Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Once again James Tynion proves his Detective Comics to be among the best of the DC Comics Rebirth relaunch; once again as well Tynion all but assassinates the status quo of a favored character before he finishes. That Tynion is able to wrench the characters so severely and still make it clear how much affection he has for them is a testament to the roll Tynion is on with this title. The new Detective is the perfect meshing of characters and creator (not to mention appealing art) and I hope Tynion's intending to stick with it for a while.

Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate is the epitome of a non-team team book, a concept others have tried in the Bat-verse previously but never with the success of Tynion. The loosely-defined team changes here from the first volume and looks to change again with the next; though at some point Tynion has to stop benching teammates, it makes for organic transitions. Tynion also deftly introduces a new villain to the Batman mythos, perhaps the first great new lasting villain of Rebirth. In all, even despite a bevy of maddening character work, Victim Syndicate is a strong follow-up to the first volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

For one brief, shining moment James Tynion had a team book that included (Red) Robin Tim Drake, Spoiler Stephanie Brown, and Orphan (nee Batgirl) Cassandra Cain, altogether the epitome of a love letter to the 2000s young Bat-set. But Tynion, it seems, makes them just to break them (as is wont for a writer to do), having seemingly killed off Tim at the end of Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen and now sending Spoiler rogue at the end of this one. I give Tynion credit; assuredly putting those characters together on a team (plus fan-favorite Batwoman) invites accusations of fan-service for fan-service's sake, but Tynion's proved himself willing to take the characters in difficult directions, with the end result assuredly being growth.

Still, Tynion's turn for Spoiler here is mildly frustrating only because this character has historically been the Bat-writers' punching bag, at a time perhaps before more people knew better, characterized as clumsy or overwrought as the story needed. I'll venture that Tynion is ultimately on Stephanie's side, but after a strong start in Rise of the Batmen that saw Stephanie on intellectual par with now-boyfriend Tim, that she's so quickly gone to trying to wreck Batman's crusade for reasons clearly unreasonable is unfortunate. I'll reserve judgment until we see how Tynion actually brings Stephanie back to the title, but my expectation is that it'll be the return of her boyfriend that brings her around, which is hardly satisfactory. I'd as soon have seen Stephanie graduate into the role of her team's tech guru, taking over from Tim, than have Tynion immediately replace Tim with Batwing Luke Fox.

I have enjoyed the Luke Fox character of late and I'm glad to see him included, though I felt Tynion took an unfortunate liberty here and there. Without admittedly re-reading all of Luke's appearances, I don't recall him being such a playboy as Tynion introduces him; certainly he came off more earnest in his recent Batgirl appearances, which Tynion does briefly mention. I recognize that Tynion needs to present Luke as flighty to contrast with Batwoman and her idea that most of these heroes came to the team through trauma, but presenting this African American hero as "pop mogul" comes off stereotypical. It seems equally reductive that the only motivation Tynion can come up with for Luke's decision to fight crime is due to racial injustice, as if Luke's interests begin and end with his race.

There's a fascinating push and pull in Tynion's Detective in that it presents the Bat-characters at some of the healthiest they've ever been even as it obfuscates the state of its Batman. On one hand we have Batwoman Kate Kane actually acknowledging the team's shared "real, traumatic loss," suggesting bringing a counselor on board, and Batman agreeing -- this is unheard of progress and sensibility among the Bat-set that we'd have never seen ten or twenty-some years ago. On the other hand, Tynion sets up an interesting comparison between the end of the third chapter and the beginning of the fourth; the former sees Spoiler accusing Batman of setting up the team solely to keep an eye on the children of his enemies, while the latter offers a flashback of Batman and Red Robin talking about all the positive things the team could be, with Batman apologizing in advance for when he fails to trust or reach out. We don't yet know which Batman is the one Tynion wants us to accept as the truth, and in some respects this is Tynion's Detective's most pervading and interesting mystery.

Reminiscent perhaps of Gail Simone on Birds of Prey or Batgirl, I thought Tynion did well in introducing his Victim Syndicate group of villains and giving them all at least a little of their own individual backstories and resonance. Special mention for Tynion's "Mudface," but I thought the "First Victim" was just great. Seemingly effortlessly, Tynion creates a new Bat-villain who looks rather frightening (credit to Alvaro Martinez and Eddy Barrows), who creates chaos with seemingly no super-powers to speak of, and whose origin remains a tantalizing unknown (taking the place of the soon-to-be-revealed[?] Joker). I could envision a long future for the character; along with Colony Prime in the Tynion/Marguerite Bennett Batwoman issues, this is a good volume for bad guys.

Despite concerning turns for both Spoiler and Batwing, the fact that James Tynion's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate teams Spoiler and Batwing makes it must-read on the face of it, even before one adds Batwoman, Cassandra Cain, Harper Row, and Azrael Jean-Paul Valley. The story is great, and what Spoiler does here feels true to the character even if one might wish this wasn't who the character turned out to be again. The book continues to present its often-dialogue-heavy conversations in two page spreads with artists Alvaro Martinez and Eddy Barrows, giving the book a notable, distinct visual style I enjoy. If this volume of Detective is imperfect, it's imperfect in all the right ways, and I'm chomping at the bit for the next one.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate
Author Rating
4.5 (out of 5)
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2 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I think this is going to be a really polarizing run. While I thought that the first arc showed potential despite some setbacks, this arc really rubbed me the wrong way. A lot of the problems I've had with Tynion's work on the Eternal books are cropping up again, where he tries to push a theme without laying down the proper foundations. For example, the Victim Syndicate is supposed to represent ordinary people who were harmed in the crossfire between Batman and his rogues, but the most of them were victimized before those villains ever encountered Batman. And they feel wasted, too. They show up for about three issues, have their backstories rattled off with a few exposition dumps, and then promptly defeated one-by-one. With one exception, none of them were really memorable to me.

    I'm also not a fan of how Steph was written. It seems that her entire arc centers on being Tim's girlfriend. The First Victim very clearly singles her out to be targeted, and yet later on, she tries to convince Batman that her being attacked was only an accident. And then there's the contrived manner in which she takes down the Batfamily by hacking their equipment. Why does Batwoman even have a remotely hackable Batarang? I remember this sort of silliness happened in Batman Eternal as well. And to top it off, she gives all the credit to Tim for being good with computers. It seems that Tynion just really likes using technology as a means of plot-induced magic.

    The one thing I do enjoy is Clayface's development. Mudface, even moreso than the First Victim, was the one member of the VS that was memorable. Her story presented an obstacle to Clayface's redemption journey, and I can't deny that him reaching out to her and trying to make amends really resonated.

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    1. I am in agreement when it comes to Stephanie. She was a strong character before flash point. Ever since she came back, it feels like dc our doing everything in their power to make her look bad.

      I did consider buying this series, but it's just retreating old ground, like an evil organisation trying to destroy gotham and batman being at odds with a member of his team. Why does he even need another team? He already has Nightwing and batgirl. And he is part of the justice league. It feels redundant to put him on every single team in the dc universe.

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