"Bruce Wayne is the real mask."
We've all heard that before, right? The pervasive idea that the person behind the cowl is vacant, a permanent funeral wreath for his dead parents, seems too knowingly lachrymose for the character who is arguably DC's most popular hero. While there is a time and place for that kind of thing, this dehumanizing view is too often the modern era's default characterization of Batman.
Written by Mariko Tamaki and Joshua Williamson
Art by Dan Mora, Jordie Bellaire and Gleb Melnikov
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar and Troy Peteri
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
It is refreshing then, that Mariko Tamaki sees Bruce Wayne as a human being. Penniless but connected, hard-working yet evasive, Bruce is an actual public face here. Most importantly, Tamaki's Bruce provides a visible contrast against the fiercely authoritative Batman. Enhanced by Dan Mora's expressive artwork, Detective Comics #1034 (opens in new tab) weaves Bruce's public integration with the well-worn story of Gotham's corrupt leadership.
Themes of disinformation and displacement run throughout Tamaki's tight script. When holdovers from 'The Joker War (opens in new tab)' crash a Gotham fundraiser, their M.O just doesn't make sense. Meanwhile, Bruce works hard to establish micro Bat Caves under the city while he gets reluctantly dragged into the social lives of Gotham's chosen few. Tamaki sets up something evil lurking in the office of the mayor, giving just enough to pique interest while setting up the arc's main mystery. The Party Crashers are a loveably useless bunch, enhanced by Dan Mora's imaginative theming and Jordie Bellaire's accents of neon green and purple. Tamaki balances dialogue and narration for a fairly dense book that offers a balanced view of Gotham from Bruce's perspective. Letterer Aditya Bidikar subtly adds the Bat symbol behind his interior monologue at the top of every page, a fun little flourish that finishes a visually attractive book.
Mora has an incredible knack for body language and facial expression. His style emphasizes eyes without enlarging them to cartoony proportions. Every element of the face is stretched and squashed in a realistic manner. His bodies heave and lurch, shrug and stand alert, every element of their positioning assisting the intent of Tamaki's script. It's confident and capable comic bookery, delivered by a team in their prime.
After the main story, the ever-reliable Joshua Williamson teams up with Gleb Melnikov for the second part of their Robin prologue. Following up from Batman #106 (opens in new tab)'s back-up, it's a brief but succinct explainer for Damian's new solo adventures, illustrated with real flair. Generally speaking, Melnikov's bold features and deep inking mesh well with the darkest Robin, but Damian's costume is a specific highlight. It minimizes the classic green and circulates red throughout his body like an artery. A yellow cape juts out from behind him like a proclamatory lightning crack. Dynamic stuff. Williamson concludes with a surprise appearance from a Green Arrow fave, whose 'Rebirth' reintroduction was teased but never delivered upon. It's the kind of exciting twist that genuinely builds anticipation for the forthcoming Robin #1, and that's exactly the aim.
Despite the back-up itself being solid, this reviewer isn't a huge fan of fragmenting stories across the line. At its worst, it's actively alienating to a readership, heaving on the expectation and assumption that everybody buys the entire range. Even if the actual number of readers with 'Tec on their pull-list but not Batman is probably minimal, it's still not ideal.
Overall, Detective Comics #1034 is a strong start for Tamaki and Mora's run, mixing the murky world of political corruption with the shallow social lives of Gotham's most fortunate souls for an absorbing read.
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