Batman chasing after The Joker – it’s a simple enough a beginning. Even the greenest of greenhorns to the superhero genre can be assumed to be aware of the long-standing feud between The Dark Knight Detective and The Clown Prince of Crime. You’d think then that Tony Daniel would have an easy time of it with this, the first issue of the new Detective Comics.
Sadly, the only real mysteries in this issue are those created through Daniel’s unclear writing. On the opening page, we are told through Batman’s internal monologue that he has linked The Joker to 114 murders over the past six years. This would seem to indicate that Batman has been battling The Joker for at least that long. Yet later monologues leave Batman questioning The Joker’s motivations and modus operandi, as if this was his first time facing the villain who would become his greatest nemesis!
This seems to be confirmed by the fact that, save for James Gordon, the police seem completely unaware that Batman is on their side and consider him a threat when they find him attempting to care for a little girl left behind during The Joker’s latest attack. This scene showcases the one saving grace of this story. While it is unclear just when this story takes place in the new timeline, we are given little doubt as to what Batman’s priorities are. Many Batman writers forget that Bruce Wayne’s motivations lie not in laying down vengeance upon criminals but in preserving the lives of the innocent. Mark Waid put it best in Kingdom Come, through the mouth of Superman – "When you take everything else away from Batman, you have a person who doesn't want to see people die."
The other characters are similarly well-showcased, with Alfred Pennyworth being his usual helpful yet slyly snarky self and Jim Gordon being portrayed as a good man caught between the legal obligations of his position and the moral obligations he has to properly protect his city, even at the cost of aiding a vigilante. Only The Joker – and I freely admit this may be a personal preference – comes off as being “wrong”, being portrayed by Daniel as more of a gibbering madman than a sickening showman.
The Joker proves to be the exception once again in the artwork, with Daniel’s portrayal of The Harelquin of Hate looking like one of the radioactive mutants from a Simon Bisley Heavy Metal comic. His Batman, however, is a thing of gothic wonder and the backgrounds depicting Gotham City are some of the best I’ve ever seen.
In the end, I don’t think I’ll be coming back for Issue #2. It’s not a bad comic, really. I just don’t find Tony Daniel’s take on The Joker appealing, in terms of dialogue or design. Throw in some confusion on just when this story is taking place and a Bottom-Of-The-Ninth-Inning “twist” ending that serves no purpose other than trying to convince you to buy issue #2 and what you have is enough of a mess to turn me off of this title.
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