Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen is startlingly good, in many ways a faithful bridging of DC Comics's pre-Flashpoint and Rebirth continuities, but one that's not beholden to the past. Any number of times Tynion zags where precedent would have told him to zig, creating something that's not simply reminiscent of the past but rather an improvement on it. Artist Eddy Barrows is doing the work of his career, adeptly illustrating all of his pages and offering some fantastically complex two-page spreads, upheld later in the book by Alvaro Martinez. Detective Comics has been in the Batman title's shadow at least the five years of the New 52 if not decades before that, but this is one of the first times in a while where Detective comes off the better and even the more relevant of the two series.
[Review contains spoilers (and Spoiler)]
I will now make a lot out of Red Robin Tim Drake and Spoiler Stephanie Brown sleeping together, not out of prurience but because the fact of it and how Tynion handles it speaks volumes about this book. Consider eighteen years ago the ill-advised, heavy-handed story of teen vigilante (and then-perpetual screw-up) Spoiler getting pregnant by another boy confusingly about the time she was dating Tim, and the inexplicable chasteness of their relationship given Stephanie's other activities, not to mention virgin Tim's laughable naivete in wondering momentarily if he might be the father! In contrast, the second-issue scene in question has sensible young adults Tim and Stephanie having a witty, mature conversation in their pajamas about whether Tim should remain a vigilante or go to college, which ends with a kiss and a simple image of their co-mingled costumes to let us know what happens next. Far from sensationalistic, Tynion's sequence is tame, a realistic depiction of how two twenty-somethings might act. It has within it both sex and sexiness, but in a way that's both not egregious and also part and parcel of the story being told.
The Stephanie character was at her best just before Flashpoint, starring in the title role of Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl. After years of serving as the Bat-title's punching bag, Miller finally wrote Stephanie as a capable person -- shortly before Barry Allen's antics erased her from continuity. Most recently Spoiler appeared in both Batman Eternal and Batman and Robin Eternal, the latter of which -- co-written by Tynion -- suggested the post-Flashpoint Stephanie would follow Miller's model. Here, Tynion takes pains to demonstrate Stephanie as Tim's equal, and Tynion even leaves in a bit (but not all) of Tim's historic holier-than-thou attitude toward Stephanie; now, however, she has no difficulty putting Tim in his place. It feels, again, like a bridge from the previous good aspects of the characters over to now, with the benefit of the New 52 having actually erased some of their past silliness.
The flip side of this is that Tynion fairly well decimates Batwoman Kate Kane's relationship with her father, Colonel Jacob Kane, sticking a knife in even Colonel Kane's earliest Greg Rucka-penned appearances. Rucka had presented Colonel Kane as the Alfred to Kate's Batman, except that he was truly her father, and theirs was an admirable partnership that the reader could get behind; when their relationship was strained in later books, frankly it felt like those stories lost a step. Tynion's revelation of Colonel Kane working against Batman all this time doesn't scan of course because it's a retcon, not meant to fit exactly; I do grant that Kane is a logical villain for this story (and also that Tynion ties it well into the circumstances of Kate's mother and sister), but the fact that it really doesn't work in the grand scheme is surprising given Tynion's smooth writing otherwise.
Tynion's affection for these characters isn't in dispute, considering first and foremost that he immediately gets Tim back into the closest he can come to his old Robin costume. In the same vein, even the hardest heart has to melt when Tynion brings "The General" Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong on the scene (note to DC: let James Tynion use Anarchy Lonnie Machin here). There's plenty of moments like this that, in the Rebirth vein, honor the past and look to the future: that Batman reveals his identity to Batwoman, that Batwoman already knows and demands equal treatment from him, that they've been friends since they were kids, and the fact that Batman and Spoiler break down and hug after Tim seemingly sacrifices himself. It's great and moreover it's mature; the characters are forthright and normative rather than melodramatic and angst-ridden. (Note to DC, the second: when Tim comes back, let Tynion use the Redbird.)
I have admittedly not always been high on Eddy Barrows's art, finding it at times too dark or otherwise simply ill-fitting for the characters he was drawing. But Barrows is just right for this title; it does hew dark, but Barrows's art is never over-dark (with inker Eber Ferreira), as in the bright opening sequence with Azrael Jean-Paul Valley or in the Kane residence. Moreover it seems Barrows has loosed some of the sameness in his previous work that distracted from the story itself. I intuit that Tynion gives Barrows (and co-artist Alvaro Martinez) pages of some fairly dialogue-heavy conversation, and among them the creative team turns these into panel-filled two-page spreads (I count fourteen in the Kane manor sequence, and another with fifteen). These are beautifully done, neat and clear and sprawling, and they work as well to give Detective Comics its own unique identity.
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen comprises seven issues, and not only didn't it feel too long, but I didn't want it to end, either. As I've said before, I think there's a certain destructiveness in getting too attached to the past, not to mention simply trying to graft the past on to the present; there's every danger James Tynion could have done that here, but in ways subtle and overt Tynion takes the past and steps it forward. Not unlike Scott Snyder's Batman: Black Mirror, this is not a rehashing of the past but rather a tribute to the past that builds toward a better present. Maybe there's something to the Rebirth thing after all.
[Includes original and variant covers, character and cover sketches, and layouts]