Detective Comics #875

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Francesco Francavilla
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

One of the creepiest comics published by DC right now is not, in fact, part of its Vertigo imprint, best known for hosting many horror and dark-fantasy tinged titles intended for mature readers. No, the book I’m talking about is Detective Comics, written by Scott Snyder and with art by the two regular artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla. Between this and Greg Rucka’s run on the book a little over a year ago with J.H. Williams III, Cully Hamner, and Jock, it been a veritable golden age for one of DC’s flagship comics.

I’ve always appreciated when DC Comics has made Detective Comics somewhat true to its name, telling Batman stories with a tinge of mystery about them. It’s a tradition that Snyder has carried forward, with one of the storylines in his first five issues involving an untold story of Commissioner Jim Gordon’s family, and if one of the murders by the mysterious "Peter Pan Killer" was in fact committed by Gordon’s own son, James Jr. This month, Snyder finally jumps back in time to that fateful trip when Barbara Gordon’s friend Bess goes missing under mysterious circumstances, and the question of what (if anything) James Jr. had to do with the death is brought to the forefront.

The spotlights on Commissioner Gordon and James Jr. up until now have veiled a lot of this story in mystery, keeping the details vague. After all, with both of the characters having lived through the experience, there’s been no reason for them to just start rehashing the story between another for the sake of exposition. Here, we shift between the past and present, Commissioner Gordon’s memories of Bess’s death having an important connection to a case he’s currently working on involving a serial killer. To people who have already read Detective Comics #871-874, they’ll see this new issue as another building block on top of what’s previously been established; James Jr.’s mental issues, Barbara Gordon’s fear of her stepbrother, Commissioner Gordon’s mistrust of his son now that he’s back in Gotham City. What began with investigating a series of animal deaths in the Gotham Aviary is finally coming full circle, echoed with Detective Bullock’s coming upon a bird nest invaded by a rat.

Even if you haven’t read the previous chapters, though, there’s enough presented here to make the story still creepy. From Commissioner Gordon’s phone call with his ex-wife worried about James Jr., to the flashbacks of earlier oddities involving his son, to the interactions with James Jr. and Bess, Snyder casts an uneasy feel across the entire story. But while Snyder gives us a lot of information and even some pieces of resolution involving the Peter Pan Killer and the slaughter at the Gotham Aviary, there’s still some mysteries left unanswered here, and that’s what makes it that much creepier. We still don’t know one crucial piece of information in this entire story, one deliberately left dangling to sow seeds of doubt and feed into the next storyline. Snyder’s keeping his readers guessing even as he’s offering up answers, and the end result is tantalizing.

Francesco Francavilla continues to turn out gorgeous pages, one that remind me of classic artists like Joe Kubert. His character portraits are dynamite, from the tired expression on Barb Gordon’s face as she talks to her ex-husband about their son, to the wide-eyed, protesting face of James Jr. upon being confronted over the missing Bess. It that latter illustration in particular that ultimately sells Snyder’s deliberately ambiguous take on James Jr.; even as he’s saying he had nothing to do with it, with a startled look on his face, there’s that shadow creeping over James Jr.’s form and it tinges the entire scene with an element of doubt. Even the staging of the pages looks great; a bat key chain looks innocent and sweet at first, but dark and menacing when displayed as a blood-red page divider, keeping the past and present from touching in a two-page spread even as it serves as a common link.

Detective Comics has been dynamite since Snyder came on board as writer, and this issue is no exception. This is the kind of comic that you’ll buy the collected edition of as well, so you can easily pull it off your shelf and re-read it again and again. Detective Comics has never been quite so dark and creepy before; it might not be a good place to live, but it’s a marvelous way to visit. If you aren’t reading Detective Comics already, you really should check it out. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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