Tynion was simultaneously writing and/or plotting, and perhaps still is to some degree, Detective Comics, Batwoman, GLAAD award winner The Woods, The Backstagers, Dark Days: The Forge, Dark Days: The Casting, The Kamandi Challenge, and The Immortal Men from this fall’s new Dark Matter imprint. I’m probably forgetting a few things here and there, but he has been very, very busy! So that’s why this happened.
Anyway, Detective Comics #957 is a story about Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. It is also about the narrative surrounding Gotham itself, both in-universe and out, as well as hypocrisy. It’s a fairly straight-forward tale and—oh, well, would ya look at that! It’s the first one-and-done of Tynion’s run! Sure, it does set-up a few ideas, I assume, for the fifth arc entitled “Looser Chains” due to start in August, but for the moment it’s self-contained.
This issue is also penciled by returning guest artist Carmen Carnero, whom you may remember as the artist for half of Detective Comics #945, the very first issue I reviewed for the Fandomentals! So that’s kinda fun, eh?
No Lights In The Dark
I have a bit of a tradition when it comes Harvey Bullock. Whenever he appears in a comic, whether it be just him or alongside Jim, I have to ask myself “why is this not Renee?” This is one of the few instances where there’s actually a great answer for that: because it wouldn’t be as funny. Steph, being a master of…collecting cockroaches and unconventional tactics, nearly gives good ol’ Harvey a heart attack by swarming his donuts with cockroaches when all the man wanted was some fresh air and a butternut donut.
While Harvey freaks out, Steph monologues about the narrative of Gotham and Batman. How there are these specified beats and rules that each encounter needs to abide by for everything to make sense. And this is true, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Tropes are not bad, and plenty of writers can still tell a great story by remembering these little guidelines. Steph does have a point about collateral damage: The Monster Men, the Colony, the League of Shadows, the Gotham Twins…the vast majority of every Batman tale ever. She’s not wrong, here. Innocent people get caught in the crossfire.
And in the beginning of the story you see what she’s getting at. You agree with her, because it looks like she’s really trying to change the system and make it safer for the average Gotham citizen. If you did meet a superhero that wasn’t Superman or The Flash, for example, it probably would be the worst day of your life. This suggests that Steph is far more genre-savvy than previously believed. Well, initially anyway.
She sabotages the signal and, after listening in on Harvey’s radio, zips off to the GNN building. The signal explodes, and Harvey does his best impression of an angry old man, complete with shaking fist.
The Wrath: Live And In Concert!
As it turns out, the reason that the GCPD is getting called to the GNN building—without the Detective Comics team noticing despite the fact that 911 calls are actively processed through the Belfry far faster than the GCPD dispatch system thanks to Tim—is because an angry man in a power suit is buying into the narrative of Gotham and the Batman.
As for who he is, I kind of love that Tynion and Sebela didn’t even bother making sure you knew who he was. He’s an old idea that DC tried to reboot in the New52 to little success, if memory serves. He’s known as The Wrath, and he’s…probably the second one to hold that title. The first was introduced in 1984 as the Anti-Batman, and it’s kind of hilarious. At a young age his criminal parents were gunned down by police officers, and he vowed vengeance against all who would uphold the law. Also he kills people. The second man, presumably the guy in Detective Comics, is Elliot Caldwell, the former secret sidekick of the first Wrath. He’s a billionaire, spent years abroad, and his father was murdered by corrupt cops. Plus, he’s got similar equipment to Batman, except it’s almost entirely lethal.
Anyway, he marches into GNN, exploding everything and ranting about how he wants to copy the Joker’s pageantry and get an audience with Batman so he can kill him. He’s also super into the presentation of things, so he murders one of his mooks for killing a security guard before they get the cameras rolling. His whole motivation here is to be a part of Batman’s A-List, which sort of defeats the purpose.But before he can even try, the transmitter shorts out and Wrath sends Scorn, last seen being thrown out of a plane so I’m starting to think that story was retconned, escorts the cameraman into the basement to fix it.
