— By Stephen Schleicher
Paul Dini joins the Detective Comics roster of writers with his debut in The Beautiful People. Reading this tale of The Dark Knight, you immediately understand that Dini knows this character both in costume and out. Almost like he’s written Batman before. Spoilers ahead…
Detective Comics 821: The Beautiful People
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: J.H. Williams III
The rich and famous of Gotham City are being stalked, kidnapped, and ransomed for millions of dollars, and the elite are nervous. It isn’t until the Batman stumbles upon a moonlighting criminal who decides to use the act for his own gain that the plot is revealed. One of the things that jumps out at the very beginning of this tale is Batman’s inadvertent killing of the mugger. After striking the felon, he stumbles into the path of an oncoming train and is killed instantly. It is shocking both in the way J.H. Williams and John Kalisz colored and laid out the confrontation, but also in the non-remorseful attitude of Batman.
In order to get inside the inside track on the high society crimes, Batman goes under cover as his daytime alter-ego Bruce Wayne. And he does it quite well and slips back into his playboy lifestyle quite easily. This is evident in Bruce’s inner dialogue when he says, “Sometimes I forget I’m a part of this world too.”
Drifting from hot spot to hot spot, including a brief respite at the Peregrinator’s Club where we get to see how the rich entertain themselves, Wayne ends up in an after hours bar where an attractive woman tries to pick him up. Always the detective, Wayne uses his skill to obtain a key clue to Vanessa Ford’s true identity.
As Bruce heads out, he notices Vanessa giving two heavies a signal, and as they follow him out the door, they find the street empty. If they had only looked up, they would have seen Bruce hanging from the side of the building. With the tables turned, Bruce dons his uniform and follows the criminals back to their lair.
It is here where we are introduced to Façade, whose disguise reminds me of a flamboyant guy with a leather fetish. Through his monologue we learn that he has been using his knowledge of the way socialites live to train this minions. They in turn get close to their intended targets with ease and proceed to commit their crimes. Fortunately they don’t kill; they are only in it for the money.
Throughout the tale, I had flashbacks to The Terrible Trio story from Batman the Animated Series. Knowing it was Dini writing, I was hoping he wasn’t reusing this story to kick off his run on the series. Luckily he didn’t and after Batman (and Robin) bust up Façade’s lair, they rush back to the Peregrinator’s Club to discover Façade isn’t Bruce Wayne’s acquaintance Matthew, but Erik Hanson, a trusted waiter from the club.
With Hanson put away, the tale closes with Batman, Robin, and Alfred reflecting on the cunning skill Hanson used to acquire his target and Batman indicating that, had things gone differently, he might have been the one doing the crimes.
Overall I enjoyed this issue a lot. One of the things I have noticed since One Year Later kicked in, is the Bat titles are returning more to their sleuthing roots instead of relying on non-stop action. And Dini does a great job of making Bruce Wayne the undercover identity of The Batman, as opposed to a weak façade. Here’s hoping DC keep Dini around for as long as possible on this title. The artwork is also spectacular, and even though I am not always keen on the style presented here, it really works in the Noir world of Detective Comics.
I give Detective Comics 821 5 out of 5 stars.