For a man who needs no introduction in our little world, we would expect nothing but the best in-between our old favorite comic book’s pages or at least a hint of the quality this man has bequeathed upon the Batman franchise consistently for so long. The man I’m talking about is of course Dennis O’Neil. O’Neil’s return to Detective Comics for a stand alone issue does not disappoint whatsoever. While I was initially hesitant on the fact that he wasn’t writing Bruce Wayne’s Batman and the fact that I thought he would mix up Dick with Bruce, all of those thoughts were immediately erased upon learning that Dick was narrating his own personal story starting from an incident that happened back in his old Robin days. To say that Dennis O’Neil hit the nail on the head when it came to Dick’s voice is an understatement. He not only nailed it, he took a monolith of a building, where it once was unsteady and swaying, and built a solid foundation upon which Dick thrives and becomes the Batman. Dick is no longer just putting on a cape and cowl and chasing down bad guys. He becomes the legend. He becomes Batman’s true calling. He fills in every little gap where once it was empty. Dick is now Batman, it‘s his personal story, in his voice, and his Batman. There is not much that’s wrong here. O’Neil is a master and he just proved that he knows more than any other writer who has ever touched a Batman book all the while weaving a great story all in a single issue.
What singles this issue out, besides what I’ve already mentioned, is that it flashes back to Dick’s old day’s as Robin teamed up with Bruce’s Batman as they are on their way to investigate an art gallery robbery. The art shifts from Dustin Nguyen’s newer pencils to the older days of Batman, it does this seamlessly and does not interrupt or rudely distract, it matches the story perfectly and lends to the story while pushing it forward and making it clear as day that we are in a certain time period and in a certain context which puts us (the reader) in the right mind set to experience what’s being presented. Nguyen’s pencils are spot on as always. David Baron’s colors are gentle and relaxing when we see Batman flying around in the Gotham Night, but intense when there is a need for it. The art overall is at its best here and doesn’t fail to impress.
Our story starts off with Batman getting into a fight with three men who he ran into while trying to find a medallion in an old abandoned house. Batman falls through the floor and finds the medallion under some dirt thus triggering a flashback to the old days. The Joker is in front of the house we’ve just seen, but in this instance it’s a grand and sweeping mansion. The Joker kills the guard at the front gates and in the mansion steals a medallion but before he can leave a man wielding a sword stops him. Meanwhile Batman and Robin, now Bruce and Dick, are cruising the town looking for trouble when an old woman rushes up to them and frantically tells them that there is a dead man lying on the sidewalk. Batman tells Robin to wait in the car while he goes and investigates. In the mansion The Joker makes his exit while the sword wielding man’s attention is focused on the recently arrived Batman. The two fight and Batman of course, ends up victorious. While the fight is going on Robin is shadowing the Joker as he bumps into a man named Loomis secretly pulling the chain from the medallion in Loomis’ pocket. Robin takes the Joker down and the Police arrests the Joker, Loomis, and the man with the sword. While riding in the back of the police van the man with the sword triggers a bomb he had hidden in his pants and the Joker and Loomis run off into the night. Later on Loomis is caught and put on trial for murder. As evidence, the district attorney at the time who we all know is Harvey Dent, presents the chain the Joker had slipped into Loomis’ pocket when they bumped into each other. Loomis is found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. For good behavior he is released early though he is now an old dying man. One night he is visited by Batman and questioned about the night he was arrested along with the Joker. Although Dick was shadowing the Joker from the mansion till he was arrested, he never saw The Joker toss the medallion, as the only thing that was recovered was the chain. So Dick, using his detective skills, surmises that the Joker ditched it in the mansion and thus we are brought back to the beginning of the issue with Dick fighting the three men and finding the medallion. The issue ends with Dick going back to Loomis’ house and while exhausted, thinks he catches a glimpse of the Joker leaving Loomis’ apartment. Upon entering, Dick states that he has found evidence that will clear Loomis of all charges and clear his name only to find out that the Joker was in fact there and that he killed Loomis with his laughing gas.
While it is truly a great issue I really hated that this issue ended and that it was final. I feel that what was great about this particular issue will be forgotten and Detective Comics will go back to what we were presented with before O’Neil did this stand-alone. I wonder if and hope that David Hine will take into consideration and continue what has been done here but as evidenced in his previous work mainly on the Azrael book it honestly isn’t something to be truly excited for. But I have my hopes. Also I think it’s about time we get an honest Batman and Joker story where they both pull the right punches and are constantly out doing each other. It has been two years since the release of The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s Joker, that now it’s appropriate to have another Joker story instead of these hints as evidence in Grant Morrison’s Batman #700, this issue and various other appearances. But I must commend O’Neil’s treatment of the Joker, there is a great separation from Ledger’s Joker and the Joker presented here. While Ledger’s Joker is dark, sinister, brooding and psychotic the Joker presented here is a lighter version going back to the days where he wasn’t dark and brooding but a maniacal laughing stock busting out joke after joke while doing all the things that Ledger’s Joker hinted towards and in some cases matched. But the highlight here is the Dick Grayson Batman as I’ve said before. He is fully formed and distinct, and very beautifully written. Whereas before it was the constant reminder that this is Dick and not Bruce, O’Neil makes the distinction, gets into Dick’s brain and settles there while pumping out dialogue that feels free, flowing, and natural and is what I personally think Dick would say, act, and react like. Like Bruce before, O’Neil gives Dick’s Batman a good amount of humanity, clarity, and overall character progression, he sticks to the image of The Dark Knight as we know it while creating a distinct incarnation of Dick both as a human being and as Batman. I feel closer to Dick Grayson than I ever have before whether it was Nightwing or Robin the only thing that comes close for me is Dick’s Origin story and that has been done over and over again, this issue brings forth a new Dick Grayson and refreshing all that‘s been done before. This story makes huge leaps and bounds in the psyche of Dick Grayson and Batman as a whole and it’s brevity only adds to it, it’s only a glimpse or taste, it leaves us wanting more though we know we probably wont get any more and in that way among better, greater things is what makes this issue the most memorable issue I have read in a very very long time.
Detective Comics #866:
Reviewed by Dane