When it comes to Batman stories, the trick isn’t finding new ways to challenge the Dark Knight. Over the character’s extensive history, creators somehow have always found new pockets of story to explore and new chaos to bring into Gotham or, at a minimum, different ways of approaching existing elements, though even successes are often mixed. Instead, the challenge is in keeping things fresh even when the fundamentals of the character, the setting, and the story are all familiar. It’s that “keep things fresh” challenge that Batman: Dear Detective #1 takes on, but while this issue does so with a great deal of beauty due to its impressive artwork, it is yet another case of mixed results.
Batman: Dear Detective #1 Review: A Feast for the Eyes in Batman’s Long Shadow
Batman: Dear Detective #1 works best on the off chance that you think of it as what it truly is: an assortment of craftsmanship with a touch of story going about as connective tissue and less of a real comic book. The issue, composed and represented by Lee Bermejo, is at its center essentially a dazzling assortment of Bermejo’s staggeringly itemized and lovely cover craftsmanship sewed along with a letter from the “genuine” foe that Batman faces. What’s more, I’m not imagining this – the actual issue expresses that that the book is a “assortment of historic cover craftsmanship” from Bermejo, explicitly organized to outline Batman’s campaign against wrongdoing. When taken for face esteem, this is an extraordinary volume. Bermejo draws Batman and different characters that possess his reality like no other craftsman. There are rich subtleties and tones, frequently having an agitating level of authenticity and that is all in plain view here. There are tons of these covers that, in spite of essentially being imprinted on the page, have a day to day existence and a surface that one could swear they can feel in their grasp. There isn’t anything very like this issue outwardly and how it is organized, the request for the pictures it could be said get you through Batman’s story. This would, most likely, make for a fine foot stool book for the insightful Batman fan.
The narrative thread, on the other hand, feels secondary. Yes, it is nice to have something to guide this visual walk through a dark alley, as it were, but it feels a bit lost within the artwork of the comic. Told as something of a coded letter, the sender has quite a bit to say about Batman, his flaws, his strengths, and it serves as villain monologuing – which of course subtly leads to increasing levels of personal clues about the writer and perhaps what they actually aim to achieve. By itself? It’s an interesting take on antagonizing Batman, but it feels a little too understated going up against such impressive art. However, while it doesn’t quite stand up to the artwork and doesn’t really feel like much of a story—there will be plenty of critics who see this approach as a bit of a gimmick simply to sell a book—there is something to be said for this juxtaposition of the art that is at equal turns realistic and bombastic, feeling like the very essence of Batman’s crusade for justice and a story that strips away all that artifice. And, of course, it would be wrong to not acknowledge Jared Fletcher’s lettering here, which feels minimal and raw in a perfectly fitting tone.
Overall, Batman: Dear Detective is going to be a divisive comic book because it’s neither a true comic book nor an art book, exactly, but tries to land somewhere between the two concepts. It doesn’t quite accomplish that, and it doesn’t quite offer much in the way of new perspective in its approach. However, it’s an elegant and interesting study of Batman in a purely visual sense, with the stripped-down narrative leaving the reader—or viewer, really—in a place to truly examine the character through their own lenses and ask what it really means to be the Dark Knight and inhabit his world.