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03/05/2003: and yet more Batman

I'm starting to fear that my reviews of Batman: Prodigal, Nightwing: A Knight In Blüdhaven, and Superman: Metropolis #1, which I foolishly mentioned were forthcoming in an entry over a week ago, might share the fate of my Other Comics Recs page which I announced as "coming soon" when I first created my website in 1998 and it is still not there (though I "downgraded" its status to "coming eventually"). At least that has taught me not to include "coming soon" parts in any website ever again, and the reason I haven't scrapped that one "coming eventually" section is because I still want to create that rec page, and I have the hope that it might pressure me (well that it hasn't worked the last five years is no reason not to be optimistic, right? *self-mocking laughter*). Aw, anyway, a week isn't like five years, and I have written other Batman reviews, it's just that I've read more comics since then, and decided to write the reviews along the line of the publishing (and internal) chronology, instead of in the order I've read stuff. See? I have excuses...

So I'm slowly working through the backlog of recently read comics I want to comment on, but unfortunately I can read comics far faster than I can write blog entries about them. Okay, it's not that unfortunate, after all if it took that long to read one, the pile of unread comics would accumulate far faster than it is currently. I mean right now, I only have maybe 100-150 comics waiting to be read, I don't want to imagine how that would be if it took longer to read one. But back to Batman, that is to the four part story Batman Year 3 published in Batman #436-#439, written by Marv Wolfman, pencils by Pat Broderick, inks by John Beatty. They've also been recommended to me here for getting to know Dick Grayson better.

At first I thought that the story might have lost some of its impact because I hadn't read the issues with Jason Todd's death, and the present day plot of Batman Year 3 is at least in part about dealing with that. However after I read those (and was not very fond of them) I think I missed less than I had originally feared.

In the present day Batman tries to find out who is systematically killing the local mob bosses, and during his investigation he's so violent and out of control that Alfred felt he had to call Nightwing to check on him. That I liked, though I still think Alfred should have called Dick earlier for Jason's funeral. I was somewhat irked that there was no sign of Dick in the funeral panel in A Death in the Family, even though my last impression (from Batman #416) was that Dick and Jason were on good terms with each other, so unless something happened between #416 and Jason's death that I'm not aware of, I would have liked it much better had he gotten the chance to attend the funeral.

So in Year 3 we are shown how Bruce -- because he doesn't want to deal with Jason's death -- removed everything that might remind him of Jason from the mansion, removed all pictures, all his stuff, as if the second Robin had never existed. Bruce isn't there when Dick arrives so Dick wanders through the mansion and the Batcave and sees it from a different perspective ("Funny, as a kid I never realized how large the Batcave was, or how dark and cold. It was my personal Disneyland of electronics and toys and secret places. Now I wish I'd brought along a sweater."). He notices how all things connected to Jason have been removed, to a slasher of course lines like this one stand out somewhat: "Even in your bedroom...no sign that you ever loved him...or even that he lived." I mean I'm not very fond of slashing Batman with any teenaged Robin because of the squicky incest vibes I get from that pairing, but seriously, the only places we are shown that Dick looks for traces of the second Robin are the Batcave and then Bruce's bedroom.

What Alfred hasn't told Dick is that also Anthony Zucco is about to be released by the parole board. As in previous years Alfred argues against the release, but this year Zucco has an extortion going on to insure he's released. That part of the story didn't really work for me, because it turns out that he could have blackmailed them when he was first eligible for parole, but chose to stay in prison to better rebuild his crime organization in secret. He's only forced to act now because the old orphanage, where he hid the book containing all sorts of evidence that he used to blackmail many people, is about to be torn down. I don't know, it just strained my suspension of disbelief somewhat that he chose to stay in prison. Though who knows, with the state of Gotham's prison system, maybe inside a prison is really the better place from which to rebuild your crime family than outside.

Anyway during the parole hearing Alfred tells them about Zucco's history and the murder of Dick's parents. His narration of those events are the other main plot (later there are also flashbacks by Dick to that time), though at the beginning it's not fully clear yet to the reader, that the murder of the other mob bosses is orchestrated by Zucco, and that he blackmails part of the committee, so how closely the two plots are connected is revealed more gradually.

I think at the center is the contrast between three superficially similar events Bruce, Dick and Zucco had to live through, and how they still turned out very differently, and coped with the blow of loosing their parents as a child in different ways. In part the characters themselves make these comparisons, when Alfred contrasts Zucco's life with Dick's during the hearing, but the theme runs through all parts of the story.

