Comic Book Resources ran a couple of polls on their site, one just after the announcement of all 52 of the DC relaunch titles, and another at the end of August, just before their release. In it, you had to choose between 5 options for each comic, as regards to your likelihood of buying it: definitely, very likely, likely, unlikely, definitely not. In both polls, I ranked Detective Comics #1 in that “definitely not” category. Tony Daniel’s run as writer/artist on Batman never appealed to me before. Besides, I would be buying Scott Snyder’s Batman, so any other Bat-book just seemed to be surplus to requirements.
But a few days before the comic’s release date, I read a feature in USA Today that cast my decision into doubt. It spoke of a Batman arc that would return to the character’s earlier days, which sparked my interest. The art in the preview looked great, further intriguing me. And I’m always a sucker for a Batman VS Joker story, given that they’re my two favorite characters in comic, and that’s what this issue seemed to revolve around. So all of a sudden, Detective Comics had a lot going for it, but I still had my reasons for not buying it. I went back and forth, and literally didn’t make up my mind until I was in the comic shop picking up my other books. But I eventually decided to throw it into the pile and try it, just for one issue.
As it turns out, Tony S. Daniel brought his A-game. The artwork is stunning, the best Daniel’s work has looked since at least Batman RIP. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend towards his artwork getting a bit sloppy, losing that slick, precise beauty of when he was collaborating with Morrison. Even the cover of this issue is rather off-putting, and one of the weakest-rendered images of the whole comic. But inside, it’s a joy to behold. Daniel draws his characters big, the camera drawn in so close they seem to fill the page and blot out their surroundings, giving the endless conflict between Batman and Joker a towering, epic, iconic feel. With the way he designs his characters, it almost feels like he’s doing Jim Lee better than Jim Lee. Indeed, Daniel seems to be becoming more ambitious in his visual storytelling, and that is reflected in paying homage to some of the great artists to have drawn Batman in the past. There are points where the panel layouts and scene compositions are reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work in The Dark Knight Returns.
The visual flair of Detective Comics #1 is also enabled by the contributions of the rest of the art team. The textured lines and heavy blacks of inker Ryan Winn and the washed-out colors of Tomeu Morey give this Gotham a gloomy noir vibe, recalling the aesthetic of the Nolan films. Artistically, the comic is a triumph.
The writing isn’t quite up to the same level. One problem that Daniel has always had through his work on Batman is that he’s a competent enough writer, but he’s in the shadow of master storytellers such as Morrison and Snyder, and can’t hope to keep up. And here, there is still the odd bit of dodgy plotting or the occasional clunker of a line that suggests this isn’t going to be up there with the best written titles. But to his credit, Daniel does up his game, crafting a story that is simple but compelling, giving us dark, Miller-tinged characterisations of Batman and The Joker, and an unrelenting pace that manages to keep up with the one set over in Action Comics #1.
So, will I be getting more than one issue of Detective Comics? I was happily reading this issue, loving the art, but thinking to myself that the story probably won’t be enough to hook me, that with Joker apparently out of the mix, I’d likely now just jump off and stick with Batman #1 in a couple of weeks. Good effort, Mr. Daniel, but not quite enough…
Then I got to the last page.
I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s a total game-changer, one that puts everything you’ve read up until that point in a whole new context. It is without a doubt the best last-page cliffhanger of any of the New 52 comics I’ve read thus far. Damn you, Tony Daniel. Now I HAVE to read issue #2!