By the end of Tony Daniel's first storyline as writer/artist of "Batman" (issues #692-697), I found myself impressed at how well he'd fit in to the title. Evoking a bit of "The Long Halloween" mixed with a more modern era, it was a pleasant, entertaining comic. After a few months off while "Batman" dealt with the death and return of Bruce Wayne, Daniel's back on board as writer/artist once more, and he's picking up more or less where he left off.
The best parts of "Batman" #704 are the ones that don't tie into the return of Bruce Wayne. When it's just Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne fighting crime, it's fun. We're getting the return of the Reaper and Catgirl from earlier in Daniel's run, and there's a new face in town from China in the forms of Sasha Lo and the Peacock. I like that we're seeing brand new characters alongside long-term ones like Catwoman, and Daniel introduces the cast at a steady pace. Getting a mix of Dick's responsibilities both as Batman and within Wayne Enterprises works well under Daniel, and it's a good return to form there.
On the other hand, the portions with Bruce Wayne feel forced, almost grafted into the comic. I understand why they're present, providing a transition for the character as well as explaining (for people who don't read all of the different one-shots and mini-series around Bruce's return) the status of the characters. But it still feels a bit off, and Daniel almost makes Bruce feel like a bit of a dick (no pun intended). If his goal was to make readers bristle at Bruce and side with Dick, well, it worked quite well.
Most of all, though, I miss Sandu Florea inking Daniel's art. With Daniel and Florea together, there was a handsome, crisp look to "Batman" and it was a collaboration that provided stronger art and better storytelling with each issue. Now that Daniel is inking himself, it's a slightly rougher, more sketchy style of art. The basics are still good in terms of layouts and action, but it's the finer details that don't work for me. In the big two-page splash as Batman, Robin, the Reaper, and Catgirl all show up, it took me a minute to figure out that it was just strange shading and lines all over Reaper's torso and that it wasn't supposed to be some strange sort of pattern, or perhaps a diagram of his muscle and circulatory system. It's that shading and texture that ultimately proves to be a little distracting on the next page; a lot of the elements in each panel start blending into one another now that the sharp edges of the previous collaboration are gone. Hopefully with a little more time this new style will better solidify and mature, but right now it feels like it's in an early experimental stage that is still finding its own voice, so to speak.
Daniel wrote eight issues of "Batman" (and drew six of them) before stepping aside for four months while Bruce Wayne came back into town, and I'm glad to see him back. But with that time away, some aspects of the book feel slightly rough. Hopefully now that he's back for good, with time those rough edges will get a bit more polish. Daniel succeeded in that before, there's no reason to think he won't do so again. Still, "Batman" #704 has some good parts going for it right now, and it bodes well for the months to come.