Batman – Detective Comics: Faces of Death

I’ve finally done it. I’ve hit bedrock. I’ve reached the bottom of the barrel.

I’ve found my first awful offering from DC’s reboot.

As I inferred from my previous review I have a thing about artists who decide to become writers and often leave you with a tale that could best be recreated by blowing your nose on an Elizabethan tablecloth. While J.H. Williams did an acceptable job on Batwoman, this time I’ll be looking at a repeat offender of the art-writing crime: Tony Goddamn Daniel.

As an artist, he’s superb; his work on Batman RIP and Battle for the Cowl was rich, detailed and memorable. When he turned his hand to writing in tales like Cowl, Life After Death and Eye of the Beholder, however, it went sour; they were bland, ordinary or absolutely atrocious pieces of written fiction and all the pretty artwork did little to distract from the appalling story, teeth-clenchingly terrible dialogue and subtle realisation that maybe he was trying to write a kids’ Batman story but got confused when he included too many character deaths and blood spatters and figured he’d sell it as an adult tale.

Faces of Death starts with the Joker breaking out of Arkham by having some dude cut his face off. It’s probably the only really interesting moment in the entire book, since this situation isn’t revisited in the rest of the story’s ridiculous plotting. Following this is a complicated, aimless series of somewhat-connected events that deal with the Penguin being his normal extortiony self, some bint named Charlotte that Bruce is apparently enamored with (where the hell is Catwoman? Oh, wait, I’ll get to that in a second) and some tangentially-involved villains called the Dollmaker (who spends most of the narrative ripping off Professor Pyg) and Snakeskin (who seems like a mashup of Killer Croc and Odo from Star Trek Deep Space Nine).

To quote the Nostalgia Critic, “this is an absolute ass of shit”.

Seriously, this is really bad. Really, really bad. I get absolutely no sense of a story here, and what little plot threads there are contribute only to a muddled, confusing narrative that jumps schizophrenically from plotline to plotline without settling on anything coherent. It’s not even really presented as the start of an arc the way The Court of Owls was, it’s just a pointless, flailing story that doesn’t really have much of a story to it.

It gets even more confusing during a brief interlude with Catwoman killing a bunch of guys (!) and encountering the son of Hugo Strange which is completely unrelated to anything going on in the main story and offers no narrative purpose whatsoever. It’s almost as if someone copy-pasted a portion of another story then smacked it in the middle of this hopeless excuse for a graphic novel. As far as big-lipped-alligator-moments go, it’s about as high as the piano-on-the-head scene in Zombieland but nowhere near as funny.

The only reason the story is getting a point is for the partly interesting thing about Joker cutting his face off. If they’d returned to that at all during the story I may have rated it higher, but apart from that it’s confusing, poorly paced and utterly pointless. It adds nothing to any existing Batman story, and if it’s meant as the platform for a future tale, then God help DC.

The artwork gets the highest mark, but only because it’s Tony Daniel’s classic look of fully-fleshed out environment and great line articulation on all the characters. While it does get a bit hypersexual when showing “journalist” Charlotte and the creepy nurse thing that works for the Dollmaker it’s still competently drawn and coloured, though I find I enjoy it less than I do Daniel’s previous works. It might have something to do with the story being as interesting as a Discovery Channel special on paint drying, or it might be because I’m comparing it to the exceptional artwork of RIP, or because it felt way too dark pallette-wise compared to previous attempts. There’s almost no salient colour in the entire thing, and I feel that the story – however stupid it was – was meant instead for a sepia or greyscale colour scheme instead. Maybe I’d’ve been nicer to it then – probably not, though.

The dialogue is – in a word – ridiculous. Despite my ranting about how gut-wrenchingly awful the story is, I think the dialogue is probably my least-favourite thing in the entire story. For those of you not familiar with it, there’s a Batman story by a dude called Frank Miller and another dude called Jim Lee called All-Star Batman and Robin. It was an alternate-reality title portraying Batman as a narcissistic, childish psychopath (aka The Goddamn Batman) who spoke in macho, self-congratulatory dialogue about how awesome he is and how shit everyone else is by comparison.

I think Tony Daniel must’ve copy-pasted this stuff too, because the dialogue in Faces of Death is extremely reminiscent of All-Star. Batman spends most of the story’s internal monologue saying things like “They can’t escape me. I’m Batman.” When he’s not stroking his ego Frank Miller-style he’s over-explaining everything in the story; a villain gets cornered by him, and instead of saying something like:

“He’ll talk. They always talk when I’m around.”
He ends up saying something like:
“I don’t need to break his bones. He will talk to me. My fear drives them more than physical injury.
They’ll talk to me because I make them afraid. Fear is more powerful than breaking his nose.
I may have to anyway, but not yet – I’m Batman.”
He isn’t the only offender; both in internal and scene dialogue the characters all over-explain every little plan, detail and character motivation (such as they are) like they’re part of a 1960s Adam West story. Not only does it bring any sense of narrative flow to a grinding halt but it makes every character seem like a two-dimensional cutout with some pre-assigned dialogue and motivations stuck to them like slogans on a t-shirt. I don’t sympathize or engage with anybody in this story to begin with, and the dialogue just makes me want all of them to die horribly. Or visit acting classes. One of the two.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; word through the grapevine was that the new Detective Comics stories were rubbish, and my previous experience with Tony Daniel should’ve been an indicator that this story would end up being about as fun as nailing mousetraps to my ears. The fact that Daniel is being billed as a co-writer on Scott Snyder’s The Night of the Owls makes me fearful that the excellent writing of the latter will be ruined by the atrocious scribblings of the former, but as ever I remain naively optimistic.
All I can say in conclusion is that if you’re looking for an awful story to kill time until the bus arrives or your heart stops working, this might be a worthy candidate. For Bat-veterans who are committed to grinding their way through this dross, I’d recommend you read an old favourite afterwards to wash Tony Daniel’s taste out of your mouths.
STORY: 1/5



BEST QUOTE: Ok, there isn’t one. Seriously. I tried, and I couldn’t find one single quote that I enjoyed in this thing. I mean, even in Cry for Justice there was the odd good quote here or there despite its status as a congealed vomit pile. There’s nothing good in the dialogue here. Nothing. That’s how bad it is.

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