Enter Shiva the Destroyer: Detective Comics #951 [REVIEW]
Detective Comics #951
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Christian Duce
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Sal Cipriano
I'm not entirely clear on what DC is playing at in Detective Comics right now. I'm not the best at all of comic book lore in its entirety, but I try to formulate a certain framework of understanding as best I can, and I'll admit that a lot of times things get muddled for me between comics, movies, and TV shows. So, my basis in view is that the Ra's Al Ghul organization was originally titled the League of Assassin's in the comics. Nolan re-badged them as the League of Shadows because someone thought that "Assassins" had too violent a connotation. Then on Green Arrow on the CW network, the show was considered dark enough already that a League of Assassin's branding would be no big deal. So while I am reading a comic where a League of Assassin's already exists, I'm not sure if the entrance of a League of Shadows is a continuity reboot, or if they are now saying that there are both in the DC Rebirth universe. Maybe it doesn't matter. This is Detective Comics after all.
Since last issue, which was a double-sized anniversary issue, the new arc has started to shift to focus on Orphan. Whose name may not be as literal as we thought, as someone has arrived that apparently has some connection with her; perhaps even maternal? While this Shiva has been operating primarily barely within the range of vision of Batman and the New Outsiders (my own branding; I'm not sure what else to call them and the name feels like it honors the '80s team), in this issue she begins to take actions that slowly reveal nibbles of what this new League is capable of. We get the continuing angst of the drama between Kate and her father, General Kane. And we start to get the sense of a possibility that maybe that old coot was not as insane in the membrane as we may have been led to believe.
James Tynion has really settled into being at the helm of this book. Right now, I am not even reading the core Batman title, because I have been a fan of this Detective Comics run for a while. In my mind, the Detective Comics brand was always supposed to be less about the big fights and character development drama of other Batman titles, but more about the actual Dark Knight as a detective. Despite Tynion re-purposing Detective Comics as a character development vehicle for the New Outsiders, he is still able to weave it all through a core fabric that remains consistently about unraveling big mysteries. Another thing I love about this book is that Tynion knows how to use the Batman legacy to his advantage, in terms of having the ability to use one-word or really abrupt lines of dialogue to evoke much greater meaning; because readers will connect those one or two words with everything they already know about Bruce. Case in point in this issue is when Kate asks Bruce if he has ever thought about what would happen if he had to fight Orphan. Bruce responds with "Of course I have. I'd lose", and then drops it and moves on to another topic. There is a veritable truckload of hidden meaning in that brief response, and we might see just what Bruce is doing about that in this arc, or it might be a year from now. Expert craft on the part of Tynion.
This is a solid looking book in terms of art. First off, we get another great variant cover by Rafael Albuquerque, filled with people pawing at Bats and Azrael who have been dosed with Joker serum, the cover filled with faces twisted into a sinister grin from ear-to-ear, including at least one child. Straight-up creepy. The opening sequence showing Shiva interrogating one of General Kane's bat-agents, is done with a background blur that hazes up the lighting behind the characters, giving it an anime feel. The sequences featuring Batman moving from rooftop to rooftop, with healthy glides in-between, are tonally perfect in line and shadows. There is a great horizontal panel of Orphan in the danger room fighting among dozens of kung-fu Penguins. And, of course, there are Kate's signature locks of red hair along with other red effects on her costume. The art has a bit of over-production in its final coat that makes it look more commercial than raw, and I can't help but wonder what would happen if the art team made things a bit more raw and unfinished. It's solid work, but I have this feeling that it is contained and safe somehow. Duce has not been the regular artist on this if I am not mistaken (although I might be), so this might just be some of the initial emergence of a new creative relationship and Tynion not wanting the team to take too many risks.
SCORE: 8.0 / 10.0
In conjunction with last issue's prologue content, this is a good, solid opener to a new arc, especially one with the weight of its title driving high expectations. The creative team is wisely leaning on many of the tools and powers you get when given the opportunity to work on the Batman. Quick, punchy dialog that has the weight of decades of history to round it out without the need to write a lot of words. The capes and shadows. Painting in lots of reds into the blackness. Kate's signature hair. A nice, cerebral reveal at the end. I do take some away from the book because of the somewhat cliche frame-up scene that goes down about midway through the issue. But I guess there are only so many ways to upset the apple cart in Gotham. Tynion is stringing this title through a series of successive arcs and this one looks to be no different. And pulling this off every two weeks is also no small feat. A raise of the glass and a tip of the hat. It's a great time to be a fan of the Dark Knight Detective.