Saturday, May 13, 2017

Detective Comics: Emperor Penguin (comics)

Writer: John Layman
Artists: Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke
Collects: Detective Comics (2011) #13-18

Chew made me a fan of John Layman, so I was interested when I heard he would be taking over the New 52 volume of Detective Comics after Tony Daniel left. The two volumes of the book prior to this had been middling at worst and merely okay at best, leaving a book that didn't have much to offer and hadn't even managed to distinguish itself yet. Unfortunately, the third volume doesn't get the chance either, so we're stuck waiting to see if volume four can pull it out.

Part of the problem is that the first couple of years of Batman in the New 52 were dominated by what Scott Snyder was doing in the flagship book. I don't necessarily mean that in terms of status quo changes, which is fine, but in tie-ins. It seems like every story Batman did through Zero Year saw the line saddled with tie-ins. With some, it was fine. The Night of the Owls tie-ins were a single issue. At worst, it was a brief break between story arcs. Death of the Family, meanwhile, ends up involving itself in several issues, leaving the writer to have to do something related.

It's worked in about as well as you could expect. The main story of the volume, involving a Penguin henchman getting froggy and seizing his empire, takes a backseat for a couple of issues, allowing that to gestate in the background while Joker copycat gangs make some noise in Gotham. The henchman only has the chance to begin with because Joker scares the piss out of Penguin and forces him to assist the clowns latest scheme. I'm not averse to that. It's Gotham. There's going to be overlap sometimes.

The thing I take issue with is that it's not exactly explained enough. Penguin just exits the book for a couple issues a third of the way through, handing everything off to the henchman to look after until he returns. We don't know what Joker asked of him or why he has to hang in Arkham for a bit, just that, judging by the way he's pissing himself after meeting with Joker, he doesn't exactly have much choice. The worst kind of tie-in is the one that interrupts another story, but doesn't explain or give context to the elements that bleed in. It's one thing to work in a tie-in to your story. It might even be the best way. But almost expecting that you've read the other is off-putting. I expect at least enough distance and explanation so I can read it on its own without wondering what was so important a character suddenly blew dodge, allowing the crux of the story to even happen.

Otherwise, it's a perfectly fine comic. Not quite the immediate knockout I'd thought or hoped, but we seem to be playing the long game here anyway. The Emperor Penguin story has only just kicked into gear by the end of the volume, so we'll see where it goes. I do hope something a bit more exciting happens going forward, though. Much of this volume is either playing set-up or involves a lengthy tie-in. It looks nice, though, thanks to the presence of Jason Fabok on art.

If nothing else, Emperor Penguin is better than the preceding volumes and may lead to better things, so we'll see how it shakes out. For now, I'd say it's worth a look if you can find it in the library.

My Opinion: Try It


  1. How many more volumes was Layman on Detective after this? I really lost track of who was working on this book after Daniel left.

    Snyder's run will obviously be the New 52 Batman run that people go back to in the long run, with the New 52 Detective Comics already having faded somewhat into obscurity. It really makes you wonder what the creators on Detective might have done to give their work greater longevity. A good start probably would have been to not rely on unexplained plot points from a different series that only people reading month-to-month would have fully understood.

  2. I checked and apparently it's only two more volumes, even shorter than I originally thought. So yeah. That in mind, I'm hoping for good things from his remaining two volumes, but there's no way he put together a lasting run in that time, especially with a third of it already over. It's a damn shame too, because I like Layman.

    I knew Buccalleto and Manapul took over at some point. I'll probably continue through theirs, which means at some point I may end up reading the entire New 52 run of 'Tec. I remember reading how Manapuls Flash was a highlight of the New 52 launch, due to the artwork.

    Yeah, New 52 'Tec is an afterthought now. No one stuck around long enough to really put anything together and it just kind of existed because of it. It annoys me too, because Layman does perfectly fine with the character here, but something about it all feels hampered. DC dropped the forced tie-ins to what Snyder was doing after Zero Year, but it was too late at that point. I think Layman was already gone. Could be worse. It could be Batman: The Dark Knight. Obscurity is better than everyone forgetting you even existed.

    The two Eternal weeklies might fair better in public conscious, though. They were enjoyed a fair bit as they happened. I figure it'll be down to that and Snyder's Batman.

    But hey, they figured it out again during Rebirth, so silver lining. Detective is supposed to be top shelf, easily standing beside Kings run. I think my only real grievance with Rebirth Batwise is that we don't have a Batman & Robin book. Batman and 'Tec seem content to pretend Damian doesn't exist. Only outside books, like Teen Titans, Nightwing, Super Sons and Gotham Academy use him. He's friggin' Robin. We should at least see him interacting with Batman. It's his damn dad, to boot.

  3. Have you read all of Snyder's run? It would be interesting if you ended up reading all of New 52 Detective without having read the "main" Batman series from that time. Sort of like if someone had read the complete run of Spectacular Spider-Man that ran concurrently to JMS's Amazing or something.

