A little while ago, while reading a blog originating in the far away land of Canada, I was confronted with the opinion that Paul Dini's work on Detective Comics was less than spectacular. Now, Dini as writer was the reason I'd returned to reading Detective those 3 or so years ago, thus I felt compelled to revisit those issues.
Starting with issue 821 in September '06 and running through issue 852 in March '09, Dini was the primary writer. Others were interspersed, but 24 of the 32 issues were Dini. Various artists cycled through, though Dustin Nguyen sticks in my mind as the predominant penciller. Regardless, the various artists employed styles that meshed well with one another and the mood you'd expect from the original Batman comic.
Dini didn't try to make Batman his own like Miller or Milligan. Instead, he took the character and told great stories, mostly in a single issue. In fact, until issues 846-852, no story went more than 2 issues. There's a certain element of nostalgia, of course, when finding single issue stories like these, but these are so much better written than the stories when I was a kid in the '70s, it's only the single issue format that bears any resemblance.
Starting with issue 821, Dini works the small, character elements and not big, melodrama. It's the interplay of characters. That first issue didn't even have a costumed villain, and those that were in the succeeding stories were the ones we all know, such as Poison Ivy, Penguin, Riddler, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman. Even the Joker, who tends to be employed to the worst effects these days, was two stories, the first of which didn't even have Batman. In fact, that single issue Christmas story of Robin and Joker may be my favorite of the Dini run.
Throughout, with the exception of the psychotic Joker, the costumed rogues are either reformed (Riddler), quasi-reformed (Penguin), attempting to reform (Quinn), or withdrawn from overt misdeeds (Ivy). A lot of the stories focus on people trying to change for the better. Even Bruce Wayne himself is developed incrementally by the exploration of a relationship with Zatanna and eventual realization of his love of another.
Unfortunately, that last occurs during the Hush story that runs through issus 846-852. This was the only large scale story, and seemed overly darwn out, as well as forced. I gather Hush had been around already through some other story lines I haven't read, but his motivation for hating Bruce Wayne rang hollow. I could buy killing his parents for the father's abuse and the mother's complicity, nevermind her manipulations, but hating Bruce because his mother compared the two boys, to the point of wanting Bruce dead? Not so much. After the cross over issues involving "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul", these were my least favorite issues.
Leaving the Hush and Ra's al Ghul business aside, then, I found the Dini work on Detective to be both enjoyable and memorable, two of the prime elements I seek in reading books or comics. Of course, Dini's going to be looked at as having done something lesser in comparison to what Rucka's doing now with Detective featuring Batwoman, but these are two very different works. Dini worked with the strictures of the Batman mythos without undermining it while still telling interesting stories that used the characters to good advantage. Rucka has a character that's near Tabula Rasa, allowing him a much greater freedom in developing her. Not to say that Rucka isn't a great writer. His work on Stumptown, after only two issues, is confirming that, and making clear that Rucka has a real talent for writing female leads.
If you want very good Batman stories, then I'd look no further.