Ever since Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Batman has experienced an immense rise in popularity. Not only has the Caped Crusader slowly made his way into almost every DC Comics movie and television franchise, but he has formed almost a quarter of DC Comic’s monthly comic releases. However this does not mean that Batman is always written well. In fact, Detective Comics #29 exemplifies everything currently wrong with the way Batman is being written over at DC Comics.
While writer John Layman’s dialogue sounds natural and artist Aaron Lopresti clearly has an eye for detail, neither the writing nor the art of this comic are exactly memorable, or even notable. The writing doesn’t leave a lasting impression or grow the characters at all, and the art doesn’t play with any conventions or style choices, like a creative use of color or shadows. It’s just kind of…there.
I will admit that the basic concept of the issue is decent. The Scarecrow has drugged Batman and his allies into servitude by using a new Fear Toxin that makes its victim malleable to mental suggestions while presenting them with an hallucination of an idealistic Gotham. DC keeps trying to push the Scarecrow as a prime player in Gotham City these days, but these attempts feel half-hearted and almost pathetic, considering the fact that he’s a guy whose “intimidating” costume consists of a burlap sack on his head and a rope belt.
This is a fairly interesting idea that plays with the ideas of whether one would honestly choose reality over fantasy, especially when one considers the superhero genre and comic medium in general, both of which are firmly based in the idea of escapist fantasy. Sure, it has some very big plot holes (why would this utopian Gotham City need so many superheroes?), but still poses a provoking question. The problem is that the story presented in the comic doesn’t go anywhere. Batman just finds an antidote, and soon cures his drugged comrades. No struggle or drama, just showcasing Batman’s awesomeness for the nth time.
But the fundamental problem with the story arc is that it has no weight, point, or lasting influence. And while I would have no problem if this was a storyline simply limited to this line (a series of comics with a certain name, in this case, Detective Comics), but this was one of DC’s many crossover events, invading almost all of the Gotham City lines, including Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Talon, and many others. And when such an event feels so pointless, it’s hard to bring myself to care. In fact, all crossover events like this truly do is frustrate the reader and interrupt the continuity of all the lines for an unsatisfying conclusion. It’s almost sad that these kinds of events happen over a dozen times a year.
And maybe it’s because I’m basing my interpretation of Batman on the animated series from the Nineties, but isn’t Batman supposed to be a good person? Isn’t that what makes a good superhero? In this comic, Batman not only beats up Poison Ivy (who had been previously helping him), uses Scarecrow’s fear gas to give some criminals permanent psychological damage, and even drugs Scarecrow to make him docile, all without even a hint of reservation. For a character that is supposed to be about justice and being a bastion of good morals, Batman seems to be very morally corrupt these days. I’m not sure if I am supposed to blame Layman for this, or DC in general, since this kind of behavior has been rampant amongst the Batman lines for years now. I’m sure some people love that Batman is like this, reflecting how his “complex” moral choices are supposed to show how “realistic” and “human” he is, but I think DC’s writers have now crossed the line from Batman being “relatable” to just being a sociopathic jerk.
Finally, the comic features an absolutely deplorable and almost overtly misogynistic presentation of Catwoman. In the past, Catwoman was a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man (but occasionally jumps Batman’s bones). Now, she gets super upset about the fact Batman is friend-zoning her. So it’s pretty much the same thing that happens to every nerd who most likely reads comics, and reverses the situation, most likely for some twisted wish fulfillment. One of the few independent female characters in comics in now a horny teenager girl who pouts every time Batman doesn’t give her the goods or settles down with her. Charming. Once again, I don’t think I can blame Layman for this, since this has been another trend over at DC, even tainting Catwoman’s own line.
Overall, the comic is disappointing, with hints at the depressing and sometimes even sinister trends happening over at DC. The very last panel of the comic promises a new creative team starting next month, and I almost feel bad that John Layman’s pretty good run on Detective Comics has to end on such a pathetic note. But unfortunately for him, Batman: Detective Comics #29 is the kind of comic you show to friends to illustrate blandness and the degradation of characters, common in the modern comic book industry.
Photo: Daniel Varghese and Pam Shu/The Georgetown Voice