    The first Detective Rebirth trade is actually the next book on my to-read pile, and I'm fairly excited. The back cover copy trumpets it as an accessible book, which I hope is the case since it has a big cast and there are still a fair few members of the extended Bat-family that I'm not too familiar with (though I'm slowly learning). If it turns out to be as good as people say I'll probably check out Batman Eternal, since that's largely by Tynion as well. I agree about that book seeming like it'll have some longevity, even if the press at the time wasn't always great (I'm guessing because the weekly format meant that it was sometimes a little ahead of or behind the main Batman series). When people weren't nitpicking about continuity, it seemed like an interesting read from what I could tell.

  4. To be fair, I sort of think it SHOULD be that way. That you should be able to read one without reading the main one. It allows more people to tell stories with the characters, often with different styles or flavor than the main line. Batman's pulled this off on numerous occasions. Grant Morrison's long tenure on Batman related titles was supported by fantastic, well regarded and remembered runs by Paul Dini, Greg Rucka and Scott Snyder in the other books, without needing to rely on what Grant was doing to a large degree. It was only in the New 52 era that sort of screwed up a bit for the Bat line.

    But anyway, I admit that, strange as it may sound, I've yet to read a page of Scott Snyders time with Batman. That goes back as far as his time in Detective Comics.

    I've read two volumes of Batman Eternal, but looking at my archive shows I apparently didn't review them. Must have been during the times I sort of fell out of updating here. Regardless, it's quite good, but overlong. It could have shaved a dozen issues, maybe up to twenty, and been a stronger series for it. Part of the issue is that there are issues where it feels like the story is not advancing much more than a millimeter. That must have been maddening to read weekly, which is probably why it got soft reviews at the time. It holds up much better in trade, but still feels like it spins its wheels.

    They got the message, I guess, because the sequel was shorter by half, alternating with an Earth 2 weekly, sort of like how Brightest Day alternated weeks with JLI: Generation Lost just before Flashpoint.

    I'll get to Rebirth 'Tec at some point. It has rave reviews and revives Azrael, a character I have a fair bit of affection for. It might not be for a bit though. I don't have it on hand and as it is I have four other Rebirth titles out from the library to go through.

  5. I completely agree that the two should be completely self-contained. I just suspect that, for many readers of Batman in the last six years, they take that sentiment in the other direction by reading only the Snyder book. There are few, I suspect, who have only read the New 52 Detective without having read Snyder. That probably says more about what I suspect about the New 52's reading demographic than it does about the books themselves, though. Snyder's Batman was a critical darling and thus heavily marketed, whereas Detective wasn't even pushed as "another great ongoing Batman story"; it was simply the "other" Batman book.

    I haven't finished Snyder's run either. I think I've read the first two trades. I'll read it at some point -- the library has all of it. (I do have Snyder's All-Star Batman checked out right now, but I've been a little gunshy on starting it because I wonder if it would be better to read after Snyder's ten volumes on the main Batman series.) Does Batman Eternal tie into Snyder's series very much, or is it fairly coherent on its own?

  6. Eternal is entirely coherent on its own. It ran at the same time as Year Zero, acting as the present day adventures of Batman, essentially, while that year long arc ran. You can pick it up without worry.

    Though, honestly, you can do the same for any aspect of Snyders run, from what I understand. You didn't need to read his Detective Comics saga, The Black Mirror, for the New 52 Batman. You didn't need New 52 Batman for Eternal. You don't need New 52 Batman for All Star Batman. Judging by everything I've seen and heard, Scott Snyder is good at keeping the different parts of his run self contained enough that you could just pick any piece of it up at the start and not find yourself lost.

    You're right that it's probably more indicative of the New 52 than anything. 'Tec in the New 52 was kind of an afterthought for the company, despite having amazingly talented people like John Layman, Jason Fabok, Brian Bucalletto and Francis Manapul on it. How many interviews can you recall about 'Tec, for instance? I felt like I saw maybe one a year, probably around when 'Tec hit that milestone a year or two in for nine hundred monthly issues. Whereas if Batman so much as farted in Batman, DC shoved Scott Snyder in front of people for interviews. This is REMARKABLY different from pre-Flashpoint, when Paul Dini, Greg Rucka and Scott Snyders runs on 'Tec got plenty of press and attention.

    I think something else that let 'Tec just fade to the background is that it didn't have a hook. In Grants era, Paul Dini made it super accessible, with quality done in one stories and short arcs which were easy to get into. Greg Rucka had the novelty of Batwomans first true solo adventures along with JH Williams III. Scott Snyder had a dark, noir, building caper. If 'Tec in those days didn't have creators with names that jumped out at you, it had a hook.

    New 52 Batman had a hook in that it was the mainline, big, superheroic Batman style stories where all the big stuff happened. Batman and Robin had the hook in that it was focused largely on the relationship of Batman and his actual blood son, culminating in the death and rebirth of said son. 'Tec just... kind of existed.