Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: ’Batman: Detective Comics - Rise of the Batmen’ is best of DC Rebirth trade paperbacks

Now that’s more like it. Writer James Tynion IV, pencilers Eddy Barrows and Alvero Martinez and their colorists and inkers are doing the best Batman title in the DC Comics Rebirth.

DETECTIVE COMICS is the type of Batman series I’m used to reading. It’s the closest thing to a BATMAN FAMILY-style comic book in decades.

Tynion delivers a well-crafted, intriguing story in RISE OF THE BATMEN (‘TEC Nos. 934-940). The Dark Knight is focused on saving Gotham City. He has his suspicions that something big is about to go down — which, like the Batman of the 1990s, he holds close to his chest. To prepare, he enlists Batwoman to train Red Robin (Tim Drake), Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), the Orphan (Cassandra Cain, the second Batgirl in the pre-New 52 continuity) and reformed villain Clayface.

I may be one of the only Batman fans to think this — much less say it — but I most enjoy Batman when he is working with a supporting cast. No solo, brooding Dark Knight for this lifelong fan.

DC Comics writers characterize Batman as a loner, especially in the dialogue from other DC characters in the various versions of JUSTICE LEAGUE. But for this lifelong fan he’s at his best when he has other heroes and protagonists to complement him. Bruce Wayne may want to consider himself a loner, but the best parts of his complicated personality come out when he is working with — and certainly playing nice with — others.

The pre-New 52 Batwoman was one of my favorite DC characters. There were many months when her title far outshone the rest of the Batman-related titles.

If you enjoyed her then, you definitely will enjoy her now. Before, Batman was skeptical of her, for reasons writers didn’t fully explain to my satisfaction. Now, the Dark Knight trusts Batwoman and their implied history indicates they’ve worked well together in the past.

A preview of DETECTIVE COMICS NO. 934, as seen without dialogue or captions.
The partnership of Batman and Batwoman is a good fit. They’re both stubborn as the Gotham night is long and dangerous and won’t take “no” for an answer.

Just as in Tom King’s BATMAN Rebirth series, there’s a humanity to the Dark Knight that’s been missing for years — probably since the 1990s, the last time the Batman team of writers had him working with Nightwing, the third Robin (Drake), Oracle and even Spoiler and Cain’s Batgirl.

It’s refreshing to see Batman have faith in someone besides those characters and of course, Alfred Pennyworth. This is a Batman who knows his limits, that he can’t fight crime by himself and realizes when it’s time to bring in a support team.

This tweak to the Batman-Batwoman dynamic really makes the RISE storyline sing. Tynion takes it a step further by making it clear Wayne and Kate Kane are cousins and about the same age. Kane is the daughter of Wayne’s uncle, Colonel Jack Kane, who is Martha (Kane) Wayne’s brother. Jacob Kane never much liked the Wayne family and his relationship with his daughter is even more strained than it was in the previous continuity.

All of these family dynamics play into the stunning revelation of who is behind the Colony, the domestic terrorists patterned after Batman, his fighting techniques and even his tech. Granted, all this sounds — and is — very soap opera-esque for a Batman comic book, but Tynion makes it all gel nicely.

As with the New 52, DC’s Rebirth has changed very little of Batman’s massive continuity. What you’ve read in the stories published in the decades beforehand remain valid. Aside from Wayne and Kane being related now, you can read this trade paperback and the other Rebirth titles in the Batman family as if nothing has changed. It’s there to accept if you want to.

What the DC and Batman writers have done is tweak elements here and there; the Dark Knight’s relationship with Batwoman being a prime example.

Drake’s Red Robin threads are a variation of his 1990s Robin costume, just with a double R logo. Batman trusts him as he always has and their relationship is as healthy as it was in the 1990s.

The Rebirth tweak to Drake is that he’s a computer genius. In the New 52, Drake was a forgotten character shelved to the side in favor of focusing on Batman, Nightwing and Damien Wayne's Robin and it seemed no writer knew how to handle Drake, much less how he and Red Robin fit into the Batman family dynamic.

Tynion knows how to write Drake, making him the dynamic and interesting character I read regularly twenty-plus years ago. He’s also dating Brown, a dynamic relationship that frustrated me when it first happened in his ROBIN series, but I eventually ended up digging. As with his former partner, Drake shines when he has other protagonists around him. He, Spoiler/Brown and Batwoman are a great ying to Batman’s yang.

RISE OF THE BATMEN is the best Batman-related Rebirth story and trade paperback I’ve read so far. It grabbed my attention from the beginning and never let go — and I rarely say that about modern comics. Until the end, I had to know how Tynion planned to wrap this up and when it did conclude, I was satisfied with how Team Batman/Batwoman fared.

The final scene between Batman and Spoiler is powerful, an exclamation point on just how well Tynion knows what makes these characters tick. The climax and conclusion — with deftly crafted big and small moments — are a testament to his respect for Batman’s world.

If you only buy or even read one DC Rebirth trade, BATMAN: DETECTIVE COMICS — RISE OF THE BATMEN should be it.

Grade: A

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