Evan Cagle’s moody cover, featuring a swanky new logo by Darran Robinson, is a declaration of intent. This new run of Detective Comics is going to be all about the melodrama – a play with music.
The music arrives in the first scene, on the stage of an opera house in darkest Gotham.
There’s an empty seat in the auditorium. The missing audience member is wearing a cape… but not an opera cape. His night on the town involves stopping a bunch of smugglers and an encounter with a member of one of the local crime families.
Or maybe it’s a monster. That’s what a surprise guest star tells Batman as Ram V and Rafael Albuquerque start their stint as Detective Comics writer and artist. And we can expect the musical motifs to abound as they tell their big story, Gotham Nocturne, of which ‘Tec #1062’s Overture is the first part.
And I have to say, I was rather impressed. Not totally surprised, as Ram V has been setting down well-chosen words for quite a while, and Albuquerque giving us gorgeously atmospheric images even longer. But excellent creators don’t necessarily always gel. Happily, V and Albuquerque seem made for one another, and for Batman. Words and pictures combine to give us a classically brooding Gotham with enough shadows to house all manner of horrors, but front and centre is the creature of the night who’s always on the side of the angels.
As Batman ponders what the monstrous Maroni might mean, there’s a stranger coming to Gotham, though his herald is already in town, and making a bloody statement.
And at the end of the issue, one of the most frightening figures in Gotham history returns in, what one hopes, is but a dream.
I’ve gone detail light with this review in the hope you’ll be intrigued enough to give the issue a chance and come across the various story elements as creators intended. Right now it’s not obvious how the music theme will feed into the story (I fully expect Die Fledermaus to flap by), all I can say is that we get an opera that seems based on the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, while more Celtic notes may float in from offstage.
What I particularly like in V’s script is that his Batman isn’t the lunatic vigilante, he’s Bruce Wayne in a scary outfit who admits to mistakes and is well aware of his mortality. I know from the likes of Justice League Dark that V is very adept at well-worked, longterm plots, so I’ve no doubt each chapter of this story will prove satisfying as it builds to something big.
Albuquerque’s storytelling is a treat, every panel a perfect gem, all building towards a striking whole. Highlights include the opera scene, the very bad dream and the mysterious visitor’s family home.
Award-winning colourist Dave Stewart outdoes himself, adding magic to Gotham’s streets with his well-hewn hues. Something I really like is that he looks at music from a synaesthesia angle, so that along with the traditional notes, we see colours.
Lettering a libretto gives Ariana Maher a chance to use some comics-unusual letterforms, and they look splendid. The whole book features nicely chosen, well-applied fonts – I especially like the simple, effective, logical white-out-of-grey for Batman’s thoughts… if we can’t have actual word balloons, this is a great substitute.
Is there anything I disliked about this chapter? Well, the adversary who appears towards to the end is one of those characters I find too OTT even for Gotham, but let’s give V a chance. At the very least, as depicted by Albuquerque and Stewart, they look amazing.
There’s a back-up featuring Jim Gordon, back in Gotham after his quest to find the Joker. The former police commissioner is at a bit of a loss
Then a woman he meets in a bar – well, she’s rather forced on him – sends him on a trip to the ruins of Arkham Asylum, in search of her missing son. Things get very dark, very quickly.
I love Gordon, and writer Si Spurrier conjures him up with convincing dialogue and narration – the compassionate, hard-boiled, not so world-weary cop. The story is almost too talky – there are entire panels of words, laid down in classic typewriter font by letterer Steve Wands – but Lordy, Spurrier’s words are so very, very good.
The visuals are pretty dang spiffy too. After Ram V and Spurrier, Dani is the third prong of a British Invasion of Detective Comics and she mainlines the glorious Gotham Central style to fantastic effect. Gordon is delightfully crumpled, while the settings, from urban bar to haunted mansion, are spot on.
Dave Stewart is again colouring, giving us the perfect colour palette for Gotham’s seediest side, while Wands shows his artistic eye with the likes of border balloon bubbles for a drunken Gordon, and tiny fading letters for asides.
I’m not always a fan of back-ups in modern comics – they’re already overpriced – but when they’re good, I’m good. And The Coda – the title hinting at a link to the main strip – is a little gem.
Two great stories starring to classic characters in an ultra-operatic Gotham? How could I not sing this comic’s praises?