Comic Book Review
Writers: Paul Dini, Royal McGraw
Artists: J.H. Williams, Don Kramer, Joe Benitez, Marcos Marz (Pencillers); Wayne Faucher, Victor Llamas, Luciana Del Negro (Inkers); John Kalisz (Colorist); Jared K. Fletcher, John J. Hill (Letterers)
Not all that long ago, Batman was cool. A few years ago Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee were kicking unseemly amounts of ass with their “Hush” storyline in Batman, followed by a rather shittily written run by Brian Azzarello which the brilliant artwork of Eduardo Risso more than made up for; and meanwhile Batman: Gotham Knights was quite the kick-ass title itself, written by the likes of Devin Grayson and Scott Beatty, with art by guys like Roger Robinson and Dick Giordano, and covers by the great Brian Bolland, and Black & White back-ups by everyone from Harlan Ellison to Darwyn Cooke.
Flash-forward to the present, when just about everything Batman-related has gone to shit. Gotham Knights was cancelled as part of the idiotic “One Year Later” reboot, and “Hush” has been undermined and diluted by multiple shitty sequels. I haven’t had a chance to check out the recent Grant Morrison/Andy Kubert stuff in Batman, but it’ll have to be pretty fucking great to wash away the foul taste of Judd Winick’s putrid run. If I feel especially masochistic sometime, I’ll review the abominably awful “Under the Hood” storyline wherein Judd resurrects the long-dead Jason Todd and places him at the center of one of the worst Batman stories I’ve ever read. Word of advice to comic book writers: if you must start with a horrible premise (bringing back Jason Todd), at least don’t follow it up with an equally horrible story. That only makes things worse.
So, if all this misery weren’t enough, now we get Paul Dini’s stint as writer of Detective Comics. Comic geeks were excited about this — hell, so was I. Dini is a severely overrated writer — other than Mad Love and a Mr. Freeze one-shot he wrote around the time of Batman & Robin’s theatrical release, he’s done nothing worth reading — but when he’s good, he’s real good. He’s also worshipped as the brain behind Batman: The Animated Series and the various Justice League shows on Cartoon Network. I think all that stuff is brainless kiddie shit that, at its absolute best, barely manages to graze a bit of what makes Batman a compelling character, but the true believers just eat it up.
Dini’s first six issues (five, actually — one issue is scripted by Royal McGraw), collected in this trade paperback, are stand-alone stories, not a continuous six-part storyline, which I dug, at least in theory. In practice, not so much. It’s nice to see someone writing single-issue Batman stories; I only wish they were good single-issue Batman stories. Dini also seems to want to emphasize the thinking aspect of Batman, highlight his detective skills and keen analytical mind. Again, a good idea, which Dini unfortunately chooses to develop by scripting the issues like episodes of Murder, She Wrote.
Here’s Dini’s template for the stories collected in Detective: Batman discovers a mystery; Batman gets in a fight while investigating the mystery; Batman, unbeknownst to us, solves the mystery in a clever fashion; Batman explains at length to the villain — and to us — how he solved the mystery. Those Jessica Fletcher “Here’s what happened” speeches he gives at the end of most of the stories are real killers, multiple pages of sheer exposition. In the second story, a murder mystery involving a quasi-reformed Riddler as a private investigator (another promising idea wasted), Batman disguises himself as the murderer’s limo driver, then takes three pages to explain what the murderer actually did and how he figured it out. Why would Batman go through the trouble of abducting and impersonating the killer’s limo driver just so he could explain what they both already knew? It’s not only poor writing — it shows a lack of understanding of Batman’s character.
The best example of mischaracterization comes earlier in the same story, when Batman not only allows the Riddler to follow him around while investigating the crime, but even gives him a lift in the Batmobile. I kept waiting for some other shoe to drop, for Batman to reveal a cunning motive for humoring one of his arch-nemeses to such an insane degree, but there was nothing. Dini forced Bats and the Riddler together so he could take a few limp jabs at mismatched buddy cop movies, like when the Riddler observes that this is the first time he’s ridden in the Batmobile conscious, and Batman grumbles, “Don’t touch anything.” Ha ha ha. Fucking hysterical.
So the writing sucks. Even the one story written by someone other than Dini is shit, because Royal McGraw writes it as though Dini had written it, with the same hoary mystery structure. The art isn’t much better. Check out Robin in the pic to the right, a scan from “Slayride,” the final story in the collection. Why has penciller Don Kramer drawn the teenaged Robin to look like a man in his late-40s? Is it because Kramer sucks ass? I believe it is. Rendering Robin as middle-aged with a receding hairline isn’t even Kramer’s worst offense. That comes on the last page of “Slayride,” where he gives us one of the shittier representations of Batman I’ve seen this side of Kelley Jones:
First, please note that the fingers on Batman’s right hand appear to be webbed. Whether this is the result of a poorly sewn glove or a physical deformity I do not particularly care. Second, note the pronounced camel-toe Batman is sporting in this panel. Kramer and inker Wayne Faucher have been careful to shade the crotch area just right, so that there can be no doubt: Batman has a vagina. Which might not be a bad thing. Afterall, if Bats does have an innie instead of an outie, he is instantly transformed into an idol for transgendered people the world over. And it would also finally get everyone to shut the fuck up about the sexual vibe between Batman and Robin — of course there’s sexual tension between them! Batman’s a chick! He likes dudes!
Seriously, though, this collection is total shit. Dini’s writing is god-awful and the artists don’t do him any favors. I remember when Batman was a fucking magnet for the best artists and writers in the business — Alan Grant, Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, Devin Grayson, Brian Bolland, Darwyn Cooke — not second-rate pencillers and the guy who wrote the most overrated cartoons ever. Those, my friends — those were the days.