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DETECTIVE COMICS #874
Author: John Bierly
February 26, 2011
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OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "There are some cases that come screaming back at you...like phone calls in the night."

For years, Jim Gordon has been haunted by the unsolved case of Gotham's notorious "Peter Pan Killer." Now, armed with new evidence, Gordon is determined to put the case to rest. But as he digs deeper, he'll unearth a shocking discovery about his own past a revelation that will shake him to the core. Skeletons will be exposed and secrets revealed in this special issue featuring art by Francesco Francavilla!

I'm sorry this review is a couple of days late. The stomach flu my digestive system has been dragging the rest of body through is heinous beyond imagining. And yet all of the shaking and sweating and shuddering I've been doing isn't nearly as horrific as the terrors crafted for Gotham's finest in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS #874. New writer Scott Snyder continues to be a keeper.

The original plan for Snyder's reign on this title was 22 pages of Dick Grayson as Batman (with art by Jock) followed by a Jim Gordon backup (with art by Francesco Francavilla) that would tie in narratively and thematically with the main story. DC's abrupt decision to "save" us a dollar an issue by clipping the entire backup PLUS two pages of the main story changed all that, with last month's Dick/Batman story comprising only 20 pages and no continuation of the Gordon backup in sight.

Therefore, #874 becomes sort of a catch-up issue to bring the two stories back in line, which is a shame, because the Gordon cliffhanger from a couple of issues ago was just a psychologically harrowing for Gordon as Dick's was dangerous physically.

But this isn't a situation like the recent troubles in STREETS OF GOTHAM, where the "backups" eclipsed (or even entirely replaced) the main story and the solicitations never matched the content.

Instead, we get sure, steady proof that a "backup" by the likes of Snyder and Francavilla is better reading than any other main event in comics right now (for my money, at least).

The nine pages of the Gordon story here are as tense, as deranged, and as shocking as you could imagine, which is saying a lot considering that nearly the entire tale takes place in a diner booth over a cup of coffee. Jim's prodigal son James has returned to Gotham City, with the young man seeking out his father to seemingly make amends for the perversions that have kept him away from his family.

No one can actually prove that James has done any of the things he's suspected of having done, but if his culpability is in doubt, his capability most certainly is not.

Everything about these pages will leave you feeling sick to your stomach, and I'm not just saying that because of my current condition. From the creepiness of Francavilla's deceptively simple lines to his color palette that smacks of spent Reese's wrappers and Pepto Bismol, everything is expertly crafted to keep you feeling off kilter. And despite the hot splashes of orange and pink, Francavilla makes Gordon grayer by the page. (You'd turn gray, too, if James Gordon was talking to you.)

The script is just as much a work of art. James's explanations of his "condition" are disturbingly perfect, as if he's reciting from a hidden medical textbook. And yet everything he says with his own words and thoughts does far more than simply hint at a mind that's tragically bent away from reality and morality.

And so we find ourselves in Gordon's shoes. We need to know what James is really capable of, and yet we really don't want to know at all.

A deliciously inspired ending turns the whole story upside down. Early on, James makes a "joke" to lighten his dad's mood, but Gordon can't take his mind off something he sees out of the corner of his eye that could bring a horrifying truth to James's jest. It infects every page. It gets us right in the heart and in the brain, making every second even more unbearable.

And when Gordon finally gets the chance to check it out, our minds and guts and souls are kicked just as hard as Gordon's.

This is a sick, sick, sick ending, and it's brilliant beyond my ability to describe without spoiling the whole thing. Sometimes an outcome is even scarier when it isn't what we expected.

Then we get nine pages of Batman (Grayson) and Red Robin on what should be a routine shakedown of some thieves on a boat. (Gotham's aviary has been busy lately, between James Gordon's visit and this band of heisters.) But what sets this story apart is Snyder's trademark understanding of character dynamics, with Tim taking the big brother mantle from Dick by warning him there's no way he's as cured of his recent exposure to The Dealer's fear toxin as he thinks he is. Dick knows Tim's correct but swings into action anyway, with nearly deadly results. Francavilla also does the art duties for this section, too, and his slightly off-kilter pencils perfectly capture both the sea-sickness of the locale and Dick's potential dementia. That sounds like an odd compliment, but I promise I'm saying it with the highest possible amount of praise. (The twentieth and final page is a splash of Gordon alone in his office, looking as beaten as I've ever seen him.)

I'll say the same thing here that I've said about every issue of Snyder's run so far -- this guy is the future of Batman in comics. I want to see how he writes Bruce, or how he writes the Joker. With equally adept grasps of character, mystery, and terror, Snyder is well on his way to making this one of the all-time finest runs in DETECTIVE's decades-long history.

GRADE: A

John Bierly still can't believe he
gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.

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