The last regular issue of Detective Comics (the one before the “Night of the Monstermen” crossover event) was an all-time great. The culmination of a shocking and exciting conspiracy plot, it ended with the fake death of Tim Drake. Now, the book returns without its Red Robin and with a whole new foe—and something feels off.
One of those things might be the art. While penciller Eddy Barrows brought the book to life pre-“Monstermen,” Alvaro Martinez takes over here. Barrows (from whom I, full disclosure, commissioned a drawing at NYCC) gave the book a detailed, gothic look that felt weighty but also accessible. Martinez’s style is a bit more mainstream, more rounded and filled with denser, thinner lines. It’s not bad, it’s just different and while a newcomer to the book wouldn’t really notice, those who’ve been reading from the beginning of Rebirth will feel a subtle shift in tone.
That shift is only emphasized by the writing, which frankly goes in a slightly odd direction here. Though the Batman/Batwoman-led crew just saved Gotham from a bunch of giant monsters a few days ago, the citizens are suddenly on an anti-Batman kick. While the antagonism is presumably driven by the killer army of military-trained Batmen from the previous arc, it’s slightly unclear and relatively unacknowledged by any of the characters. In fact, apart from a brief and seemingly unimportant appearance from Kate’s father, the only real reference to the previous arc is how poorly the characters are dealing with Tim’s apparent death.
During an NYCC panel with the creators behind DC’s Bat Family titles, Tynion confessed that Tim Drake was his favorite character of all time and said that his goal was to make readers love Tim just as much as he did. So, when I asked him about the decision to fake kill the character in issue #940 at his booth later, I wasn’t surprised to hear him say that he never intended to kill the character. While killing a beloved character (particularly a Robin) is just as much of a cliché in comics as bringing them back from the dead, the twist didn’t sit well with me at the time. Reading this issue only affirmed that.
There is something to be said for the dramatic irony of watching characters react to a loved one’s death and knowing that they’ll basically forget that hurt once that supposedly-dead character comes back. Take Bruce Wayne’s death in Batman from Scott Snyder’s New 52 run. Losing Batman/Bruce affected the people he left behind in profound ways and putting him back in the cowl created just as much drama. But Tim Drake is no Batman. While Tynion may have done a lot to make the character lovable, seven issues just isn’t enough time. Tynion does an excellent job in this issue emphasizing just how devastating losing Tim is for the remaining characters–particularly his girlfriend Stephanie Brown and Bruce–but all that sadness feels a little hollow knowing that Tim will eventually return.
Prior to “Night of the Monstermen,” Detective Comics was arguably the best Bat book on the market. Now, it’s still good, but the future doesn’t seem so bright. Still, this issue represents a transition period for the book, things are inevitably going to be a little rough at first. Martinez’s art may not have the gothic, shadowy beauty of Barrows’s and Tynion doesn’t show his usual finesse in this issue, but maybe we and he need time to get used to the book’s new direction. We’ll just have to wait and see.