COMIC BOOK REVIEW

DETECTIVE #840


Author: John Bierly
Friday, January 11, 2008

From DC COMICS: "Fan favorite artist Dustin Nguyen (SUPERMAN/BATMAN) joins Paul Dini on DETECTIVE COMICS as new regular penciler! Still haunted by the specter of Ra's Al Ghul, Batman returns to Gotham to face a new threat in the form of The Globe, a map-obsessed mastermind who charts his crimes with deadly accuracy."

When I put down issue #839 of DETECTIVE COMICS, I thought to myself, "Whew, at least this Ra's Al Ghul silliness is going to be over for a while, and Paul Dini can get back to telling fun Batman stories."

And then I saw Ra's Al Ghul and his ninjas on the cover of #840 and thought, "Uh-oh."

And while the issue has its issues, for the most part I found myself wishing that the entire crossover had been as focused, as well-written, and as supremely bad-ass as this single-issue epilogue turned out to be.

First, I'd like to talk about the art of Dustin Nguyen. I know he's got his detractors who feel there's something a little bit off about his art, but I've always been a huge fan of his work. (I particularly loved his stuff in the recent SUPERMAN/BATMAN story arc written by Dini's fellow animation man Alan Burnett; Nguyen's art was really cinematic, and I liked how his Superman looked like Brandon Routh, who I enjoyed as Superman despite the story issues I had with SUPERMAN RETURNS.)

The best way I can describe Nguyen's art is that it reminds me of Mike Mignola's work on HELLBOY, but anchored a little more in the colorful world of superheroes. If you haven't read the classic DC Comics miniseries COSMIC ODYSSEY, please do so. Mignola did the artwork for that, and it's very beautiful and unique. (Not to mention the fact that Batman plays an awesome role in it.) I feel the same way about Dustin Nguyen's stuff. There's something oddly beautiful and imperfect about it, which in turn makes it its own kind of perfect. And like Mignola, Nguyen draws the utility belt HUGE, which looks really cool.

And what an opening page! Batman looks like he's stepping right out of the blackness of the Milky Way galaxy itself, surrounded by darkness and ... planets? But on the second page we find out he's in what looks to be a museum as he continues to do mental homework about the modus operandi of his latest villain: Hammond Carter, aka "The Globe."

And this "museum" just happens to be The Globe's private lair. Batman's internal monologue tells us that The Globe has come to Gotham and, as The Dark Knight reflects with typical Batman bad-assery, "That puts him directly on my map."

Batman barely has time to wonder just how unprotected The Globe's stolen gallery of ancient charts and globes really is before he's trapped in the deadly grasp of The Globe himself, a well-dressed behemoth of a man who's a classic Batman: The Animated Series-style villain if I've ever seen one. So far, this issue is tons of fun.

The fight spills into page four, with Batman giving it as well as he's getting it. The Globe even talks like a classic villain: "You'll forgive me a poor joke when I say I'm going to wipe you off the map!"

"No, I don't think I will," Batman replies.

He lets his boot do the rest of the talking, sending The Globe flopping into one of his stolen treasures.

And then a voice from the shadows: "A magnificent display, Detective ..."

And here we finally see the resurrected Ra's Al Ghul, surrounded by his ninja servants from the League of Assassins.

It's also worth noting here that we finally know what the resurrected Ra's looks like, after the two different artists in the last issue of DETECTIVE drew him two entirely different ways. (And I like the look. Ra's jumped into the body of his son, Dusan, who was known in his own life as White Ghost due to the albinism that made his skin white and his eyes pink. It's unique.)

At the bottom of page five, Ra's thanks Batman for doing the dirty work by finding The Globe's lair and therefore, unbeknownst to Batman, liberating a globe that had once belonged to Ra's himself.

Indiana Jones would be proud of Batman's reply: "It belongs to the British museum." Awesome.

And then Dini cranks up the awesome even more at the top of page six. "Actually, no," Ra's says. "I was the one who leaked its probable whereabouts through the Gotham underworld, knowing you would not pass up an opportunity to apprehend Carter. Here is my receipt, signed by Peter Carl Faberge himself, for its creation in St. Petersburg, 1901."

And with a snap of Ra's Al Ghul's fingers, one of his ninjas holds up a receipt on old, weathered paper.

Ninja accountants? Awesome! I need to find that guy to do my taxes.

Advantage: Ra's Al Ghul.

Ra's asks for his globe back. Batman nonchalantly drops it -- which seems a bit out of character -- and one of the ninjas barely catches it before it breaks on the floor. Ra's berates Batman for being so careless with such a priceless artifact, and goes on to explain and show off how the globe can be opened to reveal the locations of all the world's Lazarus Pits, which have kept Ra's alive down through the centuries.

And that's when Batman plays his own hand. "I figured if I treated the globe like garbage, you couldn't resist gloating over its real value," Batman says, snapping a photo of the open globe with a camera hidden in his suit. "I'll study the photos at my leisure."

Advantage: BATMAN!

Ra's whines for a bit about how Batman separated him from his daughter, Talia, and his grandson, Damian, who's the son of Talia and The Dark Knight. He also complains about being trapped in the "imperfect shell" of his new body, though Batman reminds him that he's got no one to blame for his troubles but himself.

And then Ra's lays down the new status quo: "Any pretense of civility between us is now extinguished. Thus I have decided to establish a new base of operations ... here in Gotham. I'm afraid given the circumstances, you'll find I make a poor neighbor."

The ninjas raise their swords.

"Kill him."

