When I read Ram V and co.’s Detective Comics, I’m left with a few questions:
- How is this book real?
- What powers have let a book of this caliber exist?
- Do I even deserve to read a book this good?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, frankly. I’d like to get answers to the first and second one day, but until then, here’s what I do know:
- It’s otherworldly.
- Anyone calling themselves a reader of comics, or fiction really, is doing themselves a disservice by not reading it.
- It’s easily the best comic out on shelves right now.
- As someone that’s read too many Batman comics (to the point where it’s a shameful number, really), even as we’re midway through the story, this very easily has the makings of being an all timer run for the character, and I have faith that this will be there by the end of the tale.
In this review, I will be looking at the first hardcover for this title, named DETECTIVE COMICS – GOTHAM NOCTURNE: OVERTURE. It collects the first four issues of the run, along with the first three-parter backup story.
The titular main story is written by Ram V, with art by Rafael Albuquerque, colours by Dave Stewart, letters by Ariana Maher, and covers by Evan Cagle.
The backup story, titled THE CODA is written by Si Spurrier, with art by Dani, colours by Dave Stewart, and letters by Steve Wands.
Before getting into the contents of the story itself, I have to take a moment to talk about the covers by Evan Cagle. I said that the book itself is otherworldly, that much is true – but the covers only emphasize this so much more. Just looking at the cover for this hardcover itself, it pops in a way a lot of covers nowadays don’t, even ones by great artists. Sure, he’s not doing interiors, but on a very thematic level, these covers fit absolutely perfectly.
Like the story’s very operatic sensibilities, the covers very much double down on this, extremely dramatic, but also very fitting for the story at hand. Taking the one at the front of this book, for example, we see Batman, with hands reaching up to him, while he’s looking at a red mask in front of him, ready to wear it. Where his cowl normally has the mouthpiece open, a way to symbolize that beneath lies a man, human, the mask he’s holding has no mouthpiece, and similarly enough, the angle he’s holding it, that we as the reader are seeing, places the mask right in front of the mouthpiece – imagery that from the start of this story echoes through the narrative: “Is the Batman ‘man’ or ‘myth’?”
There’s also that new logo and framing that stands out. Where covers for collections with different runs have the DC logo and the name of the volume overlaid right on the cover art, this does it differently. It’s more regal. The cover maintains the same framing as the cover for the issue, where the art is framed with a red border, the outside of which has a gradient that goes from black to maroon, with the top corners having the DC and Batman symbols, and the name of the volume on the bottom. Right in the center is that new logo, a bat-symbol framing the ‘Detective Comics’ name in a glowing red with a brand new font that’s so eye-catching.
The other three covers from the issues this hardcover collects follow the same thematic viewpoint the first does, and truly follows what I consider to be the golden rule of covers, where they’re like the ‘first panel’ you see of a book, that should sell you on it and tell you what’s inside, and it does. I could go on and gush about the other three covers the way I did for the first, but that would make this review way longer than it has to be. Regardless, they all rule, and once the run is over I’d like to frame them all on my wall.
“We all need saving sometimes, don’t you think?”
Now, to the stories…
DETECTIVE COMICS – GOTHAM NOCTURNE: OVERTURE opens on the streets of Gotham, where a man in a blue rococo-style outfit and a mask who looks like Bruce Wayne walks into a play called L’Auriga. On the second page, we can see him performing a soliloquy of sorts, lamenting over the death of a woman who looks like Talia Al Ghul. From behind him, a large Bat approaches, and the actor calls out to a demon while the Bat’s claws get closer to the man’s neck. We see the crowd looking in fear, while the camera zooms closer to an empty seat that says ‘Reserved for Bruce Wayne’ before cutting to Batman on the very next page.
This opening page – this metaphorical scenario, like the cover previously discussed, alludes to the arc Bruce will go through in this book, whether he will be man or whether he will give in to the demon – to the bat – to Barbatos. There’s a beauty to this sequence, and there are similar throughout the rest of the issues, visions, and histories of the world, newly introduced yet their relevance to the stories at hand immediately makes them so much richer and interesting as a result.
