WARNING! SOME REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS (EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT MARKED). PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Detective Comics #38
There are 8 different stories in this comic, celebrating the first appearance of Robin, the boy wonder. Amazingly, aside from the Batman comic, all the rest of them follow a very similar format. The writing is clocky and awkward, the dialogue is really goofy, and the antics and physics are worse than some superhero comics I've read. I'm of mixed opinion. On one hand, I'm glad I had the chance to read it. On the other, I don't think I would have been a comic book reader if I lived in 1940 (and something like Greg Rucka's version of Batman was around). Here are quick reviews of all eight stories (reviews reflect my opinion, as a reader in the '00s--which basically asks: does this story hold up 60 years later?) :
"Spy" (Siegel and Kashuba): since when does thunder come before lightning? Bart, the title hero, must stop an evil mad scientist before he electrocutes all 200 million people in America. Uh... yeah... Grade: B-
"Red Logan" (Unknown and Unknown): REALLY goofy characters interact in unbelievable ways trying to track down a possible vampiric killer. No wonder the creators wanted to remain anonymous. Grade: C
"The Crimson Avenger" (Red Lahti): probably the closest thing in here to a superhero (aka Batman)--Crimson is actually entertaining, even if the plot is weak and predictable. Grade: B
"Speed Saunders: Ace Investigator" (Guardineer): if you can ignore the fact that a guy is defying physics by hanging onto a flying plane wing w/ no parachute, then the story might be enjoyable. I wasn't able to ignore that fact. Grade: C-
"Steve Malone: District Attourney" (Lynch): Watch as a city's DA single handidly punches his way towards bringing down a mob boss!! Squint your eyes and try to read all 100,000 words per page!! Sheesh. Grade: C
"Cliff Crosby" (Unknown and Unknown): another case of Alan Smithee strikes in this goofy story of two adventurers find a tribe of stereotyped black men running around the Arctic w/out any clothes on! More crazy things happen! Grade: C+
"Slam Bradley" (Siegel and Neville): even though this story just takes massive plot leaps, and Slam's assistant looks like a troll, the story is decent and holds up. I'm still scratching my head over the bad guy's explanation though. Grade: B
"Batman" (Finger, Kane, Robinson): three classic and lauded Batman collaborators combine to produce the legendary tale of Robin, the Boy Wonder. The art is the best of the issue and Kane has improved his style over the past year since Batman's inception. The story is...different than we would be used to. It clips along 100 miles an hour w/ little transition. Good things we've heard it all before. However--some things of note: Robin kills some mooks (and nobody cares), Batman does all the quips, there is no mention of Dick Grayson being adopted/ward, etc. This story is noticably more light-hearted than #27. It's cool though to finally READ the origin story everyone already knows--and it is superior to the rest of the stories of the issue, by far! That this story and character are still around (in one form or another) 60 years later is just as amazing. Grade: B+
Detective Comics #395
This "Millennium Edition" chronicled the first works by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams on Batman. The story is...interesting...combining the grim atmospheric weirdness of future Batman stories with the campiness of the 60s. Dramatic dialogue and Batman running around Mexico for (really) no reason make this a very...intriguing...comic. The back-up "Robin" story by Gil Kane is largely unreadable/undecipherable.
JYD's Grade: B-
Detective Comics #742
Rucka, Martinbrough, Mitchell
When it's all said and done, "Detective Comics" #742 is one hell of a deceivingly simple story. It all starts out with the artwork--characters and backgrounds largely constructed from cubes and squares. Moving onto the color scheme, we find a focus on two colors, blue and orange (there's some blue-gray too). The basic plot? There's been a hit on an Italian diner owned by a infamous Gotham mob family, one cop is killed, the other in critical condition. Enter James Gordon, the newly promoted Det. Montoya, Lt. Bullock, and Capt. Bock w/ new cop Crispus Allen 4 guys holed up in a warehouse with AK-47s, and, of course, our favorite Dark Knight who's not about to take crap from anyone.
A marvelous prelude issue to the mafia action that's coming up, #742 turns all this "simplicity" into the best Bat story of the year. Martinbrough is absolutely amazing--his characters show more life in a single close-up glance than anything done by any of the artists previously mentioned in this thread. [Note: Most of the reviews on this site were originally posted on a thread in the DC Batman forum for comic reviews.] Want proof? Check out Gordon's face on pg. 2 or even Batman's expression on the bottom of pg. 26 (my favorite panel of the entire comic). All of the new characters and the old characters are instantly memerable. The new guy with the strange name, Crispus Allen, has a dynamic T'Challa look to him. He reminds me of Bock when he first showed up (the end of "Prodigal").
