Detective Comics: Rebirth, Year 1

So we’re trying something new.  If you haven’t heard, I’m a big fan of Rebirth, but we’re a year in and with most of the comics being published twice every month, it’s going to be a challenge to keep up on all the great comics going forward.  But I know people like to have an idea of what’s happened so far, and it can be touch tracking down everything that happens in a series in a given year.  To that end, I want to make these sort of guides to help people stay caught up to the ongoing stories coming out of DC these days.

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Let me know what you guys think of that, but in the meantime, let’s talk about Detective Comics for a moment, shall we?  I really like this take on the series.  The whole idea of making Detective Comics into a series that focuses on a team is a really fun idea to begin with.  It keeps the story distinct from Batman’s main series, while giving these comics a real sense of voice and direction they didn’t quite have before.

I admit, it makes Detective Comics about as little focus on detective work as its ever been – that’s the only real thing I’d wish these Rebirth comics did a bit more of here – we don’t get a lot of our heroes solving mysteries or hunting for clues – this is, by and large, a superhero series.  So it’s full of big fights, action moments, fun villains and having a cool headquarters which is nicely explored throughout the comic.  The Belfry in particular is great, and is the sort of iconic setting that could have as much staying power as Oracle’s tower or the GCPD rooftop.  Now, while I’d like to see more mystery based content in the future of these comics, I do want to be clear – this is a minor problem in a stellar series of comic books.  It’s more of a preference or a suggestion, rather than an actual problem with this series.

[Related: Click Here To Find DC’s Detective Comics Online]

For one thing, there are some good mysteries here – especially early on with the Colony and later with the League of Shadows.  But more importantly than anything else, instead of a focus on the mystery genre we get a robustly balanced, wonderful bit of character work between these team members.  This is a rock solid roster – Batman is well, Batman, though I like that he isn’t this immortal, indestructible superhero in these stories.  He’s competent, of course, but he can still get hit, still makes mistakes, and is clearly defined as an imperfect human, as he should be but especially in a story like this.  There’s great moments with him, from his early interactions with Kate, to some of the later stuff with Cassandra – this is a Batman that genuinely relies and cares about the people around him, and that’s great.  He does a lot to hold this team together and actually look out for these recruits in a way that makes him seem very responsible and grounded, and that’s really important to this series.  The best example of this is the ballet ending for the League of Shadows story, but we even see it early on when Bruce reveals his identity to Kate only for her to explain she figured out a long time ago who he is and was just waiting for him to be comfortable enough to reveal his real name on his own terms.
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Kate is a fun character and a great choice for the sort of driving force behind the narrative of these comics.  I’ve always liked Batwoman but from what I’ve seen she works a lot better in these comics compared to her current solo series.  She’s perfect as the team’s sort of leader and protagonist – this very much feels like her team that works with Batman, rather than this being Batman’s team.  But I like how the focus isn’t exclusively on her either – we spend a lot of time with all the team members and each arc seems to focus on someone else, which is good for any team comic to strike that balance.  Some team comics will try to cover everyone’s story at once – that can work and has many times, but I like this rotating focus a little better.  To that end, it is super fun to see not only Cassandra and Stephanie firmly back in action and part of DC cannon, but also with a huge amount of great story work surronding them.  Both of these characters are used well and have solid arcs throughout the series, and Spoiler is likely to still be involved in future events so I’m glad she hasn’t been forgotten about entirely.

Batwing and Azreal are recent additions and haven’t been explored yet, but based on how James Tynion IV is smart enough to sort of rotate out the characters being focused on, when he gets around to them, I look forward to it based on what I’ve seen with how he writes the other characters.  The biggest surprise of all was Clayface.  I figured they would go for an obvious choice in making this character the comedic relief, but no, not at all, not really.  He might be the occasional source of a joke, but he’s also kind of the most compelling character out of all of them, as this comic delves into his background as an actor and his honest attempt at redemption.  Paired with him reconciling with his past behaviour and the real problem of his body kind of degrading, it’s a really good take on what is usually a pretty undeveloped villain.  This isn’t the first time a member of Batman’s rogues gallery has tried to redeem themselves, but rarely is it done this well.

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This is where the real strength of Detective Comics lies.  The entire roster is so good and it is so fun seeing them interact with one another and the different relationships that form because of these interactions.  It’s interesting to see Batman and Batwoman closely work together – the comic digs into them being family and sharing a lot of the same traits, so it’s a unique partnership compared to how Batman usually works with others.  Cassandra develops a really cool relationship with Clayface, while I actually like how Tim’s romance with Spoiler informs her character after his supposed death.

Yes, I haven’t forgotten about that business, either.  We’ve already talked about this on Comic Island, and Tim’s unusual current status remains a rather important fixture  in the Rebirth cannon.  I quite like how they handled this.  Killing Tim off in any capacity would have been rather boring considering how recently we went through all of this with Damien.  So, in the very issue he apparently dies, we see, right away, that Tim is alive, just everyone thinks he is gone.  It’s a great example of Rebirth’s uncanny ability to give each title a small piece of the bigger story, and kind of hangs around as this ongoing theme throughout the entire first year of Detective Comics and no doubt will continue that way right up into Doomsday and possibly beyond.

[Related: Click Here To Find DC’s Detective Comics Online]

We don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the immediate grief of Tim’s death, thank god, but it creates a very interesting dynamic that weighs on the team rather visibly.  This is most obvious in Spoiler, but everyone seems very cognizant of the fact that they pretty much lost a member on their first real outing as a team, and that changes things.  There’s a sense of foreboding and concern and a feeling of loss that is ever present but never hammered in to an extent it becomes overblown, repetitive, or annoying.  This team – this nameless team, which, by the way, is a rather interesting feature – this is a grim collective of detectves.  There are dark themes, the characters all trend in that direction and most have had pretty rough lives and origins, yet this comic is far from depressing.  The action keeps it fun, and the art team does great work at keeping the story colourful and vibrant.  That’s important, and truly masterful.  It would have been easy to go overly dark, but by keeping the pace moving and the story sort of charging forward, this comic strikes the perfect tone again and again, making it a very easy and enjoyable read.

So, overall, this first year of Rebirth’s Detective Comics is, in my eyes, a real success.  I had read a couple of these comics before making this article, but in going through all of them, I have to say these comics exceeded my already fairly high expectations.  I really enjoy reading these comics, and if this story seems interesting to you, I recommend you check it out for yourself.

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