The first time we see Batman in this book, it’s a panel that’s very reminiscent of iconic Batman art we all know and love. Him on the gargoyle, looking down on the city, thunder at his back. He tests himself, thinking he can stop a group of thugs in 18 seconds, but instead, he’s slower, he takes 22. Throughout this, we get a taste of Ram V’s Batman voice, and it’s excellent. He’s a character who’s always talking to himself, whether it be assessing a situation or reassuring himself during a fight.
From there, he gets into a fight with a man who transforms into a monster, taking him by surprise. He is, however, saved by Talia, who he chases until she warns him of incoming danger, and reminds him that he’s ultimately a man, one that’s growing old.
Once he returns to his new Brownstone, a conversation with Nightwing serves as a reminder of that same thing, that he’s growing old. This isn’t a Batman in his prime, but a Batman beyond that. One that’s still in better form than most humans, but one that isn’t at his peak like he used to be. This current status quo of the character, where he’s past his prime, one that is also shared with the main BATMAN title by Chip Zdarsky, Jorge Jimenez, and co., is such an excellent change of pace. For years, we’ve read stories where Batman is at his peak, aside from stories like THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. It’s high time we get to see him not at his 100%, see how he operates within that space, and Ram V makes excellent use of it.
This is a story that works with this specific Bruce Wayne. One that’s without Alfred, one that’s older.
As he examines the box he obtained from the docks, the comic cuts away to the Orgham Palace to introduce us to the antagonists of the tale. Off the bat (heh), everyone has a design that stands out for reasons relative to one another. Arzen, the son, stands out because he’s wearing a plain outfit, dressing like the regular people. Arzen’s mother has an intricate gold and white dress, with an eye on the neck, and a gold headpiece. Shavhod and Neang – who are also placed left to right to help the reader immediately associate the names with the characters, also have their own unique looks to go along. We might not know anything about them just yet other than the fact that they are to accompany Arzen, but the looks alone will leave them in your head.
We’re introduced to Gael immediately after too, and while they don’t show us the violence directly, we can see the bloodstains on the windows before he walks out, just to show he means business.
Once we cut back to Bruce, we get another one of those visions, where the demon, the Bat, lifts its hand from his chest, and comes out to wrap Bruce in his embrace, and once again calls upon the thematic essence of his arc, the idea of whether it’s Bruce who hides the demon within, or if the demon lets Bruce operate as a sign of mercy. When he wakes up from this vision, he notices the music box making a tune.
The second issue opens with Harvey Dent and does that awesome thing good books with Harvey Dent do, where the part of his face that is in frame is dependent on the side of him that is being talked to. We see him listening to a singer, spinning a coin, a coin with an insignia on it. As they talk, they circle back to the idea of Bruce changing, the idea of the city changing, of new, and whether he can keep up. The big two-page spread of the issue mimics the idea of Bruce telling a tale, where he’ll say a thought, and the next panel will be him executing that thought, and so on. Neat little thing I enjoyed.
As the perspective shifts, we get to learn more about the Orghams, their history, and where they come from. It’s a good parallel to the fact that Bruce Wayne, once known as the Prince of Gotham, is their Prince no more, who has fallen from the throne, while another man is coming to seize it. Again, this is a tale that makes full use of the current status quo and does so completely naturally. It’s a story that only works now.
Going back to Batman after this, there’s a callback to the Maestro, an old Batman villain, and by old, I mean old. It’s those little nods to continuity that I adore. A writer could have easily made a new character for the scenario, but instead, we get a look at someone who’s already existed for years but not used, and with a rogue’s gallery as extensive as Batman’s, it’s nice to see a character being referred to rather than the usuals to keep things fresh.
The third issue is special. It starts with Talia and Damian training in the desert, while Damian asks her to tell him more stories about the Grim Soldier. First and foremost, for a character who’s been grossly mischaracterized for years, it’s nice to see her having a good relationship with her son. I thought that was sweet.
