Robb Ghag reviews Detective Comics #19…
So this issue would have been the 900th issue of Detective Comics. It seemed a little nostalgic that while DC have rebooted the universe they still paid homage to the old issues, and remembered something as monumental as the 900th issue of Detective Comics with an 80-page spectacular containing a fold out cover by Jason Fabok showing a bloody and battle torn Batman with an army of Man-Bats descending upon him.
The main story continues where we left off from the latest Penguin storyline, as the newly self appointed Emperor Penguin has presumably released the Man-Bat serum in some way and infected the populace. The story takes place in the 900th block of Gotham, again paying homage to a historic milestone in Batman’s history. Also appropriate as the story is called ‘The 900’. John Layman takes us on a pandemic journey throughout Gotham where the Langstrom Man-Bat serum has become airborne, infected the 900 block and is quickly spreading.
There is some bone chilling artwork by Fabok as an infected mother and child enter a pharmacy looking for medicine (essentially a cure for the Man-Bat virus) and they turn to the pharmacist, and are both changed with giant fangs and dead blue eyes. Follow that with the double splash page of Batman entering the 900 from the sky, dropping from the Batwing and using a sonic weapon to disrupt the Man-Bats’ attacks. Again, Fabok outdoes himself with his artwork and this is possibly one of the best issues he’s drawn. As Batman battles the Man Bats he is of course trying to save everyone with finding out how all of these people have transformed and then cure them. Another great double splash page follows as Batman is communicating with Alfred in the Batcave and analyzing DNA samples remotely.
We still see some fallout from the Death of the Family storyline as Alfred advises Batman to get some help from the Bat “Family”. However, he’s tried to get Nightwing and Batgirl to help, but they’ve become unresponsive after the events of recent Batman issues. As the Dark Knight enters the 900 block where the source of the virus emanated we reconnect with Victor Zsasz who was instrumental in getting Penguin thrown in jail and allowing Emperor Penguin to ascend up the crime family food chain. This is a different Victor Zsasz though, as he has also been transformed into a Man-Bat, still adorned with the body count scars on his skin (again, excellently drawn by Fabok). As the dust settles after the brief skirmish between Batman and Zsasz, Batwoman shows up to make a special cameo (possibly foreshadowing that she’ll become one of his more trusted allies as she wasn’t really involved in the Death in the Family storyline).
Batwoman brings Kirk and Francine Langstrom to Batman where they claim their responsible for this outbreak. Batman has since synthesized a cure which needs to be mass produced and dispersed to the masses in order to cure everyone in Gotham. This is where the story took a weird turn for me as Langstrom injects himself with the cure turning himself into a Man-Bat; somehow the injection of the cure into his own body releases another strain of Man-Bat toxin into the air catered specifically to his DNA. In doing this it overrides the previous pathogen and only infects Langstrom turning him into the one and only Man-Bat. As Gotham is restored to normalcy (or as normal as things can get in Gotham), Zsasz is back in custody and tells Batman of the Emperor Penguin. The last panel shows Emperor Penguin holding onto a frightened Poison Ivy, claiming he is recalling the favor she owes him.
This book doesn’t stop there; the next bonus story (again written by John Layman and illustrated by Andy Clarke) is called ‘Birth of the Family’ and again stars Kirk Langstrom. This story is told from Francine Langstrom’s POV as she recalls the history of her and Kirk’s relationship, from their introduction through to their wedding, and more importantly the creation of the Man-bat serum, and the ultimate transformation we’ve just read about with Kirk Langstrom. Francine, possibly out of love possibly out of delusion ends the story by taking the serum herself in the attempt to rescue her husband. The story ends with the tagline “A Beginning…”
Next up is a double splash page drawn by Alex Maleev and Nathan Fairbairn, and then a splash page drawn by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse. These are amazing bonus pages celebrating Batman’s 900th issue.
The third bonus story stars Bane. For those who read the ‘Court of Owls’ storyline or more importantly the ‘Night of Owls’ storyline, you’ll notice many villains were absent during the Talons’ attack on Gotham. This story takes Bane and shows the introduction of one of Gotham’s oldest villains to the (not so new) group of Talons. Bane is holding court with his group of “super Venom soldiers” and introduces them to the Court of Owls. Prior to the Night of Owls, the Talons were ordered to stop Bane from attacking Gotham and were successful. As the story continues we flash forward to the next battle between Bane and Batman where Bane is promptly defeated, but met by a shadowy figure representing the Court of Owls. Telling Bane who the real threat of Gotham is and always has been throughout the history of Gotham, the figure leaves giving Bane one of the Owl masks claiming, this is Gotham’s larger threat to his plans. Bane’s encounter with the court continues in Talon #7.
We’re then treated to some more additional artwork by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn, and another by Jason Fabok and Emilio Lopez. Some of the bonus artwork is stunning and is a definite added feature to this 80-page book.
The fourth story ties back to ‘The 900’ as the Man-Bat virus is still airborne and some of Gotham’s lower class citizens are using this opportunity to do what they do best: rob Gotham blind. Mr. Combustible and his henchmen clear out a few jeweler;s stores while the city is overrun by Man-Bats. The story is told in retrospect as Mr. Combustible is relaying all the recent events of Gotham to Penguin who is still incarcerated in Blackgate prison. All of Penguin;s former henchman have sworn fealty to Emperor Penguin and made him a very rich man (even richer). However, they all fear when Emperor Penguin has ascended to power, he’ll rightly dispose of them. The story is pretty straight forward as the ultimate goal is to get Penguin sprung from Blackgate, presumably for the ultimate showdown between Penguin and Emperor Penguin.
And still one more story, again retelling some of the events just recently transpired from ‘The 900’ storyline. A group of Gotham’s finest visit an inured officer, Melendez, who was changed during the virus outbreak. Some of the officers are torn over the presence of the Batman, and as other officers speak up, more and more it’s clear GCPD (or at least the officers on the front line) think Batman is causing more harm then doing “good”. This has always been a controversial debate when you think of the vigilantism of Batman’s actions in complete opposite to the law enforcement officers of Gotham. However, at least two of the officers including the injured Melendez feel Batman is a force for good, and will always be there to watch their backs.
The last bonus artwork page by Dustin Nguyen is fantastic; it can also be found in Dustin Nguyen’s sketchbook, but it’s a great way to end the book.
All in this entire book is packed with stories, artwork and then even more stories. A proper salute to a super hero’s 900th issue.
Robb Ghag works for an Arts & Entertainment Brokerage in Toronto Canada. An Animation and Film school graduate, he specializes in Risk Management of Animation and VFX studios throughout North America.