Beginning with a nod to the zeitgeist where “YouTubers” have supplanted television, film, sports, and music stars as the idols of youth culture, Bryan Hill lays out his thesis for his Detective Comics storyline and with artists Miguel Mendonca and Diana Egea and colorist Adriano Lucas adds explosions and obstacles to the team-up between Batman and seasoned principal, yet up and coming superhero Black Lightning. Detective Comics #983’s mysterious villain’s M.O. is that giving young heroes the opportunity to be a member of the Batman family and wear the Bat-symbol and dulling Batman’s edge as a vigilante who strikes fear into the heart of criminals. Hill and Mendonca immediately create a fairly high threat level as Batman’s young allies begin to be picked off one by one.
I really love how Hill, Mendonca, and Egea introduce Jefferson Pierce the principal and Black Lightning the superhero in Detective Comics #983. They show his dual nature by juxtaposing text of Pierce interviewing a potential teacher candidate with Black Lightning rescuing a kid from a masked criminal with a gun and a grenade. Hill’s writing, and Mendonca, Egea, and Lucas’ art show Black Lightning’s realist approach to crime fighting and life in general and that includes sometimes not saving everyone. Sadly, some students fall through the cracks, or criminals end up blowing themselves up instead of being taken alive. But this is the reality of Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning’s jobs, and his persistence and willingness to learn from his failures is why Batman wants to recruit him to lead and teach a team of young heroes.
Although, he could have gone the standard, house style superhero out, Miguel Mendonca makes Detective Comics #983 more memorable and even pays homage to the great comics of the past through his layout choices, like Dark Knight Returns-esque talking heads that add commentary to the events of the story. For example, explosions are a given in a superhero book, but Mendonca and his inker Diana Egea don’t do a double page money shot and move on. First, they show the impact of the bomb on Duke flying from a building in a way that screams pain and not cool action movie. And then they build on this by crafting a page with fragmented panels that look like stitches or veins as Alfred treats Duke after a fight with this mysterious hater of young people who are inspired by Batman and wear his symbol. In the panels, you can see Alfred pull shrapnel out of Duke’s skin with his own hands before it cuts to the title/credits page with Batman holding Duke’s arm and saying it’ll be okay. This inciting event shows the need for a “safety net” that Jefferson Pierce says his role as a principal is and coupled with the murder of the Batman-loving YouTuber creates the question of the Bat-symbol leading to more harm than good, which has sort of been a big theme in the comics since the death of Jason Todd in the late 1980s.
If there’s any real weakness in Detective Comics #983, it’s that Hill and Mendonca’s scene to scene transitions can sometimes be jarring like immediately going from Batman feeling pain for Duke to Bruce Wayne in sunglasses telling Martian Manhunter and the Justice League to not interfere with his new team that he’s setting up with Black Lightning. It’s a bit of a mood swing, and there’s a bit more in the Batcave before introducing Black Lightning in Metropolis. A thought will be introduced like Duke telling Batman that the villain said having a “Bat-family” made him weaker, and then it’ll cut to a fight scene in Metropolis. Hill has a definite grasp over the big picture and ends the book on a dark, powerful note, but location transitions could be a smoother. However, it is damn cool when Batman and Jefferson Pierce have their first meeting with Adriano Lucas bringing extra shadows, and Hill giving Batman a bit of a know it all attitude when it comes to calculations for his Black Lightning suit.
By starting Detective Comics #983 with a pair of tragedies that Batman failed to prevent, Bryan Hill, Miguel Mendonca, Diana Egea, and Adriano Lucas immediately place the Dark Knight on the defensive and challenge his preconceptions and reliance on young people to assist in his war on crime. Black Lightning is an organic fit for the story and doesn’t seem like a second fiddle with struggles and strengths of his own. Finally, Mendonca, Egea, and Lucas’ art work captures the power of a superhero action sequence without glossing over the pain that comes after especially in Duke’s case.
Story: Bryan Hill Pencils: Miguel Mendonca
Inks: Diana Egea Colors: Adriano Lucas Letters: Sal Cipriano
Story: 8.7 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review