Following David Hine’s work for the past year and a half has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. The first story of his I ever read was the Arkham Asylum one shot he wrote for the Battle for the Cowl, and I still maintain it is the best thing to come out of that entire event. It was wonderfully creepy and full of the psychological terror that Batman’s rogues gallery does so well. While the follow up stories he wrote weren’t always as great as the original one shot, they were still very good and left me hungry for more. Unfortunately my prayers were answered with the Batman: Imposters arc in Detective Comics, which was a rather weak affair on every level. So when I picked up this year’s annual special for Detective Comics I was hoping Hine would deliver something a little better, and for the most part he did.
This story finds Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in Paris trying to solve a series of grizzly murder-suicides. Their ability to stop future incidents in this case becomes a test for the French government as it mulls over the thought of Batman Inc franchising within in its borders. At first the only thing linking the victims together is the ability of their sudden deaths to rile up public discontent, but their investigation eventually leads them to a cult and a political activist who appears to be their next, and most volatile, target. It also seems to lead them to the next member of Batman Inc, who gets a little more back-story in the Nightrunner feature I’ll discuss later on.
This is better than Batman: Imposters, but not as good as Arkham Reborn. I think my biggest problem with Hine’s writing at this point is that Bruce and Dick feel interchangeable as Batman. I don’t get a good sense that there’s a different person underneath each cowl, which really undercuts the idea of why we need multiple Batmen. I also find Bruce Wayne unbearably smug when he’s talking to head of the Police Nationale. He pretty much lacks any of the charm or magnetism he usually cultivates in his civilian persona, which isn’t all that fun to read. Though I do think it is interesting to see so much of the story tied to the recent ethnic and religious tensions that have been boiling over in Europe lately. I don’t really need my superhero stories to be topical, but it’s nice to see writers tap into current events for source material.
I don’t really have much to say about Agustin Padilla’s art. It’s good, but doesn’t really stand out all that much. I will say that I appreciate the details that he puts into his backgrounds. I can’t verify the accuracy of his take on Paris, but each location feels fully realized and adds a sense of authenticity to his work.
This issue also includes two back up features starring the Question and the new character Nightrunner respectively. It’s hard to imagine a Question story without Greg Rucka writing it, especially since this story finishes the plot lines Rucka was working on before he split with DC. But I think Brad Desnoyer gives a fitting end to Renee Montoya’s recent struggles, and anyone who liked Rucka’s run should give this a chance. I also find it interesting to look at Lee Ferguson and Ryan Winn’s minimalist version of the Question’s mask. Her facial features are so obliterated it becomes almost cartoonish, but if you look at it long enough it starts to feel a little discomforting. It’s like looking at a doll you know is alive.
The Nightrunner backup is surprisingly important, to me at least, in the context of the larger story of this issue. It gives a lot of background information and motivation for this new character and saves him from becoming just a parkour version of Batman. That’s actually one of the problems I’ve had with Grant Morrison’s approach to making international superheroes. A lot of the time it feels like he just picks certain fads or historical elements from a country and then tries to build a character around that, which veers dangerously close to relying on stereotypes. But seeing Bilal’s past and what drove him to fight against the people tearing Paris apart from the inside makes him much more interesting to me and leaves me wanting to see if he can keep up with Batman and make a difference as a masked hero. Kyle Higgins does a great job capturing what it feels like to be young, angry, and lost and Trevor McCarthy’s art has a very fluid quality that evokes the Arabic background these characters. In many ways, I like this story more than the main feature of the issue.
I’m hoping that next week’s conclusion to this story will be a little more solid than how it started. This isn’t a bad book, but it’s not as good as I had hoped it would be. All things considered,
Detective Comics Annual #12:
Reviewed by Erik