It’s the anniversary of the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne. At Gotham Aquarium, a man and woman surgically altered to look like them are found dead in a tank, shot in exactly the same way.
While not outwardly rattled, Batman forgets himself for a second.
Across town, in Park Row – nicknamed Crime Alley after the Waynes were murdered there decades previously – local doctor Leslie Thompkins is exhausted after a very long day. As she leaves, she’s confronted by a monstrous sight.
Can Batman get there in time to save the woman who comforted young Bruce Wayne on the worst night of his life?
Counting down to the historic thousandth issue, Detective Comics #994 is the first instalment by the new core creative team of writer Peter J Tomasi and penciller Doug Mahnke, and it’s terrific.
Tomasi and Mahnke have worked on dozens of comics together and it shows. Their partnership is a joy – pictures and words complement one another perfectly as they hit that tough balance between fast-paced and meaty. Batman’s easy exchanges with Jim Gordon, the iconic moment of the bat in the study rendered amusing by the banality of it perching on a bust, the believability of Leslie – too scared of heights to jump off the side of a building to safety, but so fiercely protective of Bruce that she’ll leap on a huge great brute armed only with a scalpel. I’m tickled that comic books’ sliding timescale means the Waynes were no longer visiting a first-run Zorro movie, but a remastered version; and that Leslie’s unseen colleague is Mr Giordano, named for longtime DC artist and editor Dick Giordano, her co-creator. What’s more, there’s a mention of one of DC’s darkest detectives – hopefully he’s joining the cast – and pages and pages of proper procedural work by Batman.
I really enjoyed the sharp finishes of Jaime Mendoza, and vibrant colours of David Baron – who says Gotham has to be shrouded in gloom? Letterer Rob Leigh, as well as sharp fontwork throughout, provide moody title lettering for the beautiful opening splash.
The icing on this very tasty cake comes in the form of two striking covers – Mahnke, Mendoza and Baron contribute a spooky main image, and Mark Brooks gives us sleek while retaining soul in a poster-worthy variant.
Detective Comics remains a fortnightly book, so I can’t imagine we’ll get the Tomasi/Mahnke team every issue – art of this quality doesn’t come quickly… but when they do share billing, expect magic.