Batman: Detective Comics Vol 2: Scare Tactics
Writer: Tony S. Daniel, James Tynion IV
Artist: Tony S. Daniel, Ed Benes
Note: This is a discussion of Detective Comics (2012-) issues 8-12, 0 & Annual #1
Edgar: And so we arrive at volume two of DC’s New 52 Batman Detective Comics series. A streak of new mysteries to unravel, some more cumbersome than others. Reading this second package a thought sprang to mind. I get the feeling that this Detective Comics series is in a constant tug of war between establishing a sense of continuity in the Batman comic world and establishing new ground with smaller, more isolated cases for the Dark Knight to solve. Some characters we’ve seen before as well as stories we’ve read about are alluded to or make important returns. James, do you prefer it when Detective Comics is doing its own thing and has Batman investigate new, strange occurrences or do you prefer having things tie in with the great comics universe, such as when the Owls show up?
James: I’ve got to say I’m on the fence on this one. I think I give a slight edge to the new and strange, just because I think that’s when the book tonally feels like it’s doing something different with the Batman character. It goes more into the horror/sci-fi side of Batman and I appreciate Tony S. Daniel giving us that side of the universe. But the tie-in side also has some merits as well and we get some good moments from that. I know we’ve both expressed frustration with Batman books tying into the larger universe so I’m interested in your answer.
E: In this instance I much prefer the volume when it presents new adventures and crimes for Batman to study. I felt those issues actually offered some glimpses into his investigative methods. There’s something very weird about the issue concerning the Owls. Reading it, I was reminded of how cool the investigation was by Batman in the the actual Batman New 52 comic series that dealt with the Owls sect. Ironically enough, in this Detective Comics issue I didn’t find there was any detecting for Batman to do. It’s basically a huge brawl at Arkham. I suppose I’m a nit picky comic book kind of guy. It’s not that the issue is poor. I mean, it’s cool to see the Owls return (so to speak. The issue takes place during the Court of Owls storyline) but it felt terribly out of place in my opinion. The book starts off with something of a mystery although I didn’t find it was the best issue of the bunch. What did you make of Scarecrow’s ‘scare tactics?’
J: I think what I actually liked the most out of that is how it leads into what I thought was a much more interesting story with Black Mask. I honestly found Scarecrow’s brief role almost superfluous as it seems like Black Mask could have accomplished something interesting. It’s neat to also see that moment when the staff realizes they have to put their trust in one of the inmates who could just as easily kill them all, and then how Black Mask screwing with Batman’s rogue’s gallery puts him at odds with them as well. So, I guess I found it a good springboard into something far more interesting. Did you enjoy the setup or the payoff more out of this story?
E: Well, I’ll agree with you that the payoff is more compelling than the setup. Frankly, I’m a little fear ‘gased’ out at this point with Scarecrow. I guess the fact that his little plot is ultimately setup makes the fact that it was hardly an original idea coming from him not as disappointing as it otherwise might have been. Perhaps my expectations were too high heading into this series of books, part of that having to do with the fact that I’m reading the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories right now, but I find Batman solves some of these cases with incredible ease. I’d like to stick with the topic of Black Mask for a minute if you don’t mind. He’s used in ways I never would have expected in his issue. Perhaps I don’t understand the character well enough, maybe you can enlighten me here. Does his plot not sound like something Harvey Dent would go through?
J: I guess from the angle of the original human being, he does have that Harvey Dent characteristic, but I think it’s the persona of Black Mask that shines the best in this story. His mind-control abilities are a bit nebulous, but it does lead into some interesting ideas of him being disliked and untrusted by other people so he basically ends up just messing with people’s minds. It’s not the most nuanced or well-defined power, but I thought the story it told with it was entertaining enough. I do like that you talk about Batman solving these cases with ease. I think that goes to something I would say in general about this volume: it feels like it goes through the motions. It tries to hit all the beats, but without any real depth or nuance. There are some interesting tonal and story elements, but overall, I felt the book was a mid-tier Batman story. It’s entertaining, but nothing that ever impressed me or knocked my socks off. Do you have some similar feelings or were there some standout moments for you?
E: Before getting to any standout moments which I think is an important topic, I’d like to get to the bottom of what I’m feeling about all these issues we’ve read so far. Two volumes in and we’ve zipped by 12 issues. I think you’re on to something when you argue that the Daniel tries to hit all the beats. In essence, he doesn’t fully trust the detective side of Batman. There exists a Batman series, a Dark Knight series, and a Batman and Robin series! For crying out loud, let the man do some Sherlock Holmsy shit in this book! That’s what I want. Yes, it’s Batman so he’s going to engage in some fisticuffs, that’s fine, but I don’t need balls to the wall action in every issue. That being said, I did find some of the imagery in the story about the hadron particle accelerator or whatsitcalled quite striking. It’s a very crazy science-fiction based storyline but some of the images really hit me, like the clones, the melting faces, Toxic Man. I think artistically that adventure has a lot going for it. Do you agree or were you nonplussed?
