By junkmasterzero 2 Comments
Welcome to what I hope will be the first of many installments of:
This installment deals with the controversial Year Two arc that ran in Detective Comics June-September 1987
What follows is full of spoilers.
The story opens up with the newly appointed Commissioner Gordon doing a televised interview presumably on his relationship with the still enigmatic Batman, when the subject quickly turns to a previous Gotham vigilante "the Reaper" who "protected" the city's streets twenty years ago with much more violent means before mysteriously disappearing, and theoretically sending Gotham down it's downward spiral into the city it is today. Gordon reassures the public that while the Batman is not an official representative of the law he is willing to accept his services. This is the first we see (in this issue) of Bruce and Jim's growing relationship, a relationship that will be put to the test throughout the entirety of the arc.
We quickly pan to Batman doing something he does amazingly well: punishing criminals. It's a short but entertaining sequence which I think is only there to set up a bit of foreshadowing. The goons have guns, Batman's reaction "Guns? If you've put your faith in those... you've already lost."
The last bit of exposition introduces the other dramatis personae of the plot, a friend of Leslie Thompkins, Rachel Caspian, and her father, who ominously states "It's good to be home." With the players on mark and the stage set, the show is ready to begin.
The real story begins with Leslie and Rachel meeting Bruce at the construction of The Wayne Foundation building to have a lunch date about the charity work Rachel is doing with the poor. It is a nice portrayal of Bruce's character, the art provides a compelling and insightful look into what he is thinking without the addition of heavy word-balloons, it really is a great short scene. While the newly enamored Bruce is walking Rachel home, a small piece of information leaves him dumbfounded on her stoop, she's about to take her final vows to become a nun. I think for me all of the "action" Bruce sees is a highlight in this entire story.
The scene changes to Mr. Caspian returning home from a presumably long walk to survey the level of depravity that Gotham has sunk down to. I want to take a second out here to talk about the character design of Mr. Caspain (not the Reaper, I'll get to that in a second) I really like it. He is a large fellow, mostly bald, the hair that is left is white, with a semi-egg shaped head, stern face and very stocky build. He actually looks like a man of about sixty who has kept himself in tremendously well shape. Anyway he returns home, opens a secret compartment in his house (with a sconce no less) to reveal with his fists clenched in vengeance, his Reaper suit. Who didn't see that coming right? But that's not the point.
You get a scene of him going to town on local muggers, cutting them down like so much wheat. Back at the manor Bruce is asking about Rachel when the Signal goes up, she tries to persuade him no to go but he insists, promising that He won't die tonight.
In Commissioner's office Gordon lets Bats know that the Reaper has returned, there is some debate about whether it is the original or an impostor, and Batman leaves to track the skull-faced fiend, handing a pipe to Jim, a gift to help him quit smoking (I'm not sure how that works). The hunter finds his quarry about to exact his vengeance upon a street-walker or two, and decides to put a stop to it.
What follows is a four-page fight where the Batman gets his cape thoroughly handed to him leaving him broken and bloody in a sewer to make his way back to the manor.
After being patched up, Bruce awakes to a somewhat controversial decision, to fight his enemy he must meet him on his own terms, with the gun that killed his parents.
A lot of people have a problem with this, I really don't think I do. Remember this is early on in Batman's career, he is still making tons (relatively) of mistakes, and this is the first time he's been beaten this hard since Holly Robinson stuck a knife in his thigh. It kinda makes sense he isn't quite the man who walks among gods yet, and he is doing what he thinks he has to do to protect the citizens of Gotham.
Part two opens with the police escorting a mob boss, Big Willie Golonka, to prison early to avoid a media circus. The Reaper shows up to exact sweet justice on him and any cops that may be in the way. Back in the cave we find that Bruce is still an expert marksman despite years of neglect. Also I love the image of him standing in the cave wearing a Harvard University shirt target practicing, classic. There is the typical Leslie/Bruce bickering about whether Thomas Wayne would be happy with what Bruce is doing, this time having more weight due to the addition of the gun being used to help his war on crime, but the mood abruptly changes when Rachel's name comes up in conversation.
We finally get the origin of the Reaper, who he is and how he came to be. It is essentially what would have happened if Martha Wayne was the only one killed. Caspian was out at the circus (Haley?) with his wife and daughter and on the way home catch a man robbing their house; wife was killed, inspired by a Bible quote at his wife's funeral, he decides to exact his revenge on crime. What is interesting in this parallel origin, is that it could be how Bruce would have turned out if he had grown older before the accident, perhaps even a little more cynical, and made a less childlike, idealistic, vow to punish crime.
Back in the office there is talk of a sting operation to catch the Reaper, Bats responds with an ominous: "Commissioner, very soon now you're going to curse my name, order my capture, wish me dead. Against that time I can only say I swear to you -- by the cause I love -- that I am your friend."
What follows is another disastrous attempt to catch Caspian, with a gun-toting Batman even going so far as shooting(!) the gun out of Gordon's hand.
There is a meeting of the mob to determine what to do with with the Reaper when one man steps forward with a suggestion, Joe Chill. He offers to take out the vigilante for a price, when Batman busts in, offering a truce till the Reaper is caught. An uneasy alliance is born, Batman and the man who killed his parents, team up to bring down a mutual enemy.
