How many writer/artists have tackled Batman in the title with the same name? Sure, you have the monolith that is Frank Miller doing his various "Dark Knight" interpretations, and a few stories from "Batman: Black and White" and maybe an OGN or two, like Kia Asamiya's "Child of Dreams," but it's pretty rare to see the same person writing and drawing Batman on a monthly basis.
Even Bob Kane didn't really do that.
So it's kind of a big deal to see Tony Daniel in charge of all aspects of the story this year in "Batman," isn't it? But because Tony Daniel didn't do a stellar job illustrating Grant Morrison's run, and because he's following Morrison as writer on the series while competing against the former writer on the sometimes-released "Batman and Robin," it seems like this Daniel-helmed "Batman" series gets overlooked. I've only dipped into the series a couple of times since the abysmal and utterly pointless "Battle for the Cowl," and Daniel's writing has seemed perfunctory and his art merely passable.
But this issue -- issue #694 -- was pretty good.
Daniel draws a few striking pages -- the splash page close-up of the Penguin's face thrust under water by the giant hand of Batman, the Black Mask in torturous dialogue with himself, Reaper and Dr. Death and Hugo strange meeting in fragmentary images -- and though some of the writing is a bit clunky, with the Black Mask's torturous dialogue reminding us of Willem Defoe's Green Goblin, there's a heck of a lot of story packed into this single issue.
That's the best part about it, really. As many other comic book series are slow to unfold, paced cinematically, Tony Daniel's "Batman" comic reads like a jam-packed event comic. It jumps from scene to scene, sometimes disorientingly so, but without care for overly explaining everything. Daniel gives us more plots and subplots than any five traditionally-paced comic books would, and though such pacing only skims the surface of characterization, it's a better fit for the turmoil of Gotham City than an equal number of pages devoted to introspection and souls in torment.
No, "Batman" #694 bounces along, like an MP3 player stuck on skip and shuffle, and it feels invigorating.
It's far from perfect, with awkward attempts at wedging emotional moments into the rapid-pop scheme of events, and Daniel's final image, with the gargoyle-like Dick Grayson Batman, feels like an out-take from the Ed Wood theater hour. But at least there's plenty of other stuff going on to distract us from the weaker moments. Plenty of stuff that may or may not build to something significant in future issues, but at least it isn't boring.