The Victim Syndicate solidifies Detective Comics as one of the most essential books of DC’s Rebirth era.

As Batman and his new team struggle to deal with the near-crippling loss from the first arc, the grotesque Victim Syndicate begins attacking Gotham City. Led by the mysterious First Victim, the group is composed of innocent bystanders whose lives were ruined in the crossfire of Batman’s fights with some of his most iconic foes. They contend that Batman and his allies are the real problem, and vow to only stop their attacks if Batman unmasks and agrees to give up his crusade. The Syndicate’s message hits especially hard with the devastated Spoiler, propelling her down an uncertain new road. The collection also includes a two-part spotlight on Batwoman, paving the way for her new ongoing series.

The Victim Syndicate demonstrates the strength of turning Detective Comics into an ensemble series with cousins Batman and Batwoman as the pivot. Writer James Tynion IV deploys his large and shifting cast in dynamic, thoughtful ways that create potent character drama as an effective counterpoint to the superhero action. The Victim Syndicate is a clever twist on the old question that’s laced through many classic Batman stories: does Batman’s mere presence create the menaces he fights? Tynion manages the tricky balancing act of creating some genuine sympathy for the Syndicate without excusing their crimes, working a thorny moral dilemma for both Batman and readers.

Tynion uses the ensemble quite well. Batwing joins as a regular and experiences some well-handled conflict with Batwoman. Tynion loops in familiar Gotham City faces like Leslie Thompkins, Renee Montoya, Harper Row (leaving her Bluebird costume at home) and Vicki Vale, making good use of the franchise’s deep bench. Clayface especially gets some effective moments in the spotlight, shedding more light on his role in the book and on Team Batman. But the heart of the arc belongs to the conflict between Batman and Spoiler and how Tynion effectively uses the long shadow of the absent Red Robin to logically propel both characters’ journeys. It’s strong, character-based storytelling firmly grounded in established histories and relationships and it’s one of the hallmarks that makes this iteration of Detective Comics stand out.

The art side of things is a bit harder to pin down. There is no bad work here; indeed, a lot of it is quite well-crafted, interesting and involving. The concern is that this seven-issue stretch required a team of fourteen pencilers, inkers and colorists, working in various combinations, to produce one five-part arc and an additional two-part character focus. Except for the Batwoman spotlight, the art team changed every issue. It’s easy to appreciate each individual installment, but in collected format, the differences among the approaches of each primary artist are noticeable enough to be a distraction.

That’s hardly a fatal flaw when the work is from talented pros. But it speaks to the bigger issues DC is facing in producing books on a twice monthly schedule. Especially with a book like Detective Comics, positioned as one of the Rebirth flagships, it’s imperative that DC find some way to better manage production to minimize these kinds of tonal shifts within an arc.

But don’t let that deter you. The Victim Syndicate is an absorbing, propulsive read that will leave you eager for the next arc.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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