Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Detective Comics #866

Written by Dennis O'Neil; art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.

Here's a perfect example of how certain comic book fans let their obsession with continuity ruin their enjoyment of the medium they supposedly love. (This is a topic I've been wanting to write about for some time, and I will elaborate on it in a later post.)

There's nothing wrong with Detective Comics #866. It's written by Dennis O'Neil, who knows a thing or two about how to write Batman comics, and it's drawn by Dustin Nguyen, who's one of the best artists currently working at DC. Both do an excellent job with this simple, enjoyable, unpretentious story.

So what's everybody complaining about?


Because, you know, Dick Grayson didn't actually nail the Joker on one of his first nights out at Robin, and Batman didn't encounter the Order of St. Dumas until much later in his career, and according to Dark Victory, Harvey Dent was no longer District Attorney by the time Dick Grayson became Robin.

My answer to all of these complaints is simple: Shut the fuck up! Seriously. Stop being a continuity geek for five minutes and try enjoying the story that you are reading for what it is – i.e., one of many possible interpretations of these characters, which fits into a rich history of multi-layered and sometimes contradictory interpretations. Turn off the ridiculous instinct that compels you to make 70 years of storytelling by hundreds of different storytellers fit into a neat, linear timeline in which everything makes perfect sense. You might actually enjoy a comic book or two that way.

I love reading new stories by veteran writers like Dennis O'Neil or Paul Levitz. Their old-fashioned approach to comic book storytelling makes them stand out in this contemporary context, but I like that they're not trying to completely reinvent their styles to fit current trends. O'Neil's third-person narration at the beginning of this issue doesn't sound dated – it just sounds classic.

It's a weird coincidence that there were two stories featuring Dick Grayson in an early Robin adventure last week. The other one, unexpectedly, was in Superman #700. I always enjoy these stories for the little details. In Superman, there was a moment where Dick apparently calls Alfred "Alfie" for the first time. Here, we see him still adjusting to the idea of calling Bruce "Batman" while they're in the field.

But what makes this comic book such a gem is Dustin Nguyen's amazing layouts (with finishes by Derek Fridolfs). He uses two completely different styles for the different time periods in which the story is set, with the flashbacks in a somewhat more cartoony style reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series. Colourist David Baron emphasizes this difference by giving the flashback scenes a more faded palette and adding effects that make the pages look like an old, worn comic, with creases and colour dots.

Batman #700 tried really hard to tell a story that spanned several different eras of Batman's history with different art styles for each period. The story came across as a big mess and the art felt rushed and poorly patched together. Without any fanfare, Detective Comics #866 achieves all that and makes it seem effortless. And you don't even have to pay an extra dollar for a bullshit pinup gallery in order to read it. Big win.


Farseer August 17, 2010 at 3:38 PM  

I couldn't agree more. I have read reviews criticizing this issue because it added nothing to the current storylines. See this one, for example:

For goodness' sake, who cares?

I certainly enjoyed this little story, bringing us back to Dick's first adventures as Robin. Great art too!

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