“Wheel of Misfortune” & “Russian Roulette”
Review by Steve Sanders
Release Date: January 4, 2012
Story: Tony S. Daniel
Pencils: Tony S. Daniel
Ink: Sandu Florea & Rob Hunter
Art (Back-up Story): Szymon Kuoranski
Best Line: “Equal rights for the disturbed!” -Joker-protester sign
Issue Rating: 4/10 (Above Average)
Here we are at the beginning of the second arc of Detective Comics. If you’ve been reading my THWP reviews of this book, you’ll know that while I liked individual elements and moments in the first four issues, I found them, overall, to be too pedestrian and small for the relaunch of such a monumental book. This issue promised to expand the scope of the threat to Gotham City to include the Penguin, however, as you’ll see, my initial response to this issue is: this is all I get for my $2.99?
Summary – (Spoilers
Batman chases a suspected criminal, Axel Bellamy, to a park that is being occupied by a crowd of Joker supporters wearing masks. Bellamy is stabbed by one of the protesters who also sprays acid in Batman’s face. Batman chases him to the Gotham harbor waterfront. He searches the killer’s clothing and discovers a poker chip from the Iceberg Casino.
A strange, grotesque fat man covered in warts, Mr. Mosaic, is given a VIP pass to the Iceberg Casino.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne’s love interest, reporter Charlotte Rivers arrives at the Iceberg Casino, a floating structure with a giant iceberg sculpture on top. She is greeted by Hugh Marder, Bruce’s business associate from issue 2. She changes into a maid’s outfit in preparation for some investigative journalism while the Penguin and three of his female associates watch.
In this vignette, an anonymous narrator, later revealed to be super-villain, Hugo Strange, tells the story of a teenage boy named Eli who plays poker with “The Mad Russian.” Eli wins a big hand, but the Mad Russian discovers that he has been cheating with a mechanical device hidden up his sleeve. The other players are unhappy. Catwoman arrives, takes the money and saves him. He had been working for her all along. Eli returns home to his father, Hugo Strange.
Commentary – Story(Spoilers):
It’s extremely disappointing that only five months into the relaunch of this book, Daniel gives us an issue split between the main story and a backup story. There is very little material here that advances the main plot. Reading through the synopsis above, it’s almost as if DC gave us only a fragment of an issue since the beginning of the Penguin arc takes up only twelve pages. Comic book readers wait a full month to get a continuation of their favorite book and to provide this paltry an amount of story is a disservice. For that reason alone, issue 5 of the New 52 relaunch of Detective Comics gets a below average rating.
From the material that we do get, there are some good things, however. In issue 4, Harvey Bullock mentioned that the Joker’s supporters had begun building a shrine to him in front of the Gotham City Police Department. Here we see that the villain’s supporters have grown in numbers and have taken over a city park. This sets up a particularly exciting action piece as Batman chases a masked criminal through throngs of similarly clown-masked protesters. This might be my favorite single action scene from the relaunch to date.
It’s good to see the Charlotte Rivers and Hugh Marder characters continue in the story, though we get so little of them that it’s hard to figure out exactly what role they will play, though we can probably guess that Charlotte will run into trouble in her investigation and require some Bat-saving.
The Iceberg Casino looks a little goofy. Does anyone not know that the Penguin is running this joint? However, it’s probably goofy in just the right amount and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the Penguin in action.
There really isn’t much to say about the “Mad Russian” backup story. The atmosphere was nice and reminded me of the film Rounders. It was also good to see Catwoman and Hugo Strange in the main Batman book and seemingly working together. How, or if, this will tie into the main Detective Comics story is anyone’s guess.
This is probably my favorite cover in the New 52 relaunch since issue 1. I really like the split screen between the Joker with his fist clenched and the Penguin clutching his staff. Great contrast.
The interior art has some well drawn scenes, especially the crowd of Joker-imposters congregating in the park and the action sequences involving the chase through the city to the waterfront. The final panel reintroducing the Penguin is fun. Daniel evokes a very classic image of the Penguin.
The back-up story’s art is more heavily shaded and meant to look gritty and faded out. We’ve seen this kind of thing before in comics. It reminds me of the art from the Bendis/Brubacker run on Daredevil. I liked the art there, and it works well enough here, but I wouldn’t want to see it in the main Batman book. I prefer a more colorful and lucid style in comics since I like to see more details of what is going on.
Please tell me that this is not the format that Detective Comics is going to follow from now on. I’m hoping that Daniel was on vacation for part of this month and needed to throw in something that he had already written to get to his page count. What we got was interesting, but it was so abbreviated that it earns a disappointing 4 out of 10.