Batman: Detective is essentially a collection of Paul Dini-written stories for Detective Comics (there’s one story in the middle written by Royal McGraw, but let’s be honest, Dini’s the star here). These stories don’t have any direct tie-in to the main continuity: no references to Infinite Crisis, and not even any links between the stories. These are self-contained Batman adventures at their finest, filled with great characterization and interesting twists.
In case you weren’t a kid in the 90s (or lived under a rock) Paul Dini was one of the writers on the classic animated show “Batman: The Animated Series“. If you liked the writing on that show, you’ll love this comic. Dini’s style shines through here, making each issue feel like an extra episode of “Batman” (always a good thing). We’ve got Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Joker all making appearances, and Dini brings his signature panache to each character.
The Poison Ivy story stood out to me in particular, with Ivy seeking out Batman’s help as a vicious plant continues to attack her. Batman uses his detective skills to try and figure out what exactly is going on. During his investigation though, he learns that Ivy isn’t the innocent victim in this situation: she’s been feeding innocent victims to plants whose digestive enzymes eat the people alive. The plant in turn absorbed its victims’ souls, morphing and forming one massive, self-aware plant creature.
It was a pretty awesome twist to see something (other than weed killer) that can threaten Ivy, and even more intriguing that she’s responsible for that being’s creation. As with many Batman stories, the main villain is seemingly killed at the end, but Batman makes the prediction that it’s not gone for good. No doubt Harvest will pop up again in a later story.
I can’t write this post without addressing the Christmas-themed Joker issue, titled “Slayride” (God, I love a good pun). Joker kidnaps Robin and drives around Gotham, mowing down innocent shoppers while forcing Robin to be a witness to it all.
Christmas + Joker always equals a good story, but this one is an especially good read. Dini sets the perfect tone, matching Joker’s dark humor with Robin’s analytical internal monologue. As Robin tries to break out of his bindings, we see Joker run down numerous people, only to have Robin distract him with a Marx Brothers reference and ultimately escape. It’s a bizarre little story, and yet Dini makes it work perfectly. It takes a truly skilled writer to craft a story as offbeat as these and still have them feel real within the Batman world.
As I read these stories, I was struck by the importance of smaller, self-contained issues like these. Sure, they’re missing the grandiose drama and shakeups of storylines like “No Man’s Land” or “Infinite Crisis”, but they still hold an important place in continuity. These stories tend to be more focused on character development. Yes, the status quo is generally reset by the end of the issue, but we’ve learned something more about the characters within, and more importantly we’ve enjoyed the story the entire time. Dini’s issues especially were a joy to read, revealing new details and layers to characters that, in less skilled hands, would seem like tired old rehashings. There may not be any major changes to the Bat-world here, but the stories are solid, the writing’s spot on, and you will undoubtedly be entertained from start to finish.