And here’s where Steph’s logic completely falls apart.
Anti-Heroes Are Overrated
Steph proceeds to neutralize the bad guys in the basement, having already sabotaged the transmitter in increasingly clever ways. Just like Batman said in Detective Comics #934, and mostly reiterated again here: “Just not the way anyone expects.” Of course, despite how successful she is in “cheating” (she picked up a few things from her training officer) to make her point, she completely undermines it in the process. By systematically inserting herself into this situation, she’s proving that superheroes are still necessary to take down things that the police simply aren’t able to handle. Just because she refuses to take credit (not that anyone in the Batfamily ever really goes out of their way to do so in the first place) doesn’t mean she changed anything. Especially if she’s seen by the cops and the hostages!
Not only that, but Steph’s assertion that Batman creates these supervillains just by existing is rarely accurate. It just so happens that Wrath and the Victim Syndicate both were, but I could list name after name out of his Rogues Gallery that developed completely independently of Batman. Actually, I’ll do that, just for fun.
- Bane (probably wouldn’t have targeted Gotham)
- Poison Ivy
- Mister Freeze
- Black Mask
- Ra’s al Ghul/League of Assassins
- Mad Hatter
- The Ventriloquist
- The Riddler
- Clayface (okay he’s reformed for the moment, but still)
- Solomon Grundy
- Hugo Strange
- Calendar Man
- Mr. Zsaz
- Killer Croc
- Killer Moth
- Deacon Blackfire
- Black Spider
- And many more!
Aside from Joker, Harley Quinn, Hush and the few I mentioned above, there just aren’t a whole lot of super villains that are a direct response to Batman’s mere existence. Anyway, Steph takes down Wrath by repurposing old recordings of Batman’s voice and then disabling his suit, which only undermines her goal even more. She had to trick Wrath into believing that Batman was there, meaning that the hostages will also think that Batman was the one who saved them, rather than the police who showed up later!
The GCPD shows up and Steph manages to calm Harvey down with a free donut (okay this might actually work) before smoke-bomb-vanishing into the night. Even though everyone saw her there. She escapes onto a rooftop and congratulates herself on a job well done, even though she utterly failed in her ultimate goal (which really shows just how far she’s letting her grief cloud her judgement) and claims she’s not a hero despite explicitly being that. Then Ulysses shows up and she throws him into a wall.
Oh, uh, spoilers (hah)? That’s very likely Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, aka “I get off on neo-napalm” aka “The Kid Who ‘Killed’ Tim”. He…well okay he did call himself Anarky after stealing it from Lonnie Machin. So it could be a reintroduced Lonnie, but we’ve already seen Ulysses a lot so…gonna have to lean in that direction. Makes more narrative sense.
Also then we’d get to watch Steph beat the ever loving piss out of him once she finds out who he is! And then maybe she can take a breath and think all of this out a little more coherently. Since what she’s really going for is “urban legend”-style Batman, which was basically editorially mandated from the mid 1980s to somewhere around 2004’s War Games crossover. Y’know, the one where Steph “died”. Thing is, that method of crime fighting only works if literally no one sees you ever. And you don’t leave a trail. But even if she did somehow manage to succeed in pulling that off…she still proved herself wrong by doing things normal people couldn’t!
This was a risky narrative move, I’m just gonna say it. And considering how a decently sized portion of readers are reacting to Detective Comics #957, it’s not difficult to see why. There are some who didn’t seem to catch that the flawed logic in fallacies in Steph’s mentality were there completely on purpose to show just how deep she’s drowning in denial. That was the point.
Of course, there’s also the other rationale for having a Steph-centered issue in the first place: backdoor pilot for a Spoiler ongoing/miniseries? Eh? I’d read the hell out of that.
DETECTIVE COMICS #957
Writers: James Tynion IV and Christopher Sebela
Pencils: Carmen Carnero
Inkers: Karl Story, Richard Friend and Carmen Carnero
Colors: Javier Mena
Letterer: Sal Cipriano