With a multi-title story arc now concluded, Detective Comics #943 finds the series returning to constructing an effective direction for the characters and concepts at the core of the series. The result is a solid issue that introduces creepy new antagonists for our team of heroes while deepening the characters of each of the protagonists.
Writer James Tynion IV continues to build his team of central characters, with Batwoman in the lead. Without an overriding story arc forced upon him, Tynion can check in with each character and their journey, whether it’s Spoiler dealing with her grief over a recent loss or Clayface trying to rejoin society or Bruce and Kate trying to add a new member to the team on whom they don’t agree. Over all this looms the threat of a disturbing new group of criminals with a seeming grudge against both Batman and Bruce Wayne.
The issue excels when it shines its light on Basil Karlo (Clayface), Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) or the investigation into the rise of the Victim Syndicate. But the areas of the issue that focus on Bruce and Kate’s discussion about bringing Luke Fox (aka Batwing) onto the team finds the issue stumble. It’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll be seeing more of Luke, at least in this arc, so it’s not like there’s a lot of doubt about him coming on board. And having characters argue about a character’s strengths and weaknesses may be an economical way of getting a reader up to speed, but it’s also a classic example of telling rather than showing. As such, it doesn’t really grab hold of the reader.
But, while this aspect is a significant part of the issue, it doesn’t sink Detective Comics #943 as a whole, mostly because the rest of the story is quite strong. I wasn’t entirely sure about the concept for the series when I first heard about it, but the idea of showing Batman actively molding his allies into an effective fighting force who can carry on his mission works. That’s why he’s had all these Robins isn’t it? Tynion and penciller Alvaro Martinez deliver a book with a cast that is more interesting and captivating than I expected, each one bringing their own baggage and complications to the team. It actually feels more like a classic team book than a lot of books that are more overtly set up as one.
Speaking of Martinez, the art team on the book really clicks. There’s a really bold layout design that makes up the first few pages of the book, as the aftermath of a crime is reviewed via video player viewers that gradually degrade and break apart as the story the witnesses are telling becomes more violent and scary, using the increasingly chaotic layout structure to parallel the content of the narrative. It’s a nice touch. Also nice is the way Martinez gives time and space for the little emotional moments, whether its a close-up of an anguished Batman reeling with grief, to Stephanie and Harper Row’s heart-to-hearts, to Basil Karlo’s turmoil.
Detective Comics #943 is an enjoyable read that kicks off a spooky arc and introduces a threat creepy and unsettling enough to engender anticipation for the next instalment. While its energy stumbles a bit during a long party scene, robbing the issue of momentum while it clunkily introduces a character, that’s not a fatal flaw. It also continues to refine the group of characters at the book’s heart into more multi-dimensional people that are starting to gel as a compelling team we could enjoy following and rooting for. 7/10