Part three opens with Bruce (as Batman) mulling over recent decisions at the site of his parents grave, when you-know-how shows up to "twist the knife" so to speak. It's almost as if Leslie is the personification of Bruce's conscience.
The next seven pages deals with Batman and Chill's first "assignment", strong-arming a group of drug-dealers into "participating" in an attempt to draw out The Reaper. Not everything goes according to Batman's plan.
Bruce and Caspian have dinner together, along with Rachel and Leslie, before going out to their respective night-jobs. The trap doesn't work out quite how they want it, this time due to interference by police, including Gordon punching Batman right in the face. The Reaper gets away yet again, leaving Batman to contemplate what he going to do to Chill once the truce is over.
Part four opens with the mob's disappointment with Chill's performance and the Reaper setting a little trap of his own. Meanwhile a very happy Bruce is preparing for a night with Rachel. Now is a good time to talk for a second about the art. The first issue is drawn by Alan Davis, while the last three are by Todd McFarlane. Davis does an amazing job at capturing expression and while that may not be McFarlane's strong-suit he makes up for it with an extremely capey Batman and an incredibly dirty Gotham, I like it.
Back at the Reaper's trap he is mowing through scumbag and cop alike (although I guess in Gotham there is a little bit of an overlap) until the Bat runs a comendeared police van through the wall and into the Reaper. Believing the Reaper to be gone Bruce stops by his new fiancé's home to tell her he has one more thing to do and then he is her's forever. Cut to Batman holding a gun to a sleeping Joe Chill's head.
Chill wakes up (the gun is put away) and Batman takes him outside into crime alley, and reveals himself as the son of Thomas and Martha Wayne. There is a small fight which ends in a gun to Chill's head once again. BANG! Chill is dead. It wasn't Bats who pulled the trigger however, the Reaper had survived the crash.
The two engage in combat on the roof of the incomplete Wayne Foundation Building until the Reaper falls to his apparent death. With his parent's killer dead and Caspian gone Bruce puts the gun into storage in the basement of the foundation and goes to see Rachel.
Rachel has seen the news that her father was the Reaper and decides that she must make amends for what he did by putting on the Habit. There is one final scene with Leslie where he shows her the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic that he built for her in Crime Alley, and then he's off into the night to fight the good fight as the Batman.
"I can always find my way in the dark."
What can I say about this arc? I really like the portrayal of Bruce’s character, Barr does an amazing job of capturing his relative youth and still somewhat optimistic outlook of his early days before the grim and gritty. The use of the gun is somewhat problematic, as stated earlier, but it is in now way the last time he’ll use one (Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, several others) and it really does feel like it’s an act out of desperation, facing a foe that he just can’t quite beat. The art is done really well in both the Davis and McFarlane issues although for different reasons. The design of the new characters, Judson Caspian and the update of Joe Chill are handled really well. The Reaper outfit, I feel, works better when in shadow, with a flat black silhouette accented only by the sickles and skull. When the cloak goes back to reveal the red-leather armor it just seems to be a little much. There is nothing to break up the solid red, I feel like I’m looking at the armor from the opening scene of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I would say, however, the most important question out of all of this is: “Is this still canon?”
I am going to go out on a limb and say... maybe. The Reaper pose much of an obstacle. Although he hasn't been made very much use of since; the recently resurrected Reaper is a different person from Batman 237, and I'm not counting the Full Circle OGN. There was a slight attempt in an issue of Secret Origins to shoehorn him into the JSA's past, stating that on of the reasons the Reaper used his particular brand of justice was the disbanding of the superteam by the HUAC. And after knocking out, although inadvertently, Alan Scott, the entire JSA rallies to take him down. The main problem arises with the death of Joe Chill. Honestly I think it still can be considered canon with a little faith. This was, I believe, the first extended appearance after the Crisis and therefore was, for a while, the definitive death. After Zero Hour, there was a time when the identity of the Wayne's murderer was in dispute, it specifically states in Batman 0 that the Joe Chill was never identified or caught. When Infinite Crisis came along things changed again, Alexander Luthor states Chill was caught in issue 7 and there was a shot of the newspaper headline in number 6. Could Chill have gotten out of prison in twenty or so years for a double murder? Its Gotham.The specifics of the death is what needs to be called into question. The most recent portrayal of Chill's demise is in one of my personal favorite Batman stories, 2008's "Joe Chill in Hell" (Batman 673). It shows Chill being terrorized by the Batman before, presumably, taking his own life. This closely mirrors his pre-crisis end, which I would expect coming from Morrison. However it is also during a near death experience in what may or may not be Bruce's mind. Did it really happen? Its tough to say. It could be a memory dredged up being so close to death, a dream sequence of what might have been, a glimpse of an alternate reality, or what I think, what Chill was going through in hell itself. Here me out. First clue is the title, which could be taken literally, but I like the idea of Chill's Sisyphean punishment is to be constantly hounded by the Bat until he can take it no more and ends it himself only to relive it again and again for the rest of eternity. But then again with the upcoming DCNu it could all be for not.