Zucco swears revenge for the deaths of his parents, and holds true to that promise, and the young Dick Grayson also calls out to the Batman right after his parents' deaths "I want him...he killed my parents. Kill him for me. You've got to kill him.", but by the time his initial shock has worn off and he's taken in by Bruce he says, when asked whether he still wants Zucco death, "No...it wouldn't bring my parents back, would it? I just wish I could do something so people like him couldn't hurt anybody ever again." And after Dick has "passed" this question Bruce introduces him to his Batman persona almost right away, even though Alfred doubts the wisdom of that decision ("Wearing that costume...risking your life every night -- that is irrational. And now this. It is wrong, Sir"). Bruce's reasoning is "If he wants Zucco to pay for his crimes, let him learn how to do it the right way."

We are then shown the rigorous training the new Robin has to go through, contrasted by how in the present Dick is appalled at how Batman has changed, how violent he's become, not at all acting like Batman taught Robin to deal with criminals. I especially liked how Dick commiserated with Alfred. Nightwing follows Batman's line of investigation to track Bruce down ("It's time we talked. And this time I'm not letting him walk away." probably also referring to their last confrontation in #416), and we see how he arrives at the same conclusions without resorting to such violent acts, but through detective skills. Dick also muses about his relationship with Bruce and about the impact Batman's obsession had on his life while growing up ("[...] I feel like the child of an alcoholic -- you know the problem isn't yours, but it is. [...]").

They finally meet both awaiting the release of Zucco, on whom they have now evidence that he's responsible for the mob killings. At first Dick is in favor for waiting with the arrest: "[...] I want him to taste freedom for just a moment before we do." But changes his mind: "No! This is wrong. This is morbid, standing here staring. I put it all behind me, and I don't want to dredge up all those nightmares again.", however now Batman wants to wait "Just a few seconds more.", seconds in which we see Zucco being mowed down by a salve of machine gun fire from a helicopter. With that the third of four issues ends with Nightwing accusing Batman "You knew? You knew this was going to happen, didn't you? Didn't you?" and for a moment I wondered with him, and was unsure, because Batman really had acted very violent through out. So I thought this scene was quite effective.

At the beginning of the last issue in this arc Nightwing finally confronts Batman about his irrational and violent behavior after Jason's death, with the accusation still standing between them. We get lots of panels with Batman turning away from Nightwing and with avoiding eye contact. Of course Batman didn't know about the assassination ("Whatever you think of me now, you know I would be never party to murder.") but when Nightwing presses him further, he clamps down again. They still need to find the ledger with Zucco's blackmail info though, but Bruce turns down Dick's offer to work together. Dick asks Alfred why Bruce won't accept help, and he answers "Fear overrules logic." Alfred also confesses that he was afraid how Dick might react to the news of Zucco's release, but Dick explains to him how he is not like Bruce, because he didn't grew up alone, and how he was given love and "didn't have time to brood on the past."

Dick then decides that Bruce needs help even if he doesn't want it, and follows him, and once again while Batman is out of control, trying to beat information out of people, Nightwing acts differently. Meanwhile the criminal underworld wonders why they don't communicate with each other ("Don't you masked guys ever get together?"). Of course the rest of the mob bosses are also still after Zucco's book.

Nightwing finds it first, but is attacked by a guy with a tire iron, causing Batman who is by then close enough to see but not yet in fighting distance flashbacks to Jason's death -- though now that I've read A Death in the Family I'm wondering about that, because he hasn't seen Joker doing that. Well, maybe he imagined it. Anyway, for the first time Batman remembers Jason again, scrambling to reach Nightwing. Of course Nightwing holds his own in the fight, though for a while the tire iron mob guy seems to have the upper hand. When mob guy seems to be down finally, Nightwing turns his back to him to look at the book, at that moment Batman arrives calling out a warning, causing Nightwing to make a step, and mob guy who charged at him falls to death, the pages in the book scattering, and washing away in the rain. BTW, I'm not happy at all with the fight scene itself, I'm sceptical that the overweight older guy could have "really"gotten to Nightwing in this way, and thought it was mainly done because the writers wanted the emotional impact from the fight.

Anyway on the last page we see Dick sitting on his parents' graves telling them his story, while Bruce sits in the mansion telling Alfred "Dick figured it out before I did. He's become quite a detective...and quite a man." He also says right before that "Maybe fate doesn't want to make it so easy on us.", and while that is supposed to refer primarily on the destroyed book, that contained all that evidence it is certainly also true for their relationship, since their issues are still not resolved, and their conversation still not really finished.

Overall I liked those four issues much better than A Death in the Family, despite some minor quibbles and the artwork that once again was not out-standing (not awful either). And of course there's a lot more stuff and details that I didn't mention in my comments, but which still added quite a bit to the story. So it's not as "bare bones" as it might seem from my comments.

Posted by RatC @ 04:44 AM CET
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