The story in this issue of Detective Comics could have easily been one big cheesy cliche with all of it’s exhilarating climaxes and it’s dual story that blends into one another in almost perfect synchronicity. But like his previous efforts, Scott Snyder avoids all of this completely and fully delivers with this introductory story and the shocking thing about this issue is how Snyder manages to keep his ongoing story interesting and relevant in new ways by introducing new aspects and sinister twists especially with James Jr. And things do definitely take yet another sinister twist as we delve deeper into what seems like an endless pit into all things horrible which kind of serves as a metaphor for Gotham where an old threat is replaced by a new one in an endless cycle that doesn’t seem to break. I have no clue where Snyder is going to take his story but I can say that for the first time in a long time that I fully trust a writer with whatever he/she wants to do, I can also say that I would absolutely hate to be Gordon or Dick but that’s another thing entirely.
Snyder, in this issue, effortlessly begins his story in an out of the blue style with a masked man in Arkham being transported to the Doctor’s office, but this man starts telling a “love story” which is absolutely essential to this issue because this story and the James Jr. story blend into one another and makes you question if the two are related in any way. The story with the Doctor and the masked man who is revealed to be The Joker is brilliantly done in the sense that even though you kind of know who’s under the mask and who The Joker is talking about with his “love story”, Snyder somehow keeps you on the edge of your seat by, at the start, giving those facts away (I.e. Joker behind the mask, talking about the Doctor and his wife) which in turn means that Snyder doesn’t drag it out till the end for dramatic effect like so many other writers would do without a second thought. Instead Snyder relies on his storytelling. We know it’s The Joker, we know The Joker is telling the Doctor’s own love story to the Doctor but what we don’t know is what The Joker will do after that is established. And this is where Snyder succeeds because he twists his story in a way that when there is a reveal or a realization it totally takes you by surprise and there’s a big enough pay off in the end to make the story worth the trip but most importantly the price on the cover. Also, Snyder writes Arkham in such a way that at the outset it seems like for once security in Arkham seems legit and for the lack of a better word secure, it doesn’t seem like The Joker can simply get up and walk out of the place like at a cheap motel. And the way he writes The Joker is effortless, breathtaking, and terrifying for the brief moments we have with him he is exactly the way I want him written, an absolutely crazy, twisted and deadly sociopath without a sane thought in his head. And he is, Joker is absolutely terrifying and creepy in this issue and while reading this issue it was the first time in a long time that I felt dread while I was reading. When it comes to Snyder’s Joker, he’s really hard to pin down because Snyder covers so much with him no matter what you like in The Joker character it is there and Snyder hits on all the points that makes Joker the Holy Grail of Batman comics, besides Batman of course. I would even dare to say that from what I’ve seen in this issue and even though it was brief Snyder’s Joker seems near perfect and I can’t wait to see where Snyder takes the character.
The other story is the James Jr. story. And like I said before Snyder gave us the answer to whether or not James has been “cured” in the last issue. So with that established Snyder gives us his reason as to why James has done what he’s done. We start with Gordon stealing one of James’ Diaxemene pills (the Diaxemene pills supposedly release a chemical in the brain so that the patient will be able to feel empathy) while visiting James at the Thompkins Clinic where he works and is apparently doing very well and has volunteered to make “nutrition runs“. Gordon gives the Diaxemene pill to Barbara so that she can break down the pills components. She does and it is revealed that James has reversed the effect so that instead of helping the part of the brain that makes us feel empathy, it hurts that part. And as they wonder where James could use this concoction it is revealed that the “nutrition runs” are just a fancy word for taking baby formula from the baby formula plant to the consumer. Gordon puts two and two together and realizes that James wants to use his concoction on the babies whom he delivers the formula to. So he rushes over to James’ apartment, he isn’t there, he comes across James’ box as Bullock enters telling Gordon that there’s a problem. Like the Joker story this one is exceptional and absolutely kills the reader, or me at least. I mean we have Gordon who isn’t ready to take a leap and have some faith that his son has turned good. And to find out that he was wrong, but not only that he was wrong, but that he has lost his son, he’s been outdone by his daughter, and he will have to face The Joker who crippled his daughter and murdered his wife. It‘s not exactly what you would call pleasant. So, like I said in the beginning of this review, I would hate to be Gordon right now.
I also like how Snyder combined his two stories, he tells the basic story, the “love story”, about how something so normal can hurt you so much and how it is essentially a story about love, it seems like Snyder wants to drill that aspect into your head indirectly. But it is for the most part true, I think Gordon wants to love his son again, I think he wants that more than anything but he just can’t bring himself to do it. It seems like Gordon would have been better off without his son, or maybe even if his son never existed at all which is a horrible thing for a father to feel. And it’s really heartbreaking when Gordon is rushing over to James’ apartment and he remembers all the good times that they had together and how that will never happen again and how Gordon needs to forget all of these things that he obviously holds dear to him. But that isn’t the only tone for the story because it also feels like a horror movie in the best possible way. It definitely has some gory moments and the sense of dread is overwhelming throughout. It also feels like an old fashioned detective story with all of it’s twist and turns, Snyder makes a sharp left turn at certain points in the story and they completely knock you off your feet, it really does feel like a detective story where a detective is trying to find a killer and when he does it’s the last person he expects it to be. Anyways it was a great, well rounded story with one hell of a kick and the writing is spot on. I don’t think Gordon has been written this good since Frank Miller did it in Year One and not to mention Joker.
As for art, Francesco Francavilla is a healthy replacement for Jock, his art definitely has a classic feel to it which harkens back yet again to Year One and David Mazzucchelli’s art and Richmond Lewis’ colors and I was surprised to learn at the end of the issue that Francavilla colors his own work, he does a very good job with both parts and he’s (like Jock) a perfect match for Snyder’s writing.
Overall, yet again, Snyder hits another home run. So far the man has done nothing wrong and the only thing I didn’t like about this issue was that it ended. Snyder is definitely gearing up for something huge for Detective Comics before the re-launch and before he leaves the book for the Batman ongoing series. With The Joker, James, Gordon, Barbara and of course Batman, I absolutely can’t wait for the next issue. Especially since The Joker is going to also be in the next issue and will most likely play a prominent role and won’t just be flirted with like his appearances in other books as of late. I can’t wait to see how Snyder expands on his Joker and what he plans to do with him.
Snyder + Batman + Joker = A Godsend.
Detective Comics #879:
Reviewed by Dane Haji