Rise of the Batmen demonstrates why Detective Comics has emerged as one of the most acclaimed books from DC’s Rebirth era.
When Batman discovers that a shadowy organization is targeting the vigilantes of Gotham City, he teams up with Batwoman to recruit and train a new generation of street level heroes: Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan and reformed villain Clayface. Working out of the Belfry, a high tech version of the Batcave in the heart of Gotham, the new team comes into conflict with the Colony, a secretive military organization modeled after the Dark Knight himself. The Colony is dedicated to fighting a threat that Batman insists (perhaps wrongly) isn’t real and the group’s leader is closer to the team than they realize. The Colony’s insane final ploy results in the tragic apparent death of a key team member, even as it links to the larger Rebirth mystery.
James Tynion IV has been one of DC’s up-and-coming writers for awhile, but with Detective Comics, he really takes his place on the publisher’s A List. Rise of the Batmen is a sterling combination of creative plotting and strong, intuitive character work. Tynion assembles a fascinating cast to play off of Batman, bringing out some very different shades of the Caped Crusader. The Batman/Batwoman relationship is particularly well-handled, the duo’s partnership allowing Tynion to explore different facets of each hero. Tynion infuses a lot of depth into the relationship by reviving the old Silver Age idea that Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane are cousins and demonstrates some respect for Kate’s intelligence by tipping that she’d figured out her cousin’s double life long before he chose to reveal it to her. That family dimension adds a lot of complexity to the group dynamic.
And this is a team book. Batman’s the star, but the other characters are crucial to Detective Comics. The spotlight on Batwoman has been so effective that it’s earned her a solo series again. Red Robin plays a key part of the proceedings and his relationships with Batman and Spoiler add a lot of emotional impact, especially at the arc’s climax. Orphan and Clayface don’t get as much time in the forefront, but Tynion finds creative ways to make use of the characters. The Colony is a fantastic creation and the way it recontextualizes an important supporting character shows off some of Tynion’s best ideas. If any book in the Rebirth line stands as DC’s flagship title, Tynion is making a good case that it’s Detective Comics.
Strong work from two art teams make Rise of the Batmen as interesting visually as it is narratively. The team of Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas switches off almost seamlessly with that of Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson. Each team has a similar style and approach, employing creative layouts and perspectives that move the action in dynamic, sometimes surprising ways. It’s clean, propulsive work that packs a lot of emotional expression and visual imagination. Colorists Lucas and Anderson do some especially nice work, making effective use of shadows and a chilly color palette to enhance the aura of inevitable tragedy that surrounds the story. There are several absolutely beautiful splash pages and some strongly choreographed action sequences that give the book a lush, cinematic feel. Of all of DC’s books on the twice-a-month schedule, Detective is doing one of the best jobs of integrating multiple artists for a consistent, harmonious visual presentation.
Prior knowledge isn’t really necessary to jump into Rise of the Batmen. If you have even the remotest interest in Batman, Detective Comics is all but mandatory reading.