I can't begin to emphasize how incredible the new color scheme looks. It's like wading through the seemy underbelly of a city lighted by blue and orange neon signs--but it works dammit. It just works. Batman looks amazing. There's no question here how well his suit looks--the only thing that stands out is the bat-symbol (and the yellow circle is even gone!). He is a mixture of dark blue, blacks, and grays--throughout the story he doesn't speak, merely exploring the background, trailing Gordon while Jim jogs in the morning, cornering him before he walks into certain death. Batman realizes the extent of the dark path Jim walks--it took him years to master his own fatal tendencies. Gordon doesn't have that option. He has to protect a city. Any resolution must come now--and we see that in the book's final pages (pgs. 27-30). Batman comments how he expected it to all end so differently. Perhaps his faith in Jim's moralistic tendencies has been returned. Perhaps not. It's all very mysterious, something straight out of "Vertigo." But one thing is clear--Rucka's aptly named "Detective Comics" isn't just going to focus on the dark layers of Batman anymore--there are other characters who are places far deeper and darker than Batman has been in a decade. This should be one wild ride.
The JYD's grade: A
Detective Comics #743
Rucka, Martinbrough, Mitchell
RED AND GRAY ARE TWO UGLY COLORS--WHO'D'VE THOUGHT THEY WENT SO WELL TOGETHER?
"Evolution: Whispers in the Dark"
Man--and I thought "Detective" #742 was cool stuff. People, what Rucka and Martinbrough are doing here--we're talking classic. Forget the radical color scheme here--even without the buzz that brought to the series this team just knows how to tell one hell of a story. Plain and simple. I suppose I should talk about colors, because red and gray is just...not my first choice for colors. But damn does it look good. Red skies, people with gray and red faces, a Batman with a red suit--who on earth can this stuff look so cool?? For the record, it IS the coloring that makes Martinbrough's pencils stand out. His simple geometrics with slashing angular lines and hardnosed degree turns are very stylistic, but, I'm sorry, those panels at the bottom of pgs. 7 (Batman punching the hell out of a mobster), 11 (the Abbot eyeing his prey), and 15 (Wayne pausing to listen to Alfred) are just not possible w/out the range of color being used. Shoot, I'd pay $3 for this every month (oh wait...I already do...)! This IS the only title I buy per month that I just gush about the art--the rest I review, my focus is all story. Wow.
But what ABOUT the story? We start with Ra's al Ghul--his first appearance since being cremated with a boat at the end of "Legacy" in 1996--sending two of his acolytes into Gotham City to work up some mischief. See, it's been 4 years since we last heard from Ra's. This is what the editors need to do for the REST of Batman's villains--he's got enough of them. Can't we distance out their appearances? Anyway, I especially enjoyed the two juxtapositions, the first (pgs. 4 & 5) blended together five straight days of Batman whooping up on gangsters, the second (17-23) displayed our enemies, Whisper and Abbot, working their magic in two very different contexts. The rest of the issue WAS magic and no matter how hard I think, I can't find anything really glaringly wrong with the storytelling. Bruce's playboy routine has been toned down from its previous outragous antics--and that's cool. I enjoy the James Bondish nature to Rucka's Bruce, and Martinbrough's pencils have given him an added Sean Connery flair. Rucka has chosen, it appears, to focus on Batman (w/ Oracle) and the GCPD, neglecting the other costumed supervillains and sidekicks. That's fine, though I hope in latter issues we ALSO get a dose of the other faces in the crowd. I hope this all doesn't turn into the clunky nature of the pre-"Cataclysm" post-"Legacy" stories (3 parters, no interaction). I feel like Rucka has a handle on what's happening in the other titles, though I kind of wish the events depicted in "Detecive" (the mob wars, Gordan's grief) would leak somewhat into the other series. But I doubt we would get much of anything to do with the police, given the crowded "Gotham Knights" series and the VERY vigourous "hour in the life of Batman" written by everyone's pal Larry Hama. But that's neither here nor there.
The Straight Dope: Damn.
The JYD's grade: "Detective Comics" #743--A