually, not years, decades.

What with Grant Morrison expected to do something distinctive and unorthodox over in ‘Batman’ itself, this approach is to be doubly welcomed. With a bit of luck we could be looking at a situation where we have two utterly different, utterly distinctive and utterly brilliant monthly Bat-books.

That’s something the comics industry, and comics fans, need, nay deserve. If you’re not excited, then you should be.

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