Detective Comics #1 (2011) (DC Comics)
When superhero comics artists decide to become superhero comics writers it can go one of three ways. One is that they’re good at it. The second is that they decide to be “writerly” and you get flowery stuff like the old Todd McFarlane Spider-Man comics. The third is that they write impatiently, wanting the words to get out of fun’s way.
I have never minded this. If a superhero comic feels like the crude overheated frenzy of kids playing with action figures it’s surely doing something right or at least seems well-pitched to appeal to said kids. I got that feeling from Detective Comics #1, written and drawn by Tony Daniel. The dialogue is all foreshortened, bare minimum stuff – even his Joker is tersely mad, never witty. If you’re a 10-year old boy playing Batman you don’t fuck around with “plot” or “set-up”, you have Batman fight The Joker and then after that you have Batman fight The Joker.
So this is what Tony Daniel does. There is lots of fighting, stabbing, exploding, a dude gets his face cut off (would be spoilers to say which dude) – the face cutty offy bit might have been played as creepy (maybe was meant to) but the stacatto speech patterns make it all “WHOA HAVE YOU SEEN THIS??”, total playground pass-around contraband, the best example of Tony Daniel’s inadvertent mainline to the pre-adolescent male mind.
And something else, something I noticed first (and only) time through though it took a while to pin it down, the most genuinely unusual thing about the entire comic which can be summed up as: No hookers! One of the things that makes “mature” “urban” superhero comics such an embarrassment to read is the constant drooling trope of sex workers in peril. Putting a hooker – threatened or otherwise – into your street scene serves a multitude of purposes viz: i. shows setting is sleazy ii. shows comic is not for kids iii. ready source of victims for badass villain iv. lets artist draw girls v. expands artist’s mind: they get to trace from Suicide Girls as well as Sports Illustrated. Even my favourite writers are prone to lazy hooker scenes (when Grant Morrison was writing Batman there were a couple of crappy ones, of course it was a “commentary” on 90s comics you understand) and as thousands have noted the constant threat of violence against women is a depressing thrum-thrum-thrum undercurrent in most gritty superhero comics since the 80s.
But Tony Daniel doesn’t do that. I’ve not read his other stuff, I’ve not read his future stuff, and yes this is a very violent comic but the onscreen violence in it is something super-bros do to other super-bros: it doesn’t come off as misogynistic, more afeminine in that boyish “ew girls!” way – the only incursion of women at all is a scene where Bruce outsources management of his love life to Alfred, and it’s made clear he’s being a dick but also there’s an undercurrent of sympathy from the writer: he TOO wants to get all this CHARACTER SHIT out of the way so he can get more quickly to the DUDE ON DUDE FACE REMOVAL.
Let me be clear that I am not a 10-year-old boy and as such I thought this was a rubbish comic in many ways – there are a couple of very funny bits in which T Daniel suddenly remembers that he is writing DETECTIVE COMICS not No Face Comics so Batman’s internal monologue goes into criminology powerpoint slide mode as he does some DETECTING. But it was weirdly refreshing NOT to have to read about women being threatened, killed, assaulted etc in a story which 9 times out of 10 would have tripped merrily down that road without a second thought.
(Originally posted on my Tumblr)