J: I think you hit on Daniel not trusting the detective side of Batman. If we go back to Court of Owls, we see that Snyder basically sends the first half of that arc making Batman doing a lot of detective work before getting us to the big set-pieces. In Detective Comics, it feels like every issue wants to have some detective work but also wants an epic action piece in every story. It makes it hard to set that groundwork, so I think you’re spot on about Daniel’s writing. As for the Toxic Man story, I think it’s a story where the imagery does give it some great artistry and there are some strong images. It does go rather deep into sci-fi territory, which I didn’t mind seeing, but it does feel like it rushes through that detective work to give us several epic action set-pieces when two really big ones probably would have worked just fine. I think it’s a story I enjoyed more for the interesting visualizations and less for the actual plotting. Like you said, Batman solves the case way too easily. I think it would have been interesting to draw out the mystery a bit longer. Honestly, this story could have been a whole volume. One of the more interesting elements in this book is a look at Bruce’s training. What did you think of that issue?
E: It was a strange inclusion I felt, much like the one involving the Owls. I wonder what goes into the decision making process when they package these things. It’s a decent story, one that relates to Bruce’s constant struggle of being a brooding vigilante while protecting a city he loves. His master instructs him to shun feelings because they are a weakness but feelings are what make us human. It’s not exactly groundbreaking. I think most of us already knew about that ongoing battle within Bruce. I don’t know if we needed an issue that exemplified it. It does put a neat twist with a reveal in the end that speaks to how being emotive can lead to trouble, but that’s also something any astute Batman fan could extrapolate from the hoards of Batman stories out there. James?
J: I think I liked it a bit more than you. I do like seeing that tension in Batman. He often comes across as a cold, emotionally distant character, but this one does get into how he does truly care. But the actually payoff felt a bit too contrived for me. I thought it should feel tragic, but it sorta comes out of left field and felt like a cheap twist for shock more than anything else. I like the idea, but yes, it’s something that other Batman stories leave as an unspoken tension of the character that usually manifests itself more in his obsession for justice, which this story didn’t touch on as much as it should have. We also get to see the early days of one of Batman’s greatest foes. What did you think of the Two-Face backup story?
E: Okay, I think I’m reading these things like a dumb dumb because I wasn’t certain when exactly this was taking place. I figured that because there was discussion of Harvey possibly regaining his place as District Attorney it would have to be just after the scarring accident but I didn’t think that was terribly clear. On the topic of clarity, man was this storyline steeped in shadow. There were tons of panels I had to look at a second time just to make sure I understood what they tried to communicate. I’m very mixed on this story. I would have liked to know who the ninja-monks were. Are these characters that appear in other books or are they a new threat? I liked the concept a lot more than the execution. Did it give you all you wanted and more in relation to Harvey Dent’s descent into crime?
J: Yes, this story is confusing and hard to follow, so I don’t think you’re a “dumb dumb.” It drops you into this story and does an absolutely terrible job of giving you the context of when this takes place and what is going on. And I completely agree about the art. It’s hard to understand what is happening in about a fourth of the panels because the images are so dark. I thought this was probably the sloppiest part of this volume. It never worked for me. It felt like a phoned-in Two-Face story. He deserves better writing than this.
E: It’s unfortunate because think Two-Face is such a fun villain to have around. I mean, how hard can it be to write a story about this guy? He’s a classic villain with a striking psychological and emotional dilemma. Really a shame. There was one little story that I thought was quite nice. It really has nothing to do with detective or Owls or Toxic Man. It’s the one about Alfred having to protect Wayne Manor from being bought by a rival family. It was a cute story that really did a nice job of showing Alfred as a loving friend, a member of the family and not just a regular butler. Did you like this story?
J: I thought that was a nice little glimpse into the Alfred character. Obviously, we always think of him as that steadfast constant in Bruce’s life, but this story does contemplate the depth of that loyalty and the reality that there probably were lots of people scrambling to get Alfred out of the way and get to Bruce’s wealth. I liked it. I’m not sure how I feel about how far Alfred goes in that one moment, it’s the kind of burst of emotion you wouldn’t usually expect from the character. Still, it does show the depths of his dedication to the Wayne family. (go ahead)
E: If we dive into nitpicky territory, is it not a little strange that Daniel has written not one, not two but three stories in which a group of men dress up as a Batman or a popular villains? In volume 2 we have clones dressed up as Batman and thugs dressed up as Scarecrow whereas in volume 1 we had the thugs dressed up as the Joker. Once is fine, twice is already a little strange, but three times in barely 12 issues? I find that to be overkill. Is this a neat auteur’s calling card or is this Daniel short on ideas?
J: I’d go for the latter. I think Daniel does have some interesting ideas, but there’s a lot of writing here that is just passable. He’s quick to recycle the same structure and ideas for some of his story arcs, so even though I didn’t notice that level of repetition, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s the worst kind of familiarity, one in which you ask yourself whether or not you read this story before. Even though there are some decent moments, I have a feeling that I won’t remember much about Daniel’s take on Batman after a month or two. Do you feel the same way or was there something about his take on Batman you’ll remember going forward?
E: Other than he likes to have Batman clearly explain that he’s going to pound his captives into mush while extracting information from them there isn’t much here that makes his version of the Dark Knight all that memorable. I feel DC, which has seen its reputation tarnished pretty badly in the last couple years, dropped the ball in this whole New 52, at least in relation to Batman. Get Daniel to write mindless action stories for the regular Batman series and ask Snyder to come on over and continue Detective Comics. I know which series I’d spend my money on.