Thursday, September 8, 2011

DC Reboot Review: Detective Comics #1 & Batgirl #1. Winning Back an Audience With Torture Porn!

I've read and reviewed the new Superman, now let's flip the coin and figure out what's going on in the Bat-universe as September's DC reboot continues.

I like Batman. I like the films, I've read graphic novels, I watched the animated series, I've played the video games. I like the concept, I like the villains, I like the world. But I've never been able to get into the ongoing series. So here's DC's chance to draw me in. Hook me, DC! This one should be easy! Even our grandmothers love Batman! And they collect porcelain Batmans! And hell - I guess while we're at it I may as well throw in a review of Batgirl #1 as well. Or Batman With Boobs as I like to call it.

Batman's first solo outing this months is Detective Comics #1 (because he's a detective remember! The other obvious choice would have been Billionaire Fancy Dress Maniac #1). It's written AND drawn by multi-tasking night-owl playboy millionaire Tony Salvador Daniel:

Join me after the jump to see what I thought.

Okay... (SPOILERS):

This book isn't really about Batman. I mean... it kind of is, loosely, but I never feel like he's centre stage or driving the show. It's more about the Joker. Kind of. Or at least what the Joker does. Sure, Batman does his gritty inner monologue throughout (Frank Miller, you gotta' lotta' 'splainin' to do, Mister!) but he's not really telling us much we don't already know.

And that raises my biggest question about Detective Comics #1. Who is this book really for? Because I thought that the idea of this reboot was to lift flagging sales and produce accessible books with a far broader appeal? And as decent as the writing is throughout, there's an awful lot of clunky exposition. (We're repeatedly reminded of all the basics and kept up-to-date with what events have already occurred in this world. Gordon and Bruce have an established relationship. So do Batman and Catwoman. The Joker's been running wild for a while). So I feel like it's trying to get new readers up to speed. But... then...

How wide an appeal can a book this gruesome possibly have?

The Joker isn't clever, or funny, or inventive. He's not playing mind games. He's a common, garden variety serial killer. We first see him naked and hacking someone up with a knife. I had to wipe the blood off this book twice, and I'm reading a digital copy. It's less Christopher Nolan, and more David Fincher. But it's not as clever as Fincher. It's less Seven and more Schumacher ripping off Fincher and making Nicholas Cage snuff movie film 8mm. And the final image of the book (which I won't spoil) is effectively creepy - even sickening - but what other impact does it have?

I hear your protests, and look - I understand that dark things happen in Batman's world and why shy away from that. Fans want dark and gritty? But there's no point to any of this, for me. It's shocking but there's no real cause and effect. No consequence. And it has the least impact on our protagonist. And without strong ramifications from every action, or some sort of meaning, then this book is like someone sitting next to you, nudging you in the ribs and announcing loudly, "OMG! LOOK AT THAT! ISN'T THAT GROSS AND AWESOME! DID YOU SEE THAT COMING! AND HE'S NAKED DUDE! THAT'S FUCKED UP! LOOK AT THAT!" I'm looking! I see it! But so what?

And you're saying, "But the Joker is crazy. You can't rationalise his actions". Yeah, but then you rob him of his character. You remove the clown. Nolan's Joker had a method to his madness. He tested people. He found out what made them tick. This Joker is a waste for me - you throw away a great villian - maybe one of the greatest - for another round of torture porn. I know there'll be other Batman books this month, and maybe this is the dark one, and the other's will be lighter. But damn, I wanted Paul Dini to burst onto the page and beat the Joker to death with his typewriter.

So I'll ask again. Who is this for?

Because I think through content alone this will lose a lot of people. Aren't comics dying because kids/teens aren't reading them? You can't give this to a kid. I work in a high school library. Regardless of my opinion, I can't justify stocking this. Once again, DC, you shut the doors on all but the most ardent fans.

Find a balance. Dark Knight had balance. It was dark, and gritty and real world, but it was smart too, and it was restrained when it needed to be. The worst stuff was off-camera. And it made it more effective. Alan Moore's Killing Joke is fucked up, no doubt, but it even it has it's limits. And it's smarter than this. And it's villain is smarter. As twisted as his methods, he's making a point.

Okay - that said, the art is excellent. I love the colour palette. I love the design of the page. The writing, itself, is solid, even if I'm not a fan of its direction. And he's building a mystery, and who knows? It could be great! It could all converge! It could have a point! But you need to entice me enough to get that far and I'm not quite sure that you have...

