DETECTIVE COMICS #961 BY JAMES TYNION IV, ALVARO MARTINEZ, AND RAUL FERNANDEZ
Art
Characterization
Story
Summary
James Tynion's DETECTIVE COMICS #961 is a good, if not great, continuation of his comic run. As part 4 of the "Intelligence" arc this comic delivers on great action and fantastic art. The storyline, on the otherhand, is a bit lacking. Nonetheless this issue is a pleasant read and fans of DETECTIVE COMICS can get enjoyment out of it.
85 %
Fun and Action-Packed
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DETECTIVE COMICS’ “Intelligence” storyline has been writer James Tynion IV’s most varied arc in critical reception. The strong introduction of the arc in DETECTIVE COMICS #958 was unfortunately followed up with issues of declining quality. While DETECTIVE COMICS #961 does not meet some of the heights of Tynion’s great run, it is a fun, easy-to-read adventure with Batman and his friends.

DETECTIVE COMICS #961
DETECTIVE COMICS #961 pg. 3. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

The action in this issue is particularly great, culminating in a brutal physical battle. Furthermore, the art from Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez is exceptional in this issue. The problem with this issue is the same problem that the whole “Intelligence” arc has faced: a stale story. The plot overall doesn’t quite hit home like some of Tynion’s most emotionally satisfying arcs. In the end, unless DETECTIVE COMICS #962 is amazing, this arc will be a forgettable part of a great run by Tynion.

The Power of Suggestion

Bruce and Zatanna pick up right where they left off in DETECTIVE COMICS #960. We learn how Bruce lost his memories of the Gnosis Cube back when he and Zee were teenagers. Through a flashback, we also get to see Bruce’s first exposure to magic. At this time, Bruce is studying under Zatanna’s father during his training years. It’s great to see Bruce, who is usually one step ahead of everyone, confront forces beyond his comprehension. This is an important chapter in his road to becoming Batman. As Batman, Bruce will have to face villains, ideas, and powers he does not understand. In order to truly become the Dark Knight, Bruce has to see the bigger picture of his own ignorance. His introduction to magic is the first step of a petulant boy discovering that he truly knows nothing about the mysteries of the world.

READ: Don’t know what happened in DETECTIVE COMICS #960? Find out here!

It’s great seeing this different side of Bruce. We often see Bruce in his first year as Batman or as a child with his parents. I love, however, when comics touch on the years when Bruce traveled the world learning as much as he could from many different teachers, like he does in DETECTIVE COMICS #961 with Zatanna’s father. BATMAN BEGINS and BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES incorporate this theme, but the comics haven’t discussed it after the NEW 52 relaunch.

During Bruce’s travels, he grows especially close to Zatanna. Throughout “Intelligence”, Tynion has been nailing Batman and Zatanna’s relationship. While there is a great playfulness between the two characters, there is also a great sadness. They are lonely souls looking for connections in their life. In the past, we see they saw a life together, but Bruce’s dedication to crime fighting led him back to Gotham. Zatanna meanwhile has an obligation to continue her family’s legacy of defending the magical world.

Who’s in Control?

Last issue we saw Jean-Paul Valley reunite with his robotic Suit of Sorrows. The Order of St. Dumas’s evil robot, Ascalon, seizes control of the suit’s AI and forces Valley to fight his allies. Valley becomes the killing machine known as “Azrael” and attacks Batwoman, Orphan, and Batwing in one of the series’ most violent and intense fights yet. Tynion clearly shows that Azrael is going for the kill in this battle. He feels little remorse or compassion for the Batfamily. For these reasons, the fight packs a lot of tension and is an exciting read.

READ: Can’t get enough Batman? Read our review for BATMAN #27

During the fight, we cut to inside Azrael’s mind where Valley’s consciousness is fighting Ascalon’s control over him. In Valley’s mind, Ascalon is represented by a child version of Valley. Ascalon asks Jean-Paul to embrace his role as Azrael and become the legendary angelic champion who strikes down sinners. Jean-Paul refuses and decides to embrace his role as a human being defending the world alongside Batman.

DETECTIVE COMICS #961
DETECTIVE COMICS #961 pg. 9. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

I am glad that Tynion is giving Jean-Paul Valley some much-needed character development. However, the story about secret societies like the Order of St. Dumas and machines like Ascalon never quite leaves its mark on the reader. Because I don’t connect to the story, I find it more difficult to connect to Jean-Paul. DETECTIVE COMICS has had some great, relatable stories with some of their main characters. Both Orphan and Batwoman struggled with their parents in compelling narratives. Then Batman and Spoiler deal with the loss of Tim Drake in “The Victim Syndicate”. These stories were great because they were about themes that the reader could connect to. It is very difficult to connect to Azrael when his chief struggle is that an artificial intelligence has infested his brain and is controlling his very will. Rather than working with some of those more relatable struggles, DETECTIVE COMICS #961 works as a fun, if inconsequential, blockbuster.

Art in DETECTIVE COMICS #961

I have been a fan of Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez’s work throughout their run on DETECTIVE COMICS. Martinez draws with such great detail and elegance. His characters appear regal and ideal. Additionally, Fernandez uses such fantastic colors in depicting these characters.

DETECTIVE COMICS #961
DETECTIVE COMICS #961 pg. 13. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

In this issue, I noticed that some of the panels look like classical paintings. The shades and movements seem so fluid and catch the eye in such a way that I can’t help but stare at the artists’ work. There are several panels in this comic that I wouldn’t mind hanging on my wall because they are simply magnificent. I think that’s mainly because Martinez and Fernandez know how to depict light in their comics. In comics as dark as DETECTIVE COMICS #961, it is important to have a steady source of light to direct the eyes of the readers. Martinez and Fernandez have mastered this. For example, I love how Zatanna’s magic is colored because it contrasts with the dark shades in the comics. It makes her magic visually appealing and alluring to look at. I hope these guys continue knocking this run out of the park!

Final Thoughts

DETECTIVE COMICS #961 is not the best that Tynion’s run has to offer. But its combination of great art, good characters, and intense action make it a fun addition. This “Intelligence” arc is not bad by any stretch of the imagination; it just doesn’t have the gravitas that some other stories do. The great thing about comics is that if you don’t like a storyline you can simply wait until the next arc. I am still very excited for what Tynion has planned for the future, and I think you should be too.

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