Detective Comics #19 aka Detective Comics #900 review

Had DC's New 52 rebranding not come along, this month would see the publication of Detective Comics #900. While we don't get that, we do get the reborn Detective Comics #19 marking the occasion with a giant-size issue and a story entitled The 900. The title refers to the residents of a Gotham city block who are worst affected when a mysterious plague starts turning people into human bats - Man-Bats. Batman has never seen the like.

What's that, you say? Gotham was hit by Man-Bats only recently in Batman Incorporated? And original Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom has been a friend of Batman for years?

Not anymore. Despite Batman's continuity having shifted almost wholesale over from the pre-Flashpoint days, we now learn that the many Man-Bat stories never happened. Batman is here introduced to Kirk and wife Francine by guest star Batwoman, who's come across them as she battled the new breed of bat.

As for the Batman Inc Man-Bats, they're referenced in such a way as to make me suspect writer John Layman could have done without them showing up across the hall - who wants to show off their new outfit when someone's already wearing it?

As an Olde-Time fan, I'm disappointed that Batman's suddenly lost a big chunk of history. Trying to see things from the point of view of newer readers, though, why shouldn't they have the same thrill of meeting Man-Bat that I once had. I saw Man-Bat debut in Detective Comics #400 - or at least, in a reprint thereof a few years later - and younger fans see him born anew in, to all intents and purposes, Detective Comics #900.

He's not so scary-looking these days, his visage less ratty and more like a Chinese carnival mask. Less horrific, I'd say, but the art of Jason Fabok overall is a treat to look at, especially when he cuts loose with spreads and splashes of the city, Batcave and biting bat-people; the images really bring Layman's story to life. The script is competent, but never catches fire. Batman isn't terribly impressive here, as Alfred does all the detective work and the day is saved by Langstrom. There's a clear message that while Batman thinks he's the only one who can sort things out, it's just not true. This is compounded by a scene showing Batgirl and Nightwing ignoring his entreaties to team up with him - Batgirl fights the Man-Bats alone, while Nightwing rides away from Gotham. It's actually pretty unbelievable that these two wouldn't put the (stupid) falling out in the pages of Batman aside for the greater good of Gotham, and I couldn't ever see Nightwing not helping at all. But Layman is apparently a gentleman, diluting his own tale to service not only the Batman title, but Nightwing, where Dick is about to relocate to Chicago.

Hey ho, overall this is a decent lead tale, not just reintroducing Man-Bat but incorporating one of the most chilling Batman villains and igniting a major storyline featuring the newest kingpin on the Gotham block. But that's enough Man-Bats, eh? Let's see what this issue's bonus shorts have to offer.

Dang. More Man Bats. There's Mrs Langstrom - her traditional appearance supplanted by a Barbara Gordon makeover - reminiscing about Kirk and their work before making a bad decision; Mr Combustible and other small-time masks rampaging through Gotham as Batman is distracted by the Man-Bats; and members of the GCPD sharing opinions on Batman in the aftermath of the attack. All written by Layman, and drawn by Andy Clarke, Henrik Jonsson and Jason Masters respectively, the stories are again, decent without ever taking off. Layman and Clarke do, though, conjure up my favourite image of the issue in the rather disturbing Man-Batlets.

And then there's a short starring Bane, setting up his upcoming storyline in the Talon book. With script by that comic's regular writer, James Tynion IV, and art by Mikel Janin, it's probably all right if you like that kind of thing. I don't, which is why I don't buy Talon - this is nothing more than cross advertising I'd rather not be paying to read.

The 80-pager - at $7.99 for around 70pp of story and art it's not a bad deal - is rounded out by a series of pin-ups, with my favourites being those by Dustin Nguyen and Cameron Stewart. The gatefold cover by Fabok and colourist Jeromy Cox is really rather nice too, part of the DC promotion previously known as WTF? Month, before wiser heads prevailed.

While not a bad comic, what this book lacks is a done-in-one, iconic offering showing why Batman has survived into his eighth decade. Instead we get a regular Batman title, only bigger.


  1. As someone who is regularly following John Layman's run on Detective Comics, I enjoyed this comic. Felt more like an annual than an anniversary issue though, but still good. I guarantee you that if you were following this comic, a lot of this stuff would be better.

    Having read Chew, Layman likes playing the long game and always likes supplanting little elements, characters, and ideas into his story because they'll end up playing an important role later on. Detective Comics isn't doing this as much as Chew does, but their certainly lots of things going on here and that I'm quite eager to see come back later.

    As for the Talon story, the little story was good. I'm currently reading it and it is quite shocking just who good it is as a spin off. The characters are good, the villains are threatening, the action is solid, and best of all, the comic keeps getting better. I'm serious, you see a writing evolution going on as the comic progresses. Issue 1 and 2 can be described as Snyder Lite, but as of these past two issues, it's like night and day.

    1. Hi IG, you certainly make a good case for giving Talon a try, but my word, those Owls fail to interest me. And I hate Bane, only ever finding him tolerable in neutered form (mostly) in Secret Six.

      I've tried a few issues of Layman and Fabok's Detective and enjoyed them, so I recognise Ogilvy and a few plot points. I may well swap over from Batman once the next decade-long story starts there.

  2. I was curious about this one as an anniversary issue, but at the end of the day decided to give it a pass. Sad to see the treatment of Nightwing, here -- wouldn't it have been easier (and less damaging to his character) to just say that he was already in Chicago by the time this happened?

    1. A lot easier, Rob - his cameo serves only to allow Editorial to plug his book's new direction. You've not missed anything amazing by passing - this isn't up there with previos Tec anniveraries, such as #500, #526 and (#598-)600.

  3. Okay lead story but not Layman's finest. I thought the wrap up was very unsatisfying.

    However, the story was seriously hamstrung by the Batman Inc use of Man Bats for the past however many years. Wouldn't it be better if DC just follows Grant Morrison's lead here and accept that Batman Inc belongs in a different continuity to everything else?

    1. Spot on, Krusty. But it could be that the story was sent to press on a day Batman Inc was in continuity ... I suppose Damian's death pretty much cements it all as happening somehow.

  4. With Batman trapped in year-long stories in every other book, I like that Layman is a the go-to guy to introduce his Rogues' Gallery in the New52. Every few issues, he does a story with one or more of them, with the Emperor Penguin storyline acting as an umbrella.

    I too made a face when I realized Batman's continuity wasn't as reboot-proof at it seemed (of course, my taste would have been either NO reboot or ALL reboot, across the line), but I hope to see his take on the Man-Bat romance in the near future. I felt it WAS a done-in-one story though, even if it had certain elements that were to be continued. It could be read as a complete episode with a beginning, middle and end (it's resolved, even if it opens the door to a sequel), while still catering to a longer arc that is supposed to intrigue and invite readers to stick around.

  5. Thanks for the insight into what Layman's doing, you've persuaded me to go back and fill in the gaps. And the art is amazing.


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