Batman: Detective Comics Volume 1: Faces of Death (DC Comics, $24.99)

Tony S. Daniel (w/a) with inkers Sandu Florea, Ryan Winn and Rob Hunter

After the first volume of The New 52 Batman blew me away, I instantly pre-ordered the first volume of The New 52 Detective Comics. I suppose I set my expectations too high, because I was disappointed.

I suppose that's in part because "Court of Owls" in Batman is something of an epic, a single, gigantic story running 11 issues building to a crescendo. Detective, on the other hand, has at least three stories in its first volume, with only one wrapping up fairly neatly (if you ignore a last panel tease). 

But stories not ending isn't a problem; after all, I was quite enthusiastic about Batman Volume 1,despite it ending with four issues to go before the climax. Something else about this book left me cold.

Not that it's awful or anything. Daniel does an excellent Batman (although I prefer Batman's Greg Capullo's and Dark Knight's David Finch). And the third story, a two-parter with various nefarious factions up to no good at The Penguin's floating Iceberg nightclub, is a nice, tightly plotted crime caper. (And, for a change, Penguin gets to do something besides getting beaten up by Batman for information.) It's Ocean's 11, with a guy in a Bat-suit spoiling the party.

And the first story introduces a new villain who seems a good addition to Batman's rogue's gallery. The Dollmaker is appropriately crazy and creepy; he (and his children) are straight out of Silence of the Lambs, wearing masks and suits made from the skin of their victims. Batman also figures out a connection between Dollmaker and Commissioner Gordon, that adds an element of personal animosity that's chilling.

But, otherwise, I'm afraid the writing feels a bit amateurish. For example, the first story introduces a new business colleague named Hugh Marder, who is quite the character -- and therefore has "future villain" written all over him. And there's a new girlfriend for Bruce Wayne who is another nosy investigative reporter in the Vicki Vale/Lois Lane mode -- not only a cliche, but a cliche from another era, as investigative reporters are a vanishing breed in today's media world. Not only that, but the reporter -- Charlotte Rivers by name -- turns out to have a twin sister separated by birth! And not only that, she's a criminal! And not only that, both girls are daughters of the mayor! I'm sorry, but piling cliche on top of cliche doesn't make any of them fresh.

Also, the first issue ends with a shocking cliffhanger that I won't spoil, although I'm sure everyone reading this is aware of it. Suffice to say, it involves The Joker and Dollmaker. That cliffhanger, which you expect to be resolved in the next issue, isn't -- in fact, it never is. Perhaps it will be in the second volume, but honestly, it feels a bit like bait and switch. Aside from the reporter girlfriend, none of the elements in the first story -- the new business colleague, Dollmaker, Dollmaker's children, The Joker, etc. -- continue beyond issue #5, as if Daniel just forgot about them. That would be fine if issue #5 gave us some sort of resolution, but it doesn't. Virtually every aspect of it is "to be continued," and is ignored for at least two more issues, which is dissatisfying. 

In summary, Faces of Death isn't bad. It's pretty good Batman, and pretty good Batman is often better than most other comics. But it's not great Batman, and doesn't compare well with what Scott Snyder is doing over in Batman. I hold out hope that Detective Vol. 2 will correct some of Daniel's storytelling errors, but if it doesn't, I might be dropping a book from my Amazon list.

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I kept up with Detective more than I did Batman at the beginning, though I am reading both now. The Dollmaker and his morbid troop did remind me of the Rag Doll and his warped family from Secret Six.

I liked the Penguin as a criminal mastermind more than a crooked nightclub owner.

Between the reporter here and Catwoman in her own title, Bruce/Batman is getting the most action in the DCnU! ;-)

Even though nothing has come from it yet, the cliffhanger of #1 is the best of the year!!

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