Moreover, the tale. In the tale, she talks of a man from the past, a man asked to devote himself to an impossible task, leaving his lover behind, and as he fought to the bitter end, he returned to find his lover dead, when they had promised to reunite. While it’s nice to get these tidbits of history, what is also nice is how easily the reader can latch onto the tale, for while the tale is what it is, longtime readers can immediately pick up the parallels between the Grim Soldier and the wife, along with Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul – even to the end where Talia mentions how they live in a different world now.
“These are stories of a world long past, Damian. Where the gods were petty, and the world was shaped by humankind’s unbroken will. Today we live in a different world, a different time – we are a little closer to the end of gods, women are not mere lovers spurned and set adrift… and even the greatest of men may yet be broken.”
At the end of the issue, in that same vein, Talia confirms the connection between the two, calling Bruce her very own Grim Soldier before that duel. During that duel, she brings up that same tale, and while Bruce may be confused as to what she’s talking about, we as the reader know what that entails.
The fourth issue continues that tradition of Bruce pushing himself to the brink, even though he knows he’s not at his 100% when he fights Ra’s Al Ghul’s personal guard, Ubu, and electrocutes the water to make sure he can take the other person out, operating on faith that he’ll make it. It’s here that he sees a vision again from Barbatos, with the looming threat that he will consume him soon enough.
Echoes, echoes throughout cycles across time, humans who had ascended into myth and their struggle, that’s the backbone of this title. This isn’t a statement that’s just true for this issue, but true for the rest of the issues of the run too, and that’s why it works so elegantly. It’s as much an exploration of Bruce Wayne as it is of Batman as a myth, as a person of legend, as someone who people see beyond man.
The art… the ART. Rafael Albuquerque understands and perfectly delivers the dramatic nature of the story, utilizing shadows and lots of strong silhouettes when necessary. His expressions are on point, and I love that his Batman is bigger and bulkier. Visually, it’s a good comparison to Jorge Jimenez’s work on the main Batman title, where here it’s more introspective, and Bruce moves slower to show age, he’s built more like a Superhero, wide chest, thin waist, and fast, and I love that little visual difference. Dave Stewart’s colors are just as stunning, utilizing the medium to its fullest and not conforming to the look of the setting when necessary, to emphasize a panel or scene more. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
Ariana Maher’s lettering is also so good. There’s the regular lettering style for everyone, obviously, but when we shift to the more metaphorical scenarios or the like, it shines. Barbatos doesn’t get round ovals to speak in like everyone else, he gets rectangles, with lettering reflecting that of a script. The scarred side of Harvey gets a different style, when Talia talks about history there’s a different style. It always keeps things fresh, and relevant to the scenario at hand.
THE CODA by Spurrier, Dani, Stewart, and Wands, follows James Gordon through this entire scenario. We’re caught up to him and his current status quo for new readers, without skipping a beat to the confusion. There’s a mystery for him, where he needs to look for a missing son, and it’s there during that search that we’re introduced to a new character who has no name but can cure people of the Azmer, the disease that turns people into monsters that Batman has been fighting in the main story.
Even within the short story (it’s about the size of a single issue), we get a look into Gordon, what makes him tick, what his motivations are, and to do that in that short a story while also introducing us to a brand new character is nothing short of brilliance.
Dani and Stewart’s art is also gorgeous. That very noir style, combined with Stewart’s muted and dim colors where the shadows are utilized to give focus on a lot – especially Gordon so the reader can see that, like Bruce, he too is growing old, without ever taking away anything from the detail in Dani’s faces makes for a really cool visual style. Wands’ lettering style is also awesome, making the narration look like text from a typewriter – and when on panel having them not on a regular rectangular box but rather something that resembles parts of a page is sick.
DETECTIVE COMICS – GOTHAM NOCTURNE: OVERTURE is a must-buy. It doesn’t matter if you like Batman or not, if you like comics as a medium, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not reading. If you like Batman though, well… what are you doing? Ram V writes a Bruce very similar to Alan Grant’s and is weaving a brilliant tale that leaves me in tears sometimes just because the book is that damn good.