Title: Duck and Cover
Writer: John Layman
Art by: Jason Fabok
Cover by: Jason Fabok
Release Date: October 3, 2012
Official DC Comics Synopsis:
- All kneel before Emperor Penguin!
- There’s a hit out on Bruce Wayne!
- This new story from writer John Layman (Chew) gueststars Nightwing!
Review by: Danny Nettleton
There has been much excitement among Batman fans about Detective Comics receiving a new creative team. It’s no secret that Tony S. Daniel received mixed reviews for his run on the book as writer and penciler since the beginning of the new 52. I won’t rehash this debate only to say that I believe Daniel started strong but had trouble sustaining his story arcs. However, I’m going to stop my Tony bashing as of this month because now the pressure’s on the new creative team, John Layman and Jason Fabok, as they take on the title that started it all! So how did they do?
They knocked it out of the park! John Layman’s writing was tense, witty, and well-paced. Jason Fabok brought a natualistic sensibility to the pen and ink but he didn’t pull punches during the action sequences. The writing and art meshed perfectly. Case in point, this issue opens with an inspired series of panels written by Layman and interpreted perfectly by Fabok that flash between Bruce Wayne presenting a large check to the Gotham Orthodontic association, Batman busting a guy in the mouth, Wayne on camera paying off the loans for a half dozen recently graduated orthopedic surgeons, and finally Batman breaking the bones of the thugs. This irony sets up perfectly the tension of the issue which is the way Batman’s two identities become entangled. Batman and Bruce Wayne’s worlds are about to collide as they have a common enemy in the Penguin. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Really? Another Penguin story?
I was skeptical, too, when I saw the Penguin cover. Oswald Cobblepot has never been my favorite villain. He’s always seemed to me a little like your crazy uncle with major self-esteem issues and a penchant for remote control birds. I’ve never found him to be nearly as compelling or three dimensional as villains such as Two-Face, Joker, and Mr. Freeze. But two things happened this year that caused me to give ol’ Ozzy a second look. First was the gut-wrenching Citizen Kane meets Richard III take on the Penguin in Gregg Hurrwitz’ already classic miniseries: Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. If you haven’t read it. READ IT NOW!!!… I’m serious… I’ll wait here. A far cry from Pee Wee Herman freaking out because his son was born with webbed feet and sending him baby Moses-style to Gotham’s sewer, Hurrwitz gives us a dark and compelling origin that made the Penguin almost into a new villain. Then there was Geoff John’s take on the character in Batman: Earth One in which the great and powerful Os is portrayed as the corrupt patriarch of Gotham, the anti-Thomas Wayne, a villain that represented the dark side of Gotham’s legacy (I know we don’t exactly need another one of those, but that’s not the point). While this second Penguin is not part of the normal Batman continuity, both Hurrwitz’ Penguin and John’s Cobblepot offer some clues to what a less cartoonish villain could look like.
Layman’s Penguin seems to be taking this ball and running with it. In this issue, the Penguin is obsessed with his place in the hearts of Gotham’s citizens and he wants to begin building up his own philanthropic legacy by tearing down the legacy of the Waynes. The issue plays out over the course of a night where Batman is investigating some crimes before he is supposed to turn up as Bruce Wayne at the opening of a new Children’s wing at the Neville Community Center to be named after his mother, Martha Wayne. He soon discovers he is investigating crimes designed to keep Batman busy because Penguin is planning a hit on Bruce Wayne at the charitable event. He is also planning to begin his hostile takeover of the Wayne legacy by using his money to name the children’s wing after his departed mother Esther Cobblepot, whose tortured story is related in Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. What? You still haven’t read it? I waited for you!
After some awesome, action sequences, rendered masterfully by Jason Fabok, Wayne arrives at the party too late to thwart the Penguins shenanigans. Cobblepot is so thrilled with how the night went that he calls off the hit on Wayne, saying that killing him would only “complicate things”. He even orders to have the assassins paid in full despite their inability to pull off the hit. The only problem is that the assassins in question are a group of Chinese martial artists known as (I wish I were making this part up) The Ghost Dragons and the Ghost Dragons never accept failure. Once they’ve accepted a mission they MUST complete it. These guys must be terrible to play board games with. So the issue ends with a splash page of an assassin bursting into the party with a flaming sword (yes, a flaming sword) ready to attack Bruce Wayne.
You’ve probably sensed that I’m not sure how I feel about the Ghost Dragons but this is endemic of a pattern across the New 52 Bat books of eschewing classic villains in favor of new villains that nobody cares about (Terminus, anybody?). I feel like some of the villains in the New 52 books have seemed a little more G.I. Joe than Gotham at times and the Ghost Dragons are a perfect example. That said, the plot didn’t revolve around the Ghost Dragons and as long as they remain in the background, all should be well. If the whole story arc becomes Night of the Ghost Dragons, we may have a problem. The real drama here is the Penguin’s new scheme to mount an Egyptian Pharaoh style rebranding of Gotham’s history! This idea has many interesting possibilities.
In any case, the story telling in this issue was so tight and well-paced that none of these plot points seemed silly or rehashed and Jason Fabok’s art really did sing! There is a tantalizing panel on page 11 where Batman is jumping through a glass ceiling window that is nothing short of iconic! By the way, whoever gets the contract for replacing glass ceiling windows around Gotham city has got to be filthy rich by now. Fabok has mastered these fight scenes and there is not a facial expression in the whole book that feels off. This puts Fabok in an elite group of comic artists that do fists as well as they do faces. The art in this issue is aided by a fantastic coloring job by Jeromy Cox. The colorists rarely get shout outs in reviews and that’s a shame. The palate used in this issue created a deep cinematic feel that immersed you in the world of Fabok’s in-your-face drawing and Layman’s spot-on characterizations.
If you fell off of Detective Comics because you were not a fan of Tony Daniel’s writing or if you are hesitant about picking up this issue because you loved his art, you should definitely take this issue out for a spin. For all the reasons above plus Nightwing’s in it and we didn’t even discuss the witty back story penciled by Andy Clarke about what it takes to be a thug in Gotham City. This is definitely a book to pick up alongside Death In The Family this month (Death OF the Family… I’ve got to stop doing that!) This issue is a promising start by a fantastic creative team. Even if it does center around my least favorite villain… Wah… Wah!