Detective Comics #951 by James Tynion IV and Christian Duce Fernandez
Tynion channels palpable tension with the imminent arrival of the League of Shadows and brilliantly exposes Batman's human weaknesses.
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Batman at his most vulnerable
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WOW. I normally wouldn’t start a review with a single word, but just… WOW. James Tynion IV has really outdone himself. With the combination of last issue’s “League of Shadows” prologue and this week’s first installment, the arc is already shaping up to be the series’ best to date. If DETECTIVE COMICS #950 was the calm before the storm, then DETECTIVE COMICS #951 is the first bolt of lightning – a bolt so super-charged, it’s blown away everything in its path. The League of Shadows has finally come to Gotham.

DETECTIVE COMICS #951 begins with a flashback to three months ago, and the brutal interrogation of one of Jacob Kane’s former Colony sergeants. The interrogator is a lethal assassin named Shiva, whose horrific methods are soon felt in Gotham. The action then picks up in the present day when Batman finds the city’s mayor brutally nailed to a wall in his own apartment. His body is stuffed with swords, all marked with a Batarang hilt. The attempted framing of Batman is just the beginning. Later, serval of Gotham’s citizens are killed via Joker’s laughing gas, and chaos runs rampant through the city. In one crucial scene, Batman and Batwoman confront the imprisoned Jacob Kane for information. Kane warns them that the League of Shadows is behind the attacks. Key to his warning is the information that: “You won’t know whether you’re surrounded by ordinary frightened people or the most dangerous killers on the planet until it’s too late.” This haunting prophecy paves the way for the most dangerous conflict Batman and his team have ever faced.

Detective Comics #951

The sense of ambiguity and mounting terror within DETECTIVE COMICS #951 is palpable. With the strange murders, the foreboding warnings, and the shadowy presence of Shiva, Tynion places Batman in the very rare position of being completely in over his head. Part of the reason the events of the issue are so terrifying is because Batman is wrong. Ordinarily, this would be a hard notion to swallow, but the issue tackles Batman’s weaknesses from several angles. First is the scene in which Batman and Batwoman discuss the training of Orphan, who took the spotlight last issue, and who we now know to be an incredibly dangerous killer. In this conversation, Batman admits that Orphan would beat him in a fight. That’s weakness #1. Later, in Batman’s interrogation of Jacob Kane, we see Batman’s refusal to believe that the League of Shadows might be real, despite the very obvious signs to the contrary. That’s weakness #2. Finally, when confronted by Batwoman, Batman reluctantly admits that indeed he could be wrong… and when Batman’s wrong, all hell breaks loose. There’s weakness #3. All of these weaknesses – losing in a fight, refusing to see the truth, and being deadly wrong – are exploited, with devastating consequences, in DETECTIVE COMICS #951’s final moments. Though ordinarily, we’d never think Batman capable of such weaknesses, Tynion lays the groundwork so well that, by the end of the issue, we believe it.

READ: Writer James Tynion IV just began work on another masterful comic series – take a look at our review of BATWOMAN: REBIRTH #1 here!

It helps too that Tynion has been building up the League of Shadows’ arrival since his tenure on DC Rebirth began. Throughout the series’ first two arcs, Tynion has been slowly deconstructing Batman and exposing his weaknesses through a variety of fascinating methods. In his “Rise of the Batmen” arc, Tynion explored the notion of an army of Bat-soldiers who, as a unit, possessed all of Batman’s skills times ten, thus rendering Batman himself obsolete. In “The Victim Syndicate,” Tynion showed the dangers of Batman’s war on crime through the victims of collateral damage, who united against Batman for failing to protect them. Now, Tynion appears to be taking the deconstruction further by examining Batman’s flawed humanity. Despite his penchant for appearing indestructible, Batman is a man who can lose a fight, who can blind himself to the truth, and who indeed can be wrong. If the first two arcs deconstructed Batman from the perspective of others, this arc looks to deconstruct him from within.

Batman’s complex characterization serves the issue well. The other characters are sidelined a bit here due to the focus on the Dark Knight, but several of them are set up to play important roles later on. Batwoman shares a brief moment with her imprisoned father here, reminding us of her struggle to move past his betrayal. As Jacob proves himself to be an essential weapon against the League of Shadows, Kate will no doubt have to work with him more closely, opening up various emotional possibilities. Most interesting of all is Orphan, who had an amazing spotlight last issue, and who’s poised to play a key role in this arc. She’s the quietest and most lethal member of the group, and she spots the dangers of the League of Shadows quicker than anyone. She seems to share some interesting traits in common with our new villain, Shiva, and I suspect that they may have a history together. We’ll find out soon enough.

Detective Comics #951

DETECTIVE COMICS #951 welcomes Christian Duce Fernandez to the series, and his style marks a distinct departure from the series’ previous pencilers. The figures are generally drawn a bit shorter and stockier than usual, particularly Batman, who here looks more Affleck than Bale. The characters all look more stylized and even cartoonish, which was a bit jarring at first. Yet rendering the figures less realistically allows Duce to create expressive characterizations that complement Tynion’s narrative. Some standout moments include Batman’s reaction to finding the mayor fatally wounded. Despite his cowl, Duce draws him with him distinctive shock and horror, visible through his mouth and the whites of his eyes. It’s an unusual expression for Batman to be wearing but works effectively to convey the sense that Batman is out of his depth here. My favorite artistic moment is a small panel, where Batman’s face in the foreground is juxtaposed with the face of a dead laughing gas victim in the background. This moment comes just as Batman confesses he might be wrong, and it perfectly captures those dangers inherent in Batman making mistakes. When Batman’s wrong, the whole city could wind up like that poor victim. A subtle moment captured beautifully through the art.

READ: In other parts of Gotham, Batman’s been keeping busy with the threat of a vengeful Bane! Read all about it in our review of BATMAN #17!

In DETECTIVE COMICS #951, James Tynion has hit the ground running with his “League of Shadows” arc. After the thoughtful and multiple storyline-spanning #950, this issue jolts the reader back into a single narrative, full of focused tension and dynamic, thought-provoking characterization. Batman has never been more vulnerable, and that’s what makes this issue truly shine. If DETECTIVE COMICS #951 is any indication, “League of Shadows” is likely to be the pinnacle of Tynion’s masterful work on this series.


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