Detective Comics #29: From Dystopia to Utopia to Dystopia, Again

By Alexander Webb

Creating a utopian Gotham City is nearly unimaginable to most fans. The Gotham we've come to know and love is a dark and twisted hell that resonates more with the word, 'dystopia' than any synonym of an ideal society. In lesser hands, this storyline would have been a bobble and drop. Luckily, the hands we've seen span two months and multiple titles were capable enough.

The finale of 'Gothtopia'  does much to jog the memory of readers who may not have taken advantage of all nine crossover titles (Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Batgirl to name a few), as well as some reveals. Scarecrow is releasing a toxin each night throughout Gotham that makes the citizens see an ideal world when they wake up in the morning. They go about their day without a fear in the world, enjoying the beautiful city, leaving doors unlocked, even gazing up at billboards featuring the Penguin pronouncing Gotham as 'the safest city in America'. So what's the problem?

[*Spoilers below!]

The fear toxin that Scarecrow is feeding to Gotham's denizens has long-term effects that will leave them psychologically scarred. The nightmares they have at night while receiving the toxins release a powerful secretion that Scarecrow is using to make even more powerful toxin to release across the entire eastern seaboard, and eventually the country. And that is just no bueno.

With the help of Poison Ivy, Batman was fighting off Scarecrow's army of good and bad, having captured the minds of Batwoman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and the like. After Scarecrow threatens to kill one of them, however, Batman gives in to Scarecrow and his fear toxin, helping him pass his nightly gas ( know what I mean).

Of course, Batman has more than a few tricks up his sleeve; he's basically been resistant to fear toxin since the 90s (come on Scarecrow!). Slipping in an antidote to be released across the seaboard alongside the gathered nightmare secretions, the new gas wave settles upon the infected, at first heightening their fears, then dispelling them, turning everyone back to their lovely, reality-grounded selves. Gotham is a dark dystopia yet again, and all is well.

Not a terrible issue, art- or script-wise. John Layman has laid out what appeared to be a revamped Gotham from the sneak peeks back in the winter, but crafted a yarn that curled back into familiar territory: Scarecrow preying on the fears of heroes and citizens alike. Having a utopian Gotham wouldn't work for two reasons: 1. Why would we revisit Gotham every month if it's a squeaky-clean Astro City; and 2. It negates the need for Batman and the Bat Family to exist. Seeing as how the Bat books are top-of-the-pile reads every month for me (and, I'm assuming based on sales, many of you), that just won't work.

Aaron Lopresti has seen better days in his penciling ventures. The art is quick and hurried, as if this final issue of the arc was behind schedule and needed to hit press the afternoon after he started it. The two-page spreads, featuring main characters on one and airships exploding with fear toxin on the other, looked solid, but they can't carry the bulk of the issue's good art. It got the job done, I suppose, but I've come to expect better from Detective Comics.

The final page teases a new creative team starting next month; we've known Flash team Francis Manapui and Brian Buccelato will be taking the reigns for a while now from early book solicits. I think, overall, Gothtopia was a success as it teased a new, wholesome Gotham that readers thought could become the standard. We expect the predictable turn to someone sinister being behind it, but the Scarecrow reveals is ground that's been treaded on too many times now.

A new creative team will be a step in the right direction for Detective Comics, seeing as how Flash has been solid lately. This was a good arc, but nothing stand-out that changes the game (like what's happening with Nightwing *no spoilers*). Let me know what you think in the comments.

Alex Webb is a fitness trainer by day, Batman-enthusiast by night. Ask him about fitness, comics, RPGs, and answering life's mysteries via Twitter and Instagram @officiallywebb


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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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