There are a lot of takes on Batman, but we all have our favorites. Sometimes he’s campy, other times he’s gritty. Batman’s one of the most versatile characters in media today. My favorite take on Batman isn’t one steeped in the DC universe. I like to see Batman the noir detective, who’s more of a vigilante than a superhero. So needless to say, I absolutely adore Detective Comics from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, they’re doing my Batman. This is my Batman book. Beware spoilers.
This latest arc of Detective Comics, appropriately titled “Anarky,” focuses on the villain named–you guessed it–Anarky. In the second issue of the arc, Anarky reveals his plan (in a villainous speech): “I erased the digital footprint of every citizen in Gotham. All the bank accounts, credit card debt, DMV and police records… Everything vanished.” It’s up to Batman and Detective Bullock to unravel the mystery behind Anarky’s true identity, and to figure out how it all ties back to the Mad Hatter. And this is all a solid hook, but “Anarky” does something special when Detective Yip accidentally shoots an innocent boy during the chaotic crime spree following Anarky’s announcement.
I have to commend Manapul and Buccellato for even approaching these issues. It’s easy to see the parallels between “Anarky” and the events of Ferguson, or with the wave of police shootings which have captured the media’s attention. Batman is framed for the shooting (yes, Batman), and “Detective Yip’s wings got clipped pending I.A.D. review.” Gotham’s going to hell, it’s burning to the ground while people riot, and it feels more than plausible. One of my favorite moments is Bruce pointing out “We’re not talking about something like Scarecrow’s fear toxin. People are doing this of their own free will.” Anarky is the perfect villain to address these topics with.
Yet, I can’t help but feel like punches are pulled. The riots are attributed to mind control tech in the masks, and I can’t help but feel like it misses a good opportunity here. The digital footprints are restored by Batgirl off-page. Detective Yip goes unpunished, and Batman just takes the blame. The public desire to lash out at a corrupt city like Gotham seems natural, and to blame it on mind control undermines the fundamental premise of the “Anarky” crisis. These riots are supposed to be real, not induced. The contradiction from one issue to the next feels suspicious, and it’s tempting to blame editorial. There’s still hope. The boy who is shot is named Lonnie Machin, the traditional secret identity of Anarky. Here’s looking forward to that.
Manapul and Buccellato are doing some of the boldest work on Batman today. Detective Comics isn’t perfect, but it’s brave. And it’s gorgeous, which is evident to anyone who’s opened the book or even glanced at the cover. Little things like the designs on the masks, and the glow of Gotham as it burns, they bring the world to life. I have a ton of respect for what Manapul and Buccellato are doing on Detective Comics. This is what comics should be.