A month and a half ago, I mentioned my interest in rereading the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle Detective Comics run from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Other diversions have popped up to push that little project aside, but I had a few minutes to look though some of those comics this past weekend, and here are some thoughts on issues #588-597 (originally published from July 1988 to February 1989).
1. Alan Grant seemed to get bored with Gotham pretty quickly. Within a year, Grant had Batman ditch Gotham in favor of a kind of world tour. The premise for Grant's whole series, at least in the early phases, was that it was supposed to be adventures from the "Batman Casebook." That way, the stories didn't have to tie into continuity as rigidly as they might have. So Batman could jump to England, Australia, and Cuba without having to explain his absence in the other Bat titles. The jaunts to England and Australia aren't particularly interesting, with Batman stopping a modern day Guy Fawkes in the former and a bunch of racists and a crazed Aborigine in the latter. The Guy Fawkes issue came out at the same time that DC was promoting the V for Vendetta series, but I don't know if Grant had that in mind as he was writing the story.
2. Bruce Wayne was notoriously absent from these stories. With a few minor exceptions, Bruce Wayne may as well not exist as far as these Grant/Breyfogle stories are concerned. They are all about Batman. And they don't really show Batman doing too much, except following clues to confront the bad guy. And by follow clues, I mean that he didn't even really do much detective work. He just noticed a clue, then noticed another clue, and it became kind of an obvious trail for him to follow. He didn't have to give these cases much thought.
3. Villains are tragic. Grant obviously wanted to tap into the core of the Batman mythos without actually using Batman villains, so his approach was to create a whole series of new, tragic villains. Many of them were just regular guys, twisted by fate or circumstance to commit evil deeds. Their defeat (or death) at the end of each issue was often followed by Batman's stern comment (to himself, in thought balloons) about "justice."
4. Dean Haspiel was quite a terrible super-hero artist. Haspiel, most famous for his work with Harvey Pekar, used to be the assistant to Howard Chaykin, and in the late 1980s he attempted to break into comics himself as a DC penciller. He was featured in at least two "Bonus Book" inserts around that time, one of which is printed in Detective #589. You can see the Chaykin influence, but it's just really flat, stiff, unprofessional work. He's improved tremendously since that time, and I'm sure he's not too fond of the style he used on the Bonus Books.
5. The best issues, BY FAR, are Detective #596-597 and Breyfogle didn't even draw them. In Breyfogle's absence, Eduardo Baretto drew two excellent issues featuring a unique (at the time) villain, in the form of a twisted videographer who got his kicks having his friends beat up on people and recording it. The story predicts future comic book scenarios like the recent "Film Freak" storyline in Catwoman, and it suggests the Bum Fight phenomenon along with the rise of YouTube. Baretto's art is elegant thoughout, and he draws a much sturdier Batman than Breyfogle (whose Batman is all motion and curved angles). The story explores the consequences of violence in a mature and thoughful way, and it also features a great scene in which the recovering Batman (who's in a hospital room), climbs out through the window as the Doctor shouts, "There's a door!" and then gives Batman his medical opinion: "No Batropes! You hear me? No Batropes!"
With that, I'll take a break from Detective for a while to do some of the writing (comic book scripts! Grant Morrison book number two!) that I should be doing (but that won't stop me from reading a huge stack of new comics on Wednesday!). When I eventually get around to posting more on this Detective run, I'll write about the giant Sam Hamm/Denys Cowan three-parter which lead into issue #600.