I have been waiting for this issue of Detective Comics since October of last year (2013) when DC Comics announced that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato were taking over the reigns beginning with issue 30.
The first time I came across Francis Manapul’s penciling was when he did all but three issues of the third volume of The Flash, alongside the proven Geoff Johns. Visually it was unlike the art in DC’s other books.The dominant style of art coming out of the company in 2010 was heavily influenced by the art of Jim Lee, Michael Turner, and Ivan Reiss, which were painstakingly detailed, with crisp, clear, and bright color pallets. Manapul’s soft lines and bright pastel like coloring technique really made The Flash stand out on the comic shelf at the time. A year later Manapul would team up with penciller and colorer Brian Buccellato beginning the fourth volume of The Flash in 2011, where they remained until the announced move to Detective Comics.
Manapul and Buccellato very quickly became synonymous in my mind, and their unique style in The Flash really grabbed my attention. I’m not an artist, but I know what I like, and I was immediately drawn to it. As their run on the book continued I wondered what character they would take on next, and I had thought one of the Superman titles, or maybe even Wonder Woman or Justice League. I associated them with light, so I wondered how their style would work in the dark tones of Batman; but still, I didn’t think it was likely. Well, this week it happened and it is truly worth your attention.
From here on there WILL be spoilers.
Right away we are launched into a Gotham City that is experiencing some instability caused by the sale of a huge section of the city’s run down East End slums to billionaire Bruce Wayne. Powerful interests among the upper echelons of the organized crime ring who tried to out bid Wayne are now seeing their empires threatened. In Detective Comics #30, the first signs of pressure are manifesting themselves with some vicious street level reprisals taking place throughout the East End. The subject matter is dark as Manapul and Buccellato’s story begins in a run down shack were a couple of thugs are overseeing a ring of children they force to run a new stolen drug called “Icarus”. It’s clear that they are are all skittish worrying not only about revenge from the guys they stole the drugs from, but also the ever present threat of Batman.
I don’t have any doubts about their ability to tell a good Batman story. So far the set up is familiar, but they’re also playing Batman pretty straight. It feels like the way they treated The Flash, even with zany villains like the Rogues and Gorilla Grodd. I feel like they’ve set up a story that is starting off with a solid detective tale involving organized crime which is a part of the characters genesis, and a predominant theme that defined many of his earliest appearances throughout the 1940′s and 50′s. Some may dismiss it as “just another gangster story”, but I think the first issue – the set up – was good.
While I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what their story might be, I did spend a lot of time thinking about the art. Specifically, were they going to bring their bright colors to Batman while honoring the darkness inherent in him. As far as I’m concerned they answered that question in the first three pages. On the first page Manapul and Buccellato showcase Gotham City just as dawn is beginning to give way to morning showcasing the soft, bright pastels so familiar from The Flash, and then on the second page proved that they are just as comfortable working in the shadows.
Maybe I’m just seeing too much, but I think Manapul and Buccellato put themselves into the story line as the creepy dudes watching the kidnapped children. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me but those two dudes look an awful like Manapul and Buccellato.
Because I associate light with their work I was really interested to see how they would incorporate it into Batman’s world. We are so used to reading Batman stories that are relentlessly dark both in narrative and in artwork. I’m not criticizing it either, I like Batman’s mythos to be dark, a part of me finds a home in there, but at the same time I feel like there is room in Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Gotham City for some light too. From setting the beginning of the story at dusk contrasted against the dark interiors of the East End’s tenements, to the glare of bright stadium lights, or the neon lights of Gotham’s entertainment district at night, Manapul and Buccellato play with light and shadow, bright and dark, like masters.
Just as the sun rises above the horizon and a sense of safety from the Bat settles in, Batman crashes through the wall ready to hand out righteous fury. When Batman swings the door to the room holding the children captive open Manpul and Bucellato use the harsh oranges of early dawn to cut an imposing and probably terrifying silhouette for the already traumatized children. Oh Batman!
During the scuffle one of the thugs escapes through an open window trying to hand-over-hand a string of Chinese lanterns only for the line to snap tangling him upside down above the street. This turns out to be less then stellar timing as members of the motor club charged with retrieving the drugs, as well as ensuring the brother of the crime kingpin known as “the Squid” is returned safely, arrives on the scene. Batman follows in hot pursuit and manages to take out everyone in the club except for the bike of their leader carrying the Squid’s brother.
The scene shifts to Gotham Stadium which is hosting a motor-cross tournament, and where Bruce Wayne is meeting an influential East End community activist by the name of Elenna Aguila. For context, Aguila’s daughter happens to be on the motorcross circuit, and DC Comics has teased in their “This Just Happened” series that she may be a candidate for the next Robin. Wayne Enterprise’s Board of Directors is eager to purchase the land and redevelop it for enormous profits surely to be worth billions of dollars. Ms. Aguila knows her mark though, and paints a picture of the East End that is revitalized by investing in the community and its people by paying for things like free medical clinics, drug treatment centers, and education centers. Ms. Aguila makes her case that with the support of a wealthy benefactor the East End can become a safe, vibrant and crime free neighborhood again. Being the bleeding heart philanthropist that he is, and following in the true Wayne family tradition, Bruce folds like a stack of cards. Before the evening is out Gotham News 7 is announcing that Wayne Enterprises is buying the property within the East End, and thereby grabbing it out from under others vying for it.
As the news spreads through the Gotham underworld, it also reaches the top of family crime rings. In a brief interlude we see that one crime lord specifically was among those vying to purchase and control the East End. Despite his identity remaining a mystery it is still abundantly clear that he’s not a stupid man having hired a slick communications guy to act as the friendly public face of a “legit” corporate interest.
As the book transitions into the final chapter we meet Bruce and Alfred in the Batcave, where Bruce is working on making a modification that Damian had been asking for before his untimely death. The scene is sad, and obviously the result of seeing Elenna and her daughter together this evening. While Alfred and Bruce share a family moment the somberness of itis shattered when Elenna runs screaming into the cave appearing to be burning from the inside out. This cliff hanger of an ending begs the questions how did she get into the cave, how did she know she would find Bruce Wayne in the BATcave, and how the hell did she catch on fire … from the INSIDE?!
You know I’m biased, but I am all in on Detective Comics #30. Score: 5/5
If you’re serious about Batman and his rogue gallery check of Emma Kathryn’s article examining the motivations of the Girls of Gotham.