Batgirl #1

Second verse same as the first? Maybe a little. This one's written by Gail Simone and drawn by Ardian Syaf. It's a new beginning for Barbara Gordon (aka, Batgirl, aka daughter of Comissioner aka Batman-With-Boobs) and its a new beginning that it impossible to describe without venturing into spoilers.

In the aforementioned Killing Joke Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine by the Joker ( I swear, he had a point!) and became paralysed. She wound up in a wheelchair and become Oracle, and fought crime with the Internet (I can relate to that). But with this new book she is able-bodied again, back in the Batgirl costume and swinging through the city with her legs akimbo. This caused A LOT of fan angst (not the legs akimbo part - I'm assuming that was welcomed) because did that erase the shooting? How is she doing this? Seriously, is this some kind of witchcraft? What is going on?).

No. She still got shot. But here's the twist. She got better! Three years later she's back on her feet. (Although understandably shaken by the experience. Once crippled twice shy). So Batgirl is back! She has shapely working legs, she's moved into a share house with an activist wacko (tell me, when you paint "fight the power" on the wall of your own living room, who's mind are you trying to change?), and she's ready to kick ass! So what happens?

She kicks ass. Of some serial killers. And there's more casual over-the-top violence with zero real consequences. And she uses LOOK AT ME I'M A TOUGH GIRL talk like the book was written for twelve-year-olds (while taking pleasure from the pain she is inflicting) "Oh yes! Feeling a creep crumble under my feet!" Because I'm sure that's what you or I would say if we were bursting into a suburban family home that was invaded by masked serial killers. You might also say, "Go ahead and try, Freakshow!"

She's so detached from what is going on, and so uninterested in the other human beings around her. This is ridiculously underlined when she rides her batcycle into a hospital, up an elevator, and into a ward. I'd probably ditch it once I got to the elevator. From that point onwards a motorcycle isn't going to save you much time. And how lucky she didn't accidentally careen into an unsuspecting patient in... oh... let's say... a wheelchair. How quickly we forget!

And here's where you say, "But in your Action Comics review you advocated Superman being a reckless dick and punching people into the sun. Why isn't this any different? I think it's awesome!" Because that is Superman's function. Using his incredible powers with extreme prejudice is what he's there to do. So help me to understand, what is Batgirl's function? Is it riding around hospitals on a motorbike? I hope she'd be a little more cunning than that. Does she not have a bat-rope?

Again, the book is well drawn, and it's really not badly written - I'm just baffled by the choices. And I know Gail Simone is always spoken highly of, so I mean her no disrespect, and I'm sure if I'd read more of her work I might "get it". I might trust where she's going. But I haven't. And I think it's so important with this reboot to hear what it's like for the uninitiated to encounter this material for the first time. How does it read to the new readers that you want to hook, DC? How will they respond to it? Will they stick around? As I've said before, a lot of the reviews at the moment will be from the fans. I'm coming in cold.

There's a new villain (I assume?) introduced called The Mirror. We don't know much about him yet but he's -pretty cool. It's a strong idea. In his chest he has that mirror-that-shows-you-your-true-self-and-drives-you-mad from the Neverending Story. It works.

Mixed on this one. It does some stuff very well, but in parts I'm kind of underwhelmed. Don't know if I'd keep going. But not disappointed that I gave it a try.


  1. Its horrible how cripplingly hard it is to find accurately written female characters. I mean, YES, I know its Batgirl and normal doesn't even really enter the equation, but if batman can have moments of feasible character development, why is such a thing nigh on impossible for the ladies?


    Also Luke just showed me the aforementioned last page of the batman comic and OHGODMYEYES.

  2. To be fair, Batgirl writer Gail Simone is very much female so she has better insight than I do here. And there's no doubt she's a strong writer. But I did find Batgirl herself to be very self-centred and unlikeable.

    But then Superman is self-centred and unlikeable and I love him! So the problem is probably a lot wider than that. WAAAAAH I'M THE PROBLEM!

  3. The stupid thing is that getting crippled was the best thing that ever happened to that character. She grew beyond her injury, overcame adversity and kept on being a hero anyway.

    That made her more than just another Batman sidekick. Oh well...

  4. Yeah, I enjoyed what little I've read of Oracle. It was a solid concept. But rest easy - this gives DC a chance, in 12 months, to cripple her again! In a new way this time!