This post on Batman Detective Comics #962 is brought to you by Downtown Comics, Indianapolis’ largest comic book shop! They love to nerd out just like us at Pure Fandom. Head to their website for deals and updates on your favorite comics, swag, and more!
Speaking as a child of the 90’s, the primary reason I’m reviewing this issue is the cover. There we see Jean-Paul Valley, the anti-hero who once held the mantle of Batman. Clad in the bulky, clawed armor he used in the 90’s, here the erstwhile Azrael is the focal point of a bombastic issue.
Writer James Tynion IV, penciler Alvaro Martinez, inker Raul Fernandez, and colorist Brad Anderson craft the conclusion of the Intelligence story-line with an eye toward the future. As the Batman family grows in number (even Clayface has a spot on the team now) it seems a challenge to give these characters their due. However, Tynion and company don’t disappoint as the action, tragedy, and hope fall into place seamlessly.
Jumping into a story-arc midstream, or in this case at the end of the stream, can be jarring. Fortunately author James Tynion IV has enough fun in these pages to make that concern an afterthought. Batman himself takes a bit of a backseat this issue, but as the paragon of justice for all the characters in his orbit, he’s no less important.
Tynion conveys this brilliantly in the opening pages; both in dialogue and in a plot device concept. The central conflict is brought about by the order of St. Dumas, the ancient cult of assassins that brainwashed Jean-Paul into believing he is Azrael, angel of death. He’s been an on again off again ally every since due to the mental programming, but this arc welcomes a new threat – his brother Ascalon.
To combat him and the resurfaced programming in Jean-Paul, Batman and the team upload a Batman AI into his brain designed by their tech guru Lucas. In some of the best dialogue of the issue, Jean-Paul responds with an “are you okay?” in the most bad ass way possible:
“You aren’t asking if I’m okay, Lucas. You are asking if I can fight. I am angrier than I have been in my entire life, and I am sharing my mind with one murderous AI, and another modeled off the world’s most dangerous vigilante. Yes, Lucas. I am ready to fight.”
Things pick up substantially from there, with great fight banter for Clayface, Batman, and Zatanna (magic stuff), all leading to the big bout between Jean-Paul and Ascalon. The pacing is exquisite in getting us there, but it wraps up a little hastily thanks to Zatanna’s sphere of magic McGuffin that shows Ascalon the error of his ways.
Still, to see bad ass clawed Batman back in action is a delight unto itself, which is why the art team deserves as much acclaim as the storyteller.
Part of a good conclusion to an epic story arc is a serious action payoff. Thankfully, this issue doesn’t hold back in the slightest. Right from the start we get a wide splash page of Clayface taking on Ascalon, followed right away by Batman and Zatanna knocking out additional murder-drones.
As previously mentioned though, the real star of the show is the Azrael v. Ascalon fight:
Not since his epic take-down of Bane in the clawed-suit’s first appearance has Jean-Paul looked so cool. The art team knows this and includes all the pointy gadgetry from yesteryear. At its inception this version of Batman received some deserved flack, but those issues are rectified here. No longer over-muscled or disproportioned, the new suit is more striking than laughable.
Careful line-work and expert character design avoid the overly burly look Jean-Paul once had, focusing on the intensity and brutality of his suit. Same goes for his fighting style, which even when broken down into panels delivers hard hitting moments.
At issue’s end a major reveal happens, but I won’t spoil it here. Proving yet again that Rebirth is bringing the best aspects of its heroes forward, DC has a great team on Detective Comics. Get to Downtown Comics today for your copy!