Detective Comics Vol. 8 is a thrilling narrative that captures the best Batman — and all of comics for that matter — has to offer. Save for the first issue in the series, the majority of the trade covers the On the Outside story arc, an introduction (and fleshing out) of the newest iteration of the Outsiders: Batman, Black Lightning, Orphan (Casandra Cain), The Signal, Oracle, and Katana. Kicking off the TPB is The Cursing of Gotham City, a one-shot issue steeped in the occult. The tone of the two story-arcs varies greatly, but therein lies a quality Batman has that few other protagonists can achieve: an ability to be thrust into varying genres while remaining true to the character, never feeling out of place.
Writer Michael Moreci takes readers for a deep dive into the DC’s world of dark magic with The Cursing of Gotham City! Batman is hot on the heels of a mystic cult that has kidnapped a young boy. The case leads him to the bowels of Gotham’s sewers. It is here that he comes face to face with the real source influencing the cult: Deacon Blackfire. Batman is no stranger to the world of mysticism, but the heart of the story lies in the paradigm Deacon presents. Gotham is a city cursed, doomed to perpetually remain in a state of decay, despite Batman’s best efforts. It is now time to “embrace the mayhem.” Batman’s stoicism is well known, but hope lingers still. I’ll refrain from revealing the issue’s climactic elements but will present this quote from Bruce: “All that’s ever mattered, is the call. The NEED for Batman. And I’ve answered that call every single time.”
A favorite personal aspect of comics is how well the artwork coincides with the story being presented on the page. Artist Sebastian Fiumara has a style that naturally blends in with murky storytelling; his work wouldn’t be out of place in a classic Tales from the Crypt pulp. The ink is heavy, and the shadowing is never far behind. He plays up the mysterious side of Batman, the legend of the symbol as opposed to the man. Audiences are rarely treated to a full shot of his face as if the hero and the darkness are the same. Moreci approaches the issue with first-person narrative boxes. It works well to showcase Batman’s internal struggle with the concept of a cursed city. Some of the dialogue is “hammy,” but regardless the issue is a solid example of presenting a full three arcs of the story with 22 pages of space.
The remainder of Detective Comics Vol. 8 encompasses the On the Outside arc. A new villain, Karma, has taken root in Gotham. His opening salvo is to murder a young boy proclaiming to be Batman’s biggest fan. The Signal is caught in the rogue’s crosshairs and is the first of the bat family’s casualties. The madman’s purpose quickly becomes abundantly clear: Batman is weaker for relying on his Teammates/sidekicks, and only Karma can free him of his feebleness. The villain adorns himself in a helmet that allows him to read the minds of others; their every thought, their memories, and their moves in combat. As Karma’s machinations continue, Bruce Wayne turns to Black Lightning to lead his young team of cohorts. Batman can train them, but Jefferson Pierce is more adept at making them a team, one that can act swiftly, outside of the public eye. The struggles to respond to Jefferson’s leadership while Batman takes to the streets alone to identify Karma. The narrative culminates in a massive showdown with all the parties involved; The Outsiders, Karma, and Batman himself. I’ll allow the reader the joy of taking in the story for themselves, but the five-issue run is worth reading.
The greatest strength of the On the Outside is a narrative with concurrent running themes. Does Batman’s reliance on others make him weaker? Should Batman be placing fledgling heroes in harm’s way? And is Batman an answer to the villains of Gotham, or does he create these unfortunate souls? Are the men and women closest to Batman at risk of becoming like him? None of these themes are wholly original but are explored in a new way. Besides, the arguments remain interesting, rehashing them seems apropos.
Karma is an interesting villain, yet almost predictably, the character has ties to the Batman’s past. However, the revelation doesn’t appear rote, but ties into the theme of Batman creating his enemies nicely. Karma isn’t an overpowered nemesis per se, but he does provide enough of a threat with his mind-reading abilities to be taken seriously. Also, the character is relentless. Human life is cannon fodder for his endgame.
Stylistically, the art is commendable. The shots used in the panels are almost cinematic. A first-person view from the perspective of a criminal behind a wheel of a car as Batman unleashes a torrent of throwing stars was a beautiful choice. Most notably is a splash page in issue #983. A collage of stills tells the heartbreaking story of Alfred nursing The Signal back to health; nine images brought together to reach the comic book equivalent of a film montage.
Detective Comics Vol. 8 is a surprisingly joyous entry into the Batman mythos, tapping into the best Gotham has to offer. Team-ups, a rich story with dominant themes, and what else, but Batman going into action makes Detective Comics Vol. 8 a TPB that should join your collection.