I'm not a big fan of Tony Daniel's artwork, and my mind was pretty boggled by the fact that DC paired him with Grant Morrison for much of Morrison's run on Batman, including the climax of his first act or so on the franchise, "Batman RIP." If you've been reading EDILW for a few years now, chances are you already know this. Because I've written rather harshly and critically about Daniel's work on various Batman comics before. Like, a few dozen times before. In fact, if you've been reading EDILW for a few years now, chances are you're way past sick of hearing me discuss Daniel's work on Batman comics.
In which case, you might not be interested in this post, as it's about Batman #704, the beginning of Daniel's latest run as writer/artist on Batman (This issue is, in fact, the start of his first post-Return of Bruce Wayne story arc, bearing a "Batman Incorporated" logo in the upper right hand corner).
Hey wait a minute Caleb, you might think, If you dislike Daniel's Batman work so much, why do you keep reading it? Well, the answer to that is quite simple—one of my local libraries has a subscription to Batman, so if me and a free Batman comic book are in the same room at the same time, what am I going to do—not read it? As I've noted in the past, Daniel's work has gotten steadily better since he first started working for DC's Bat-office. It took a leap to a higher level of quality when he started drawing his own scripts instead of Morrison's, it took another leap when he presumably started drawing stories in which the editorial office weren't pitching most of the plot points (Batman: Battle for the Cowl) and everything from his layouts to his scene staging to his rendering has improved slightly from issue to issue.
Batman #704 is probably his strongest comics-drawing so far, which is, of course, good news (I still think DC Comics' flagship franchise makes for an unlikely training ground for an artist still struggling with telling stories in the medium though; but who knows, maybe all of the better artists would rather be doing their own things than working on a corporate comic at the moment).
Anyway, this seemed like a pretty good issue with which to check in on the state of Daniel's comics-making, and the state of the Batman comic.
Here's as much of the two-page spread that stretched across pages four and five that would fit on my scanner:That's Batman Dick Grayson, Robin Damian Wayne, The Reaper and Kitrina "Catgirl" Falcone; Daniel is picking up on the characters and some of the plot threads from his "Life After Death" arc (between the end of that story and now, Batman hosted a short story written by Daniel but illustrated by Guillem March, a three-issue arc written by Morrison and drawn by Daniel, and then a weird-ass one-off solicited as a Peter Milligan story but shipped as a Fabian Nicieza one).
Wait, what's that in the lower right-hand corner?Uh-oh. A comic book being "ritten" by someone can't be a very good sign...
So here's the basic plot. A mysterious person is searching for something mysterious in Gotham. Batman Bruce Wayne wants Batman Dick Grayson to get Batman Bruce Wayne's girlfriend Catwoman to lose her burgeoning sidekick Catgirl. A mysterious Chinese business lady and her brother want to buy up buildings in Crime Alley from Wayne Enterprises. The lady is a costumed character with some super-ninja abilities. There are some bad ninjas, lead by a recurring DCU villain who appears in a very Geoff Johns-like ending (And, to Daniel's credit, looks like a totally insane lunatic in that splash page; I would have scanned it to say, "Wow, look at this bat-shit insane and therefore awesome image!" but I don't want to spoil it).
Here are the parts where Daniel's storytelling remains frustratingly hard to read.
First, a scene from a meeting between the Chinese siblings and Lucius Fox and Dick Grayson:What do we make of that object in the final panel? What is it? Is she handing it to him, as the dialogue would suggest? Or is he handing it to her? That is the only appearance of the object. The only object the woman is shown holding either before or after is a little hand-held remote controlling a slide-show presentation, but that is extremely tiny, abut the size of her thumb, and thus isn't he object shown there. My theory is that perhaps it is a tiny, tiny brief case, in which documents are held, because the only thing Fox is shown holding at any point in the scene is a piece of paper.
It's a little detail, sure, but that's all the more reason for it not to lead to an impenetrable panel. Batman editor Mike Marts really needs to yell at Daniel more, I think.
Then there's this strange scene: I think the problems with that last panel are pretty evident to anyone who looks at it (Which is why it perplexes me that Daniel drew it like that, and DC published it like that). This issue contains three full-page splashes, and one two-page splashes, for five entire pages devoted to just five panels. Some of the space would have been much better spent allowing that scene another panel or two in order to read more naturally.
The good news? Those were the only glaringly poor moments in the book.
Plus, there was some genuinely neat moments. I liked this scene, which immediately follows the one in which Dick Grayson's second meeting with the Chinese business lady/costumed character is interrupted by her disappearing into the skyline while shouting instructions to the driver of a car that is already speeding away.
Check out this two-page sequence:
Forgiving the fact that Dick Grayson seems to change clothes between the seconds it takes him to finish thinking a sentence—he's narrating, not talking, so it's easy to forgive int his case—a "Bat-Drone" that delivers Batman costumes is exactly the sort of thing Batman would have—cutting-edge, ridiculously expensive military hardware used for something fairly mundane. As soon as Batman heard that the U.S. was developing Predator drones to drop hellfire missiles on people in different countries, you know he ordered one, painted it black, slapped a bat-symbol on it, customized the air foils a bit and then thought, "Perfect—so what can I drop out of the sky with this, other than deadly missiles, since I abhor lethal violence?"
Obviously he went with costume delivery. It's probably also good for delivering spare bat-a-rangs and snacks.
Oh, and here's the mysterious Chinese business lady's costumed identity, Peacock: It's a pretty nice design. Bright and garish in a way that makes her stand out from all the other characters in capes and tights running around this book, and "sexy" and feminine while covering up the majority of her body. I think only the boy peacocks are brightly colored, though; the girl peacocks are just brown and drab-looking. At least American peacocks. Maybe peacocks dress different in China.
So that's what's up with our friends Batman and Tony Daniel these days.
Oh, Daniel does waste an entire page giving us a splash of Batman Bruce Wayne in his new, dumb-looking Batman costume. I've complained about it a here a couple of times before, and was mostly focused on the chest symbol, piping and Nintendo Power Glove-like gauntlets. When I saw Daniel's drawing though, I noticed something else: Not only did Batman lose his trunks, but he replaced them with a pretty heavy duty metal codpiece of some kind.
Apparently, Bruce Wayne returned from Darkseid's Omega Sanction time trap extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his penis.
Like, more concerned about the safety and well-being of his penis than before.
RELATED: This has nothing to do with Tony Daniel or Batman #704, but I saw the cover for April's Batman Inc #6 again at Kelly Thompson's joint the other day, and I couldn't help but notice that the bison or buffalo on the cover looked kind of sad:Why is he so bummed out? He's hanging out with Batman, Chief Man-of-Bats and Red Raven! Isn't that, like, a dream come true? Is he sad because he doesn't get to wear a Bat-cowl like Ace the Bat-Hound, or a cape like Comet the Super-Horse? Or is he sad for his own personal, buffalo reasons we wouldn't really understand, not being buffalo ourselves?