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Friday, August 12, 2011

Book of the Week: 'Detective Comics' #881

By Don M. Ventura

Detective Comics #881
DC Comics

Remember the state of Batman last November? Grant Morrison had just finished a successful run on Batman and Robin, triumphantly brought Bruce Wayne back to the DCU in his time-traveling mystery Batman: The Return Bruce Wayne, then changed the Caped Crusader’s status quo with the radically different Batman, Incorporated. Morrison was singlehandedly responsible for what seemed to be a Batman renaissance.

Almost singlehandedly. Out of nowhere, during the last week of November 2010, comic readers were all asking the same question: “Did you read Detective Comics #871?”

Francavilla captures the reunion we've all been
waiting for.
I picked up my copy the following week at the suggestion of my comic shop owner. And what a read it was. From that first issue, writer Scott Snyder presented a three-dimensional Dick Grayson in a compelling and wonderfully dark story. Snyder had immediately found Dick’s voice, and it sounded true to the former Boy Wonder who had existed for over 70 years. But Snyder brought readers closer into Dick’s make-up than any story that I can recall ever reading.

And he did it again and again, month after month. In the last eleven issues, Snyder has told a handful of arcs encompassed by one overarching story about Commissioner Gordon’s troubled (that is an understatement) son James Jr. To those around him there was something that didn’t feel right about the quiet young boy who more macabre than mischievous. James Jr.’s story finally comes to a head in the final issue of Snyder’s triumphant run on Detective.

Snyder is joined by his two rotating artists on the title, Jock and Francesco Francavilla, two artists with strikingly different styles but whose work perfectly complimented the writer’s scripts. For both, this has been some of the best work of their careers.

James has kidnapped Barbara Gordon and left her wheelchair outside the Kord needle as a brazen calling card. The former Batgirl’s blood is dotted on the chair. Batman takes off to find his former girlfriend. Again, these opening pages by Jock are astounding; from a scene of Gordon and Batman beside the illuminated Bat signal to a final silhouette of Batman jumping off into the sky as the Commissioner stands alone.

We find Barbara trapped by James as he confesses his past crimes to his sister. The story he tells advances how disturbed he is until you see what he has done to his sister (which I won’t spoil here); Snyder has created perhaps one of Batman’s most genuinely frightening new villains in James Jr. Francavilla effectively handles this scene to haunting effect with what is essentially two colors, purple and red.

We finally get a verbal showdown between the hero and the villain. While it is James that does most of the talking, he ties up the loose ends of the story’s mystery as he illustrates the difference between he and Dick. Snyder’s dialogue is so strong, so riveting, that the two men might as well have been battling one another across the rooftops of Gotham. The scene is as powerful as anything that had come before it.

The story concludes with Jock back on the book’s final pages as Jim and James Jr. confront each other in a conclusion that harkens back to Batman: Year One, where Snyder has gotten some inspiration over the course of his run. And then there’s that final panel—I won’t spoil it here—but man, Snyder doesn’t pull any punches.

Quite simply, Detective Comics #881 is the perfect ending to a perfect run.

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