"Detective Comics" #13 features the debut of John Layman and Jason Fabok as the new regular creative team on the title. While I'm familiar with Layman's work on "Chew," I still felt utterly unprepared for just what a Layman/Fabok story about Batman would look like. As it turns out, it's a lot of fun.
Layman's opening story involves the Penguin, a character who's received a lot of short shrift lately. His function as of late seems to be getting beaten up to have information shaken out of him, and to have any sort of shady business deal dashed at the last minute. In short, the Penguin not only never wins, he's a big loser. This might not be a problem if the character was supposed to be some sort of sad sack that everyone looked down upon. But with the Penguin also being shown as a successful crime boss who holds a great deal of power within Gotham City, it's resulted in two viewpoints that can't be reconciled with one another.
Layman clearly understands that, because "Detective Comics" #13 has the Penguin trying to remake his image with the greater public of Gotham City. As someone who operates in broad daylight as a businessman, it's a decision that makes sense. And perhaps more importantly, it's a scheme that with one small exception is actually thought out rather well. I think that's in part what makes "Detective Comics" #13 so much fun; this is a story about a villain who has come up with a clever way to get what he wants, and takes the presence of Batman into account. The Penguin knows he can't defeat Batman, so his way to try and neutralize his foe is something that plays well into Batman's standard method of operation, and shows a strong knowledge of the character. This is how a bad guy's scheme should look.
Not only is the plotting good, but the script is fun too. I love the opening narration in which we learn about the charities that the Wayne Foundation donates to in order to balance out all the bodily harm that Batman inflicts on people. It's understated and matter-of-fact, funny without going for any sort of punch line. It's a good tone for the story, and it makes me feel that Layman understands the character of Batman. The script moves smoothly from one scene to the next, and by the end of the comic I was excited to see what would happen next.
Fabok's art is handsome. With clean and solid figures it reminds me of artists like Gary Frank; good portraits of the main characters, nice tight close-ups on the faces and their reactions to events, and action that moves well. Interestingly his characters all appear a little older than normal -- especially Bruce Wayne and the Penguin -- but I'd rather have that than them all appearing oddly youthful, which is normally what one ends up with. Add in some attractive backgrounds and easy-to-follow storytelling and I think that Fabok is a good addition to the Batman family.
There's also a back-up story by Layman and Andy Clarke, which shows part of the Penguin's scheme from a different viewpoint. It's a nice enough story; it shows what living in Gotham City must be like, especially as a hoodlum, and gives some great advice on how to survive. Clarke's art is beautifully detailed as ever, and after him handling some pages in "Batman" #12 back in August, I'm thrilled to see him tackling this group of titles again. With his fine thin lines that provide so much texture, any new Clarke art is a good thing in my book.
"Detective Comics" #13 is a joy to read; it's great to see a creative team so quickly settle into place on a title that's been around for an extremely long time. Hopefully they'll be sticking around, because if this first issue is any indication, we're in for some good times ahead.