Their efforts are strong, but Batman is stronger. The Globe comes back to consciousness just in time to be tossed at some ninjas, just as Batman grapple-guns himself up to the roof to give himself more room to bring the pain. Even more ninjas are waiting for him, but Dustin Nguyen's efficient pencils effectively show us once again why Batman is the best fighter on the planet.

With the ninjas beaten and Ra's missing, Batman heads back to the Batmobile. "I thought that taking down The Globe would be relatively easy," he thinks to himself, "so I took no special precautions to disguise the car. If Ra's was looking for it, he could easily have found it."

Batman triggers the remote ignition link in his belt, and the gorgeously drawn Batmobile explodes just as he knew it would.

This next bit is fun, it not a bit indulgent on Dini's part. Batman breaks into a department store, steals some clothes, stuffs his Batman gear into a suitcase and grabs a ride with a cab driver who thinks it's super-cool that he's giving a ride to Bruce Wayne.

While I'm sure Batman's got motorcycles and other means of transportation hidden around the city, it's a fun scene to lighten the mood.

Which is good, because the issue's going to get a hell of a lot darker before it's over.

In the Batcave, Alfred tells Bruce he's made arrangements to send the store some untraceable cash to cover the clothes Bruce stole for his escape. "That will generously cover the broken window," Alfred says, "and the frankly dreadful resort-wear."

Alfred also wonders aloud what Bruce is already thinking. How can Batman continue his war on crime when Ra's and his ninjas will be there to disrupt the mission every night?

There's another bit of really smart writing on Dini's part, as Bruce and Alfred theorize that Ra's's new boldness might come from some lingering bit of Dusan's subconscious still left in his body that Ra's now inhabits, and how such a lingering bit of Dusan might be pushing Ra's even harder. "From what I've pieced together about White Ghost," Bruce explains, "his albinism marked him as an inferior in the demanding eyes of Ra's Al Ghul. Killing his father's greatest enemy would mean White Ghost's redemption -- whether Ra's consciously recognizes it or not. As cathartic as that might be for him, I have a serious problem with that."

And as serious as that syringe filled with glowing green goop in Bruce's hand looks, I think it's safe to say he's got a plan.

That night, Batman tracks Ra's to his new hideout, which Batman found in much the same way as Ra's originally deduced that Batman was Bruce Wayne. Follow the money!

I love how wicked that shot of Batman is, as he crawls over the ledge with his cape already dripping over its edge.

He wastes no time savagely kicking Ra's through a door. Ra's yells for help, but Batman has already taken out his backup. I love it when Ra's looks at the security monitors to see unconscious ninjas sprawled out all over every corner of the building. Brilliant. (The samurai armor in the background is also a nice artistic touch.)

We've had way to many Ra's/Batman swordfights lately, so Dini and Nguyen make this match a hand-to-hand affair. Nguyen's art is cool and fluid, and he really captures both the moves and the intensity -- both in body and face -- of the combatants.

The war of words is just as harsh. I love Batman's line about how Ra's's family issues are even messier than his own, while Ra's laments that he's sickened by thought of Batman's insolent blood soiling the veins of little Damian.

But Batman's quick with the comeback. "A child you would gladly sacrifice it if meant prolonging your miserable existence five more minutes! 'The way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.' Another quote from your hero Musashi, but time and again you've made him a liar."

Awesome! I love the Eastern philosophies, and Dini's writing here couldn't be sharper.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any more brutal, Batman pulls Ra's's bleeding face up close to his own and says, "It's over, Ra's. Forever. And I'd be the liar if I said I haven't looked forward to it."

And with that, Batman kicks Ra's's beaten, immortal husk out of the extremely high-story skyscraper window.

But then it gets even harsher!

The story ends with Bruce Wayne, disguised as an Arkham guard, wheeling Ra's into Arkham Asylum and making up a story (complete with perfectly faked paperwork) about how he's a murderer suffering from multiple personalities, including one that thinks it's "the billionaire leader of a cabal of international assassins." Ha!

The doctor tells Bruce to wheel Ra's down to the solitary unit. Bruce's inner monologue tells us that the medication he's set up for Ra's will keep him drugged to the point of slurred speech and zero mobility. Bruce also knows how twisted it is, but also reminds himself that rules never did apply to Ra's.

And so he leaves him there to rot in the dark depths of Arkham ... forever.

The classic line as Batman swings away into the night? "Welcome to Gotham."

What an awesome issue. We got to see Batman the Detective, Batman the Strategist, Batman the Martial Artist, and Batman the Ultimate Bad-Ass.

As I said earlier, this issue accomplished in 22 pages what the multi-issue crossover that preceded it failed to do. But is also renders the crossover even more useless than it already was because a) each of its pages was more awesome than the entire crossover and b) the crossover has already been rendered moot because Ra's has already been soundly defeated by Batman.

I know, I know. He won't be in Arkham long. And at least Talia and Damian, wherever they are, will actually be left alone now as they try to figure out where to go next. Will their paths cross Batman's again? Certainly. And just as certainly, Ra's Al Ghul will be waiting.

What do you think? Was Ra's's fate too cruel or too harsh? I couldn't believe it as I was reading it. But I also know it was the most bad-ass issue of a Batman book that I've read in a very long time, and I'm more energized than ever for the rest of Paul Dini's run on this title. A warm welcome, too, to Dustin Nguyen for his cool, unique artwork.

More to come.

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications as a teenager and never stopped.
His interests include family and friends, burgers, concerts, Mountain Dew and, of course, Batman.
His favorite movies are
BATMAN BEGINS and Rushmore, and he's very happy that Maggie Gyllenhaal is going to be in THE DARK KNIGHT.
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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