Bruce Wayne uncovers a secret about the Magistrate in this third issue of Dark Detective, while Grifter has a team-up with Huntress and Luke Fox. Let’s have a look:
The second issue of Dark Detective began with a botched murder attempt. Bruce Wayne, fleeing from agents of the Magistrate, hid himself underwater and survived. The Magistrate’s next wealthy target, a corporate titan named Carl Bennington, is not so lucky.
Bennington’s death is the framing device for this brilliant third issue, which finds writer Mariko Tamaki, artist Dan Mora, and colorist Jordie Bellaire in sync on what kind of story they want to tell and what visual language they need to express it. Nowhere does the Gotham City of Future State look better than it does in this book. Omnipresent digital billboards, bathed in Bellaire’s neon colors, give Gotham’s streets the feel of some cyberpunk version of Times Square. The Magistrate and its nano-drones are always lurking, near-invisible signs of the mercenary group’s sprawling surveillance program.
Many of the best panels in this issue take the form of screens, either from television sets, security cameras, or Bruce Wayne’s laptop. Technology is the dominant force in this series and Bruce’s complicated relationship to it is central to Tamaki’s story. His existence as Batman is almost entirely due to technology developed by his company and sold for profit. But when obtained by his villains or developed by war profiteers like Bennington, this tech only adds to the misery of Gotham’s residents. (One of the small ironies of Future State is how ineffective the Magistrate’s police system seems as a bulwark against crime. Even with nano-drones everywhere, people are still committing petty crimes throughout these books.)
If there’s one drawback to this issue, it’s that Bruce’s meet-up with new Batman Jace Fox fails to live up to the billing promised in solicitations and on Mora’s exquisite cover. With Jace and Bruce both conflicted about Wayne Enterprises’ role in arming the Magistrate, I was hopeful to see them team up in some way. Instead we get a beautiful, two-page splash from Mora and a charming, if brief, encounter that shows how their roles have become inverted. Jace, this time, is in the watchful protector role, telling Bruce, “Stay home tomorrow night.” (“Yeah, I pretty much invented that line,” Bruce responds.)
It feels cruel to single out one member of this creative team, which has been outstanding from the first issue, but Bellaire deserves some special plaudits. The Eisner-winning artist has been all over Future State, from books as varied as Wonder Woman, featuring the Brazilian hero Yara Flor, to Red Hood, a more minimalist noir story that left some of its page almost completely uncolored. Her work in Dark Detective is similarly chameleonic, making every cityscape scene feel lived-in and breathtaking.
If Dark Detective had a Blade Runner vibe, this second Grifters story is Die Hard all the way. Cole Cash, better known as Grifter, is trying to get Luke Fox (brother of new Batman Jace Fox) out of Gotham. They run into the Huntress. Mayhem ensues. No one reinvents the wheel here, but artist Carmine Di Giandomenico (whose work on The Flash with Joshua Williamson was brilliant) turns in some incredible pages that show the characters in near-constant motion while evading the Magistrate.
I cannot claim to have much affection for Grifter, a character originating in Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s series who eventually made his way into the DC Universe. In the hands of writer Matthew Rosenberg, there’s enough depth here to get past the standard rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold portrayal, but I don’t think two issues was enough time to fully integrate Grifter into Future State.
Huntress is an inspired addition to the cast and her kinetic presence turbocharges what was already an action-heavy book, but she isn’t given much time to leave a larger imprint. Rosenberg alludes to her family’s wealth, which makes me wonder how the Magistrate is dealing with Gotham’s Mafia. Dark Detective and Gotham City Sirens have already shown how the mercenary group’s alliance with Gotham’s political and financial leaders helped to cement its rule. I’d be curious how Gotham’s underworld fits into that picture, but that’s not an angle that is explored here. The Magistrate mostly serve a bland plot function as a faceless adversary.
Luke Fox’s dynamic with Cole is easily the most compelling part of the story, but Luke’s role here in relation to his arc in the other Gotham books is a bit perplexing. He is attempting to flee the city while the drama with his siblings that’s occupied a large part of The Next Batman goes largely unaddressed. It’s not even clear where this story takes place in relation to The Next Batman.
Rosenberg has done great work on Hawkeye and Marvel’s X-Men books, so his addition to DC’s growing stable of talent is a welcome one. I’m intrigued to see how he handles Grifter when when given a longer canvas, which he will have once Batman: Urban Legends, an oversized anthology series, kicks off after Future State.
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