Detective Comics #988 is a mystery, and Batman is a detective
Image credit: Mark Brooks
Batman comics need less city-wide catastrophe and more detective work.
As someone who has uttered that line—or very similar ones—countless times over the past several years, I had all but given up hope that I would ever get what I wanted. "Batman against everything" seems to have become the prevailing approach to writing the Dark Knight, regardless of the book or creative team. Then, we found out that Pete Tomasi and Doug Mahnke would be taking over Detective Comics later this year, and with the announcement came the promise that the series would put the "detective" back in Detective Comics. Since then, we've had Bryan Hill's arc, which was solid, but more of a setup for his forthcoming Batman and the Outsiders. I pretty much figured things would be business-as-usual until December.
So imagine my surprise when I began reading Detective Comics #988 and encountered this panel:
And it's more than just a panel. Batman's actually on the case in this issue. Sure, there are fisticuffs with several known supercriminals currently at large, but it is incidental, even as the fighting takes up over a third of the book. Bats is weighing the evidence, making deductions—he's being the detective we know and love.
On the case
Batman shows up at the scene of the lately late Harold Frank—seemingly a nobody with no connections to anything that might suggest vulnerability to targeted murder. The police think it was a mugging, but Batman's not convinced. With Alfred's help, he follows the trail, eventually ending up at Frank's apartment, where he learns the victim was much more than met the eye. There's a secret room with an automatic weapon and maps with what appear to be assassination targets. But just as he begins contemplating the evidence, Batman is attacked by Firefly. Or Firefly's apprentice. A Firefly. And the other is not far away.
If there's one ding against Robinson's writing for this issue, it's that the principal players are being very snippy with each other. Batman and Gordon go back and forth, Batman and Alfred go forth and back, and they all come off at least a little bit...jerkish at least some of the time. But beneath the jerkishness, there's actually some good banter; so if you're having trouble with the attitudes, I'd encourage you to persist. Most stories gloss over the internal conflict that Jim Gordon must have—trying to balance his morality on a thin string between due process and police-sanctioned, oft-brutal vigilantism. Robinson pokes at that idea a little bit, with Gordon gently asserting his authority, and Batman sniping back. And after Alfred's initial stinging sarcasm, his interactions with Bruce take on something much more akin to what we've seen in Batman: The Animated Series—lots of sarcasm and dry wit, but never crossing the line over to resentment.
The fights with the Fireflies are super-entertaining, as well, with some ridiculously good penciling, inking, and layouts by Segovia. Honestly, all of Segovia's work in this issue is excellent. Solid, dynamic storytelling, several pinup-worthy pages and spreads, and plenty of shadowy detail. If he's not put in the rotation with Mahnke in December, I'll be disappointed.
All in all, this is just what the doctor ordered. Batman returns to his roots for a bona fide detective story. He engages some colorful villains, but they're smaller-time, and not the center of gravity. Things may shift a bit as the arc progresses—particularly in light of the reveal on the final page—but I'm going to enjoy this for the next two weeks, and hold out hope that Robinson doesn't lose sight of what's really special here.