What’s Wrong With Your Face??? – A Batman: Detective Comics, Vol. 1 – Faces of Death Review
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
If you like your Batman stories dark and disturbing, this book is definitely up your alley. Just look at the cover: Batman standing over the Joker’s seemingly severed head, which is sitting in a pile of blood soaked baby doll heads. Also, let’s not forget our new villain the Dollmaker, who wears a mask made up of skin from corpses, including his own father. The first half of this book has a definite Hannibal Lecter vibe to it.
Faces of Death collects the first seven issues of the New 52 era in Detective Comics. Set in the semi-rebooted DC Universe, the book sees Batman face off with the Dollmaker, a villain who cannibalizes the skin and organs of his victims. His body, as well as the bodies of his henchmen, are covered with stitched together patches of skin from various poor souls. As the corrupt mayor of Gotham City directs the police department to bring down the Dark Knight, Batman and Commissioner Gordon must work to save a young girl’s life. But how are the Joker, the Penguin, and ace reporter Charlotte Rivers involved?
Tony Daniel’s definitely trying to be a crowd pleaser here by appealing to readers who want their superhero stories to have dark tones and perverse, ultra sadistic villains. Obviously, Batman’s world lends itself to these kind of elements. But Daniel seems to rely on them a bit too much to carry the story. Within the covers of this book, we see the Joker’s face surgically removed and pinned to his cell wall (still no payback on that one, by the way…), we see a group of bad guys wearing cannibalized skin, we see a little girl use a knife on grown men, we see a corpse submerged in a bathtub filled with blood, among various other “dark” elements. Obviously these elements all work very well in modern Batman stories. But there’s such a thing as overdoing it, and I think that’s what Daniel did here. When you look at some of the great Batman stories of the past decade or so, some of them did have their share of dark moments, but those moments didn’t make the story great. They were effective within the context of the great story that was being told. Horror movie moments on their own don’t necessarily make for great storytelling.
That being said, Daniel’s art is as great as it’s ever been. I’ve rarely had a negative word to say about what the man does with a pencil. I’m still not crazy about the armor Batman wears in the New 52 universe, but that’s not Daniel’s doing. This story also marked the first appearance of Ginger Jim Gordon, i.e. the debut of Gordon’s younger, non-gray look. It’s consistent with younger versions of Gordon we’ve seen in other stories, like Year One and The Long Halloween, so I won’t complain. During the second half of the book we briefly meet a handful of new villains that look pretty cool, like something out of one of Grant Morrison’s books. Based on some of the upcoming solicitations, it looks like we’ll be seeing the Gas Man, Hypnotic, and Mr. Combustible again in the near future.
This book also introduces us to a new love interest for Bruce Wayne in ace reporter Charlotte Rivers. Apparently Bruce is legitimately fond of her, but I’m not quite sure why. We see that they have physical chemistry, and Bruce allows them to talk in depth about various topics. In the second half of the book, her life is put in danger and Batman’s emotions briefly get the better of him. Clearly Bruce is invested in Charlotte. But the relationship isn’t developed to the point where where we as readers are invested enough. The reason that happens is because we don’t understand why Bruce cares about her.
Consider this: Charlotte is a reporter, and based on what we see in this book, she’s not afraid to go to extreme lengths to get a scoop. Bruce also learns that she’s got a few dark secrets of her own, and isn’t afraid to be a bit elusive in her own right. Why would Bruce risk exposing his identity as Batman by allowing someone like Charlotte into his life? Because on some level, he cares about her. But instead if showing us why that’s the case, Daniel simply tells us, and we have to take his word for it. At this point, the only reason we would care about Charlotte is because Bruce does. As such, when we get to the second half of the book and that element hasn’t been played up enough, the drama gets watered down. It’s not simply enough for Bruce to tell Alfred: “I like this one.” We need a little more than that.
Faces of Death is nice to look at, but the writing isn’t at the level it needs to be to put this book in the same ball park as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s The Court of Owls, or Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s work in Batman & Robin. Restarting a book as iconic as Detective Comics would be a tall task for any writer to undertake, but Daniel could have done better than this. We’ve seen him do better before.
Click here to read Rob Siebert’s first impression of Detective Comics #1.
Front page image from don3d.blogspot.com. Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com. Image 3 from batman-comics.com.