Just to preface this review, I am in no way an expert on Jean-Paul Valley or Azrael. Haven’t had the opportunity to re-read Knightfall, or really dig into his solo series from the 90s. So, that kinda means that until I do that, I’m probably gonna be missing a lot of stuff. Maybe. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. We’re being re-introduced to this lore as if we’d never heard it before (which might well be the case for many readers) so some of it may not even apply quite in the way that the old stuff did in the first three arcs. Mostly Victim Syndicate, though.
Anyway, let’s dig into all the pretty colors and crack Detective Comics #958 open!
Faith and Pragmatism
The running theme, which is picked up from the Intelligence teaser featured in Detective Comics #950, is the apparent division between religion and science. Or, rather, as the subheading suggests, faith and logic. As a Jewish person, I’ll tell you right now that those things are in no way mutually exclusive. Kinda comes with the territory when some of your important texts are literally just an account of Rabbis arguing, and then debates about those arguments, and then debates about those debates…and then debates about the nature of those debates about the first debates and how they relate to the original argument—and so on and so on. Yes, that is what the Midrash and the Talmud are. Look into ’em, if you’ve got the time; it’s quite the experience.
Right, in many ways, these two supposedly opposite perspectives are intrinsically tied together, much in the same vein as the artificial barrier between the sciences and the arts. Different methods of thinking, perhaps, but some of the best scientists were artists, and that goes the same for the reverse.
Think about it.
Anyway, this idea is front and center after the splash page opening. Luke and Jean-Paul, in all his frumpy sweater glory, are attending a Gotham Guardians (whose logo is not lost on me) basketball game at the aptly named Dixon Stadium (because of course they are) and Luke isn’t even watching the game from their courtside seats. He’s got the math all worked out, predicting exactly how the game will go without needing to watch since he’s multitasking. The only way things could change is via human error, which is the flaw that allows it to be exciting to watch at all. Basically, Luke used math so he could rely on faith that the team would do exactly what they’re supposed to do, a point that is quickly proven by a layup.
Jean-Paul, on the other hand, is clearly more interested in the chaotic aspect of the game, the one thing that cannot be calculated or accounted for. This is something that he, a man of faith, does not have any real faith in. It’s a game that cannot truly be predicted, even if Luke can pull a parlor trick like that once in awhile.
Right from the start, their mentality is inverted from what is typical of them. And then Kate enters the picture and figuratively smashes them both together in the form of, well, herself. Kate is often pragmatic to a fault, and trusts others perhaps a little too easily than she should, but she’s serving as an excellent personification of what a more varied perspective looks like. Despite her snark, Kate seems to genuinely enjoy Luke and Jean-Paul’s company…even if her end goal for the evening has nothing to do with them. No, she chose the self-determined third option, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a form of immersion therapy or a giant middle finger. I’m more than okay with both.
The last panel is just perfect, and I’m not entirely talking about their expressions. It’s what they’re looking at. Luke’s looking down at his tablet, Jean-Paul is mostly looking straight ahead, but peaking at Kate since he’s might not have caught the joke (or perhaps a subtle nod to a certain monk we’re going to meet later in this issue), and Kate is ignoring the game entirely. This idea is expanded upon more thoroughly as we move through the rest of the issue, but I wanted to highlight the initial execution of it. It’s simply excellent.
Anyway, Nomoz, the guy who first showed up in the Sword of Azrael mini-series in the early 90s (I read a few things!), bleeds his way into the center of the stadium, and collapses. Luke blacks out the stadium, which doesn’t really help that much since this was broadcast live, and they high tail it outta there back to the Belfry.
…And All The Men And Women Merely Players
As a former theater student, I’m a little embarrassed that I actually had to go back and look through The Tempest again. Not that this particular excerpt isn’t rather self-explanatory, thanks to Basil’s astute summation of the subtext for those who haven’t read an insane amount of Shakespeare to the point where the dialog doesn’t require “translation”.
It’s very interesting that Basil and Cass chose to use this play, out of all the others, to practice. It’s a surprising level of meta that Tynion hasn’t quite brought into this book before. Sure, there’s been a lot of meta-narrative but not something that explicitly called attention to the fact that this is a work of fiction, which The Tempest focuses on in quite a few ways. It’s also curious to note that out of all of Shakespeare’s plays, this is the one that has the most specific stage directions. Sort of like, oh I dunno, panel descriptions?
Apparently, Cass and Basil have been practicing with that book he gave her during the League of Shadows arc, and since she still can’t read (is she not capable?) they’ve been relying on recordings and, possibly, mimicry. The subtext within the subtext here is that, thanks to the narrative device brought up in Detective Comics #950, Clayface is gonna be gone…at some point. Which is a major bummer, because his friendship with Cass is one of the sweetest and most endearing things about this book. And then there’s the other bit about how it could be pertaining to something immaterial, rather than an actual person, in regards to “letting go”. I dunno, it’s been awhile since I read The Tempest, but I think that’s most of it. Probably. Hopefully.
