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Graphic Detail: Detective Comics Vol. 1 - Faces of Death

Graphic Detail: Detective Comics Vol. 1 - Faces of Death

Graphic Detail takes an in-depth look at a new graphic novel or trade paperback released each week.

If you follow DC Comics' current line of Batman books, you've probably heard that his self-titled series (y'know, Batman) is the best one of the bunch. That's pretty much true. But that doesn't mean none of the other Bat-titles on the stands aren't worth checking out. This week DC released the first hardcover collection of Batman's sister series, Detective Comics, and we thought we'd give it a look.

In this hardcover, "Faces of Death" (collecting the first seven issues of Detective), Batman squares off against a new foe called the Dollman, who has a gross obsession with cutting people up and putting them back together again... in the wrong way. Batman also tries to foil a plot to raid the opening night of the Iceberg Casino (which happens to be run by his old foe the Penguin) and steal all its money. Throughout it all, an unseen dark force seems to be pulling all the strings, and that force may go all the way to the top in Gotham.

Weirdly, despite its name, Detective Comics doesn't really focus on Batman's life as a detective any more than his other books... in fact, that might take a bit of a backseat. Detective is a heavily noir-influenced take on the character, but full of action, kind of like a Dashiell Hammett novel with more (any) explosions. It feels more like a Hollywood movie version of the character than the more cerebral, suspenseful stuff over in Batman. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's an important difference.

Detective Comics is kind of an anomaly in superhero comics in that it's both written and drawn by the same guy (usually this only happens in indie books). That guy is Tony Daniel, who you might remember as one of the (many good) artists who worked on Grant Morrison's Batman run a few years ago—he drew the "RIP" story, among others. As an artist, Daniels is really very good. He draws striking figures and bold action scenes, and his pages are very memorable. He also employs pretty unique and interesting panel layouts that at some points recall Frank Miller's landmark The Dark Knight Returns's grid-like style. In fact, Daniel's art combined with coloring from Tomeu Morey all feels very DKR-y.

That probably isn't an accident; Daniel's story, too, channels the darker, no-nonsense Batman Frank Miller's known for. This seems to be the prevailing direction of the character in ALL the New 52 titles, actually, for whatever that's worth. Unfortunately, Daniel's script isn't quite as polished as his drawing. In lots of ways, he's a very perfunctory writer—he hits all the beats of a story with minimal embellishment, but there's not a whole lot of stuff that pops in his words. That's probably partially by design—he is writing an old-school noir, after all—but when it's put up against stuff like Scott Snyder or Grant Morrison (in Batman, Inc.), well, it just doesn't quite reach the same heights.

Another thing about Detective is that it is very, very violent. Some people will welcome this as a more gritty, realistic take on the Dark Knight. However, others have rightfully lamented an increase in gore for the sake of gore in DC's New 52, and in some ways this book is one of the main offenders of that. One gets the feeling a lot of the more sensational action sequences (and their ugly consequences) happen just because Tony Daniel thinks that stuff is cool. That's a fine reason to include something in the story, but it's not going to win anybody over who thinks that superhero comics could dial it back a little and be a bit more all-ages friendly.

In the end, no, Detective doesn't really satisfy the way Batman does. But it's a good superhero/noir story with an obviously awesome hero at its center. Also, its art is consistently excellent. For Batman fans, especially those who like a more R-rated take on their hero, this is probably a winner. For people who appreciate the more psychological side of the character, maybe give it a pass.  B-

Tags: batman, comics, books-and-comics, graphic detail, detective, faces of death

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