DETECTIVE COMICS #32 (Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato) is a return to Batman as The World’s Greatest Detective.
In Scott Snyder’s run on BATMAN, there have certainly been shades of Batman as a detective, but it hasn’t nearly been the focus of his stories. With Court of Owls there was that classic noir monologue and introspection that defined the character for years, but the mysteries were eventually spelled out in front of him by the supporting cast. Some people want to blame Grant Morrison’s run on JLA as turning the character of Batman from a super-detective into an out and out superhuman, but I don’t think so.
Francis Manapul reminds us that you can have a Batman who’s crafty and devious enough to hang with the best of the JLA over in Justice League, who is still the same Batman in the pages of Detective Comics – just that the character is dealing with different kinds of mysteries as an actual detective.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Francis Manapul for a brief interview at Phoenix Comic Con – when I asked him what he wanted to bring to Batman, his answer was the character as a detective. As it’s part of an ongoing storyline, I can tell just by coming in at DETECTIVE COMICS #32 that he’s been doing a pretty great job.
This issue opens with Batman beneath the surface of the Gotham River, swimming in a beautifully colored panel and narrating the current events. Someone important in Gotham has been murdered, and it’s up to him to stay one step above the Gotham P.D. and solve the crime before it escalates any further. Next, the issue gives us the viewpoint of Detective Harvey Bullock – who’s now characterized as a competent enough detective to puzzle out that Batman got to the scene before him. I like that, because it means Batman’s semi-antagonistic relationship with the Gotham P.D. can continue to be important instead of silly.
Every single panel in this issue is absolutely gorgeous. Manapul really pulls it out in everything he works on, and the fact that even though Detective Comics is set within Gotham, it’s nice to see the city depicted with a smattering of colors absolutely everywhere. It’s green, blue, red, dark and wonderful. I know that the way Gotham was depicted in Batman: The Animated Series is considered a hallmark of the character, but if anything is ready for a new interpretation it should be the city of Gotham.
Really, despite being part of an ongoing story arc, DETECTIVE COMICS #32 is incredibly smart about how it tells me what I need to know if I didn’t start with this story when it began two issues ago. It tells you who died and that they were an important enough part of Gotham that Batman legitimately cares about capturing their killer – not just as a part of his dedication to truth and justice. DETECTIVE COMICS has so far managed to, if slowly, move Batman away from his Creepy Dad characterization that has taken over some of the other books.
It’s difficult to be critical of something when the execution is so meticulously crafted. Maybe it’s seeing Batman return to his role as a street-bound detective that’s dulled me critically, but DETECTIVE COMICS #32 is nice in so many places that the criticisms I could levy have to do more with the storyarc than the issue. I do feel that DETECTIVE COMICS under Manapul and Buccellato is the kind of thing that won’t be picked up in the rest of The DC Universe. As an example, if you’re familiar with Marvel, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker did a series about the character Iron Fist in the mid-2000’s that firmly established the protagonists character and values – only to have the books that came after to completely discount them. DETECTIVE COMICS feels like that: too good to be true, but I’ll wait and hopefully see otherwise.
This is a book that’s good enough that even though there’s a battle between a giant cephalapod and Batman in the end of the story where Batman wins, it’s perfectly acceptable because of how colorful the story depicts Gotham as being. I can accept a world where a giant squid has made its home in an abandoned aquarium just as I can accept that a man in a bat costume is capable of defeating it.
DETECTIVE COMICS #32 is finding bat legs in your calamari, and deciding to eat it anyway. That’s a fish joke, because there’s a bat-squid fight. That’s all I got. I’m hoping that Buccellato and Manapul can continue to pull off more issues like this. There was certainly never any massive problems in The Flash under the team there to undermine the book’s core character at all; and while talking with Manapul briefly he seemed to be the kind of guy who genuinely enjoys Batman and knew what he wanted to see out of the character. The World’s Greatest Detective is currently in a pair of incredibly able hands; and I’m very excited to see the places they decide to take him.