This sentimental moment is broken up by the rest of our heroes, sans Bruce, bringing Nomoz into the Belfry with a hovering dolley. Luke rigs him up to his “Batwing Scanners” (man he was not kidding about the branding) and, surprise, he should be super dead! Then again, everyone got impaled by the League of Shadows a little while ago, and they’re totally fine, so I dunno why he’s so surprised. Nomoz freaks out after he spots the Suit of Sorrows, and passes out after warning everyone of its danger. And Kate, forever the one to ask questions, gets dragged into yet another evil, obsessive cult. Except this time they don’t want her, they want Jean-Paul! So…that’s an improvement, I guess?
Turns out—well, okay, if you’ve read Batman and Robin Eternal you most likely know the broad strokes of this version of Jean-Paul Valley’s origin story, hence Cass’s reference to Mother, the child-soldier-creating supervillain of that story. Fun fact: Cass’s dad worked for Mother! Regardless if this is new to you, or an expansion on what you’ve already read, there’s one thing you can’t deny: it’s all about the merging of faith and science, and the attempt to erase human error from a person’s identity. Which, of course, is impossible. So they just tried doing it to a robot. Which, as you all saw, turned out splendidly. Just like Terminator!
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Hah, no. That’s what happens when you program religious fanaticism into a robot; it takes everything super literally and murders everyone. See? Faith and Pragmatism. Religion and Science. Murderous Robots and Fanatical Programming. All that good stuff. Nomoz goes on to explain that the new Azrael is named Ascalon, after the final battle of the First Crusade. Which is actually pretty fun.
S’thginot Renildeah: Annataz Arataz!
I’m gonna have so much fun with that for this arc. So, Bruce has been fretting over his schoolboy crush on someone from his mysterious past, who goes unnamed for the entire issue only to be revealed at the end. Which is…very silly, but then again this is also a story where a chaste monk ran all the way from Switzerland to Gotham City to do one thing, and one thing only. Okay, two things.
Ah, the benefits of reading a book penned by a queer author. Adorable, funny and tragic! But hey, at least the Penguin doesn’t make judgements or assumptions on his clientele anymore, apparently. How Kodo managed to get into the VIP table is beyond me, but he could have brought some Templar gold with him or something. Cobblepot would love that.
After Bruce is done scoping out the competition and dropping five-hundred grand on the opportunity to see this one lady he had a huge crush on in his early 20s (instead of like, calling her? With a phone?), some explosions happen and everyone freaks out. What follows is possibly the fastest turnaround of a Big Bad’s introduction to total defeat ever. Because why not, right?
Tada! It was Zatanna all along! You remember, Zatanna, right? The woman who mind-wiped Bruce with her backwards-speech spellcasting which was then retconned and replaced by Ra’s al Ghul doing the same thing which makes way more sense? Okay, but seriously, I honestly want this arc to be…silly. Our heroes just beat Shiva and stopped a bunch of White Supremacist expys from blowing up the entirety of Kane County with a nuclear earthquake, so topping that seems like a bad idea. If Zatanna’s one-hit-knockout is any indication, this arc is gonna be light and fun now that our team is firmly established and able to chill in their off-hours. And I’d love to see that: some good old fashioned Simone-Style Birds of Prey in-betweens.
Oh, right! In The Tempest, there’s a strange wind that blows by and makes everything weird every so often. And magic is weird, so that’s easy. That’s what Zatanna represents here, much like she represents the “Stranger Comes To Town”. You know, from that one quote about narratives by either Leo Tolstoy or John Gardner?
“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Leo Tolstoy/John Gardner(?)
Wait, I thought the other kind of story was “revenge”. Coulda sworn I read that in a playwriting book or something back in college. Oh well. It’s probably not important. But do you know what is important? The fact that I adore Zatanna. She is just the most fun. Even when she’s all dark and grim and hanging around Constantine too much she’s just the best. And also voiced by Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard, two of three spies from Totally Spies, Emma Emmerich, Naomi Hunter, Bastila Shan, Avatar Kyoshi…) in the DCAU!
This is gonna be a total blast from start to finish, you guys. I can already tell. And again, 10 does not mean perfect. As nothing is.
…feel like I’m forgetting something OH! RIGHT!
NEXT WEEK: BATWOMAN #4! Finally.
DETECTIVE COMICS #958
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Alvaro Martinez
Inks: Raul Fernandez
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Images courtesy of DC Comics