The Bat-family is in disarray.
James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics is almost over, but it’s not ending slowly. The last arc ended with a major twist that left the Bat-family shattered, and now Bruce is left trying to pick up the pieces. Danger may come from nearby rather than afar, as several of Batman’s allies are now joining forces with former foes. For this installment, Javier Fernandez is on art, John Kalisz provides colors, and Sal Cipriano letters. Does the creative team do a good job conveying the tense new state of the Bat-family and building suspense for this run’s final chapters?
This issue takes the time to focus at least a little bit on each member of the series’ cast, which I appreciate. I’m most thankful for the page-time spent on Orphan, whose mental health gets more attention here than it has in perhaps the entirety of Tynion’s tenure on the title. Bruce is forced to acknowledge that, as emotionally damaged as the rest of his allies are, none of them have a personal history quite like Orphan’s. We also get some analysis of how Tim Drake is doing now that he’s returned from his supposed death. It’s this character work, including some literal therapy sessions, that most impresses me in this issue.
Art-wise, this issue is solid. I’m mainly familiar with Fernandez through his stint on Nightwing, so it’s cool to see his takes on the rest of Gotham’s heroes. As per usual, some of Fernandez’s most highly detailed and aesthetically pleasing work arises when he’s illustrating architecture and large chunks of scenery. He also showcases a wide variety of panel layouts and page compositions, which I always like. In addition to this, he does a good job rendering Orphan’s facial expressions, making her portions of the story all the more poignant. Cipriano’s lettering is well-done, and Kalisz’s colors are solid as well. Kalisz does a particularly good job rendering shadows, and a lot of this issue looks very dark, which fits both the tone and Fernandez’s style well.
With all that said, I’m still not fully sold on this issue. The level of detail in Fernandez’s work is fairly inconsistent, especially when it comes to people. Some facial expressions, especially those of major characters at pivotal moments, are moderately to highly detailed. Others, though, look rushed in comparison and have little in the way of defining features. The flow of the action scenes could be a bit more thrilling as well. Narratively, the Batwoman scenes don’t convey a lot of new information or hold interest very effectively. It’s still too early in the arc for Kate and company to be making huge waves, but I still wish we’d gotten something more notable out of them this time around. That wish extends to the rest of the characters, albeit to a lesser degree. This issue doesn’t have a full, successful narrative arc of its own so much as it just feels like an interim issue.
Overall, Detective Comics #976 is a good issue. Each of the characters gets a small portion of the spotlight, and particular attention is paid to Tim and Orphan’s emotional states. With that said, the issue doesn’t have much of an internal narrative arc; it’s very clearly a transitional chapter. The visuals are similarly good but not fantastic. I would recommend this issue to anyone interested in keeping up with the Bat-family, but it’s not a must-read if you’re on a limited budget.