I’m just going to cut right to the chase. Was this issue good? Yes. Was it as good as the first two parts? Absolutely not! Now join me for the breakdowns.
This story starts out just as strong as the previous installments. Gordon and Bullock are following a trail of clues with seemingly no connection, their quip trading is entertaining, plenty of genuine detecting is going on, and these are all intercut with plenty of scenes of our psychopath being excessively creepy. As things unfold, Gordon manages to track the psycho back to the graveyard, and this is when everything that was so carefully constructed over the last 2 and a half issues goes flying right out the window.
When the story starts off, Gordon is talking about real heroes. Ones who sacrificed their lives for ideals bigger than themselves. His search eventually takes him to the statue of St. George and the Dragon. When I turned the page and saw this image, it stopped me dead in my tracks. St. George and the Dragon was the inspiration for the cover of Batman #40! This, coupled with the line about true heroes sacrificing themselves, and I was positive this was going to be about the real Batman in some way. Before you get all riled into a frenzy of excitement, let me tell you that this is not what happened. I’m just trying to put you in the frame of mind that I was in as I approached the ending. That way, you can more easily understand my disappointment as the utter simplicity of the finale presents itself. With everything that had transpired up till now and all the theorizing I was doing, the ending really needed to pull out all the stops to meet my grand expectations. But ultimately, I feel like it didn’t even meet my basic expectations.
The last 10 pages of this story devolve into nothing more than a fight scene between Gordon and our psycho killer. Gone is any meaning, instead replaced with full on action. Now, I have no problem with a flashy fight scene, but that is genuinely all the finale ends up being. No great realizations. No connection to Gordon. No explanation for the psycho’s actions. No answers. And no meaningful connection to us or even any kind of commentary on society as a whole. All the buildup was for nothing.
I’m usually not into paying too much attention to solicits, but all three proclaimed that this was a cold case that would shape Jim’s future as Batman and make him face his past. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see any of that going on here. Admittedly, solicits are just there to make us read the comic, so I’m not going to hold that against the story too much since solicits aren’t actually a part of the story. And there is no need really, when there is plenty to complain about in the story itself.
This is the explanation for everything.
Seriously. It’s just some crazy guy that made all this stuff up in his own head in order to fight with the devil. Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that there are crazy people out there that have come up with even crazier stuff than this, but I seriously wished that he would have been doing this for some actual purpose. Not just believing that he would get to fight the devil.
Not only is his reasoning irrelevant, we learn nothing about him. Not who he is or why he has decided to take on this task. If there had been some relevancy to his mission, I could have forgiven the lack of details on an origin. But we don’t get either of those things. I’m going to use the movie “Seven” as an example. For those of you who have not seen it, a killer uses the seven deadly sins as inspiration to commit several murders, i.e., force feeding someone to death to represent gluttony. We never find out who the killer truly is, but it doesn’t matter because what was important was the message he was trying to send. That as a society, we have become complacent and accepting of things we shouldn’t have. He did what he did to make us realize that we should punish those who are evil and shy away from becoming evil ourselves.
This story had a chance to deliver a real message. Instead of being about a goofy made up set of circumstances that the killer believed could have resulted in his opportunity to fight the devil, it could have been about creating heroes. Heroes have been front and center through this whole arc. True heroes arise through extreme conflict. How much more awesome would it have been if the killer created this elaborate scenario to give Gordon a real challenge. To force Gordon to rise to the occasion. How crazy would it have been if he were actually doing this to turn Gordon into a true hero. How messed up would it have been to find out that he killed all these people for the benefit of society. Now that would have been crazy. It would have also tied Gordon more directly to the heart of the story and given it genuine meaning. It’s strange, because you can even see how some of the lines the killer utters to Gordon in the cemetery actually condemn his tenure as Batman. As if he felt Gordon wasn’t good enough to be Batman, but given the right challenges, could have been a worthy successor.
I feel like the ground work was laid out for all this, but it wasn’t carried through to a satisfying conclusion. Part of me feels like there might have been an alternate ending to this story that got scrapped when “rebirth” came along. I have no evidence to support this, but it just feels like there are far too many angles pointing us in another direction to ignore the possibility. Take for instance the chemical distributor. Where were they going with that? It’s as if they had originally intended to go in that direction and came up with trace elements of dirt on the dog at the last minute. It just seems oddly convenient that the dog would be the only victim that had any trace of slate and sandstone. I also thought the realization that the statues all pointed to St. George was a much bigger reveal and should have been more relevant than the dirt thing. It was like, “Look at this awesome clue I found. Oh wait, it doesn’t matter. The dirt on the dog told us where to go.”
Art for this issue is handled by Fernando Pasarin and Scot Eaton. Pasarin worked on the previous two books and the first half of this one. I’ve already said plenty about his work from previous reviews, so nothing more to add other than the fact that his stuff is still up to par. Eaton also does a very nice job here. While he doesn’t have the same attention to detail that Pasarin does, I think his work on this issue was perfectly adequate for a sequence that amounts to nothing more than a brawl.
This issue is 40 pages long. 25 of them are devoted to “Martyrs and Madmen”, while the last 15 are set aside for a stand alone story entitled “The 11 Curious Cases of Batman”. While I totally loved the backup story, I think it might have been more prudent to have used those pages to deliver a more impactful ending on the main story.
If I were judging this issue on this story alone, I’d have to give it a 6/10.
While this is a story, it’s more so an art gallery than anything else. There is some brief narrative tying it all together, but primarily, it’s an homage to 11 previous Batman comic covers with each one being depicted by a different artist.
As a long time reader, this story was a true joy for me to behold. As I flipped each page, even though the images were done in a different style by a different artist, I recognized the source material they were drawing inspiration from. For me, each page made me relive an entire tale. Reading this was like reading 12 stories, not just one. And I wasn’t just reliving the stories, but I was transported to a different time as well. Remembering the age I was when I first read them as well as what was going on in my life at the time. This was a transcendent experience for me. I understand that it’s my own personal experience with the character that made this particular story so phenomenal for me, but even without that point of view, it’s still enjoyable to see alternate takes on some true buried treasures. Fortunately, the last two pages display the original covers so that comparisons can be made by newer readers.
As the story goes, it’s basically Batman explaining an average night in Gotham. The thing that I really love about this, is that it acknowledges pre52 continuity in the present cannon. When the New52 premiered back in 2011, even though it was touted as a reboot, I decided that everything that happened before was still valid unless DC published a specific story that countered it. After-all, all the Robins were present in the first issue of Batman with no explanation, so they must have come from the stories we already knew. Even then, if what DC presented wasn’t better than what I already knew, I was only going to incorporate worthwhile elements into my own personal view of correct cannon. That doesn’t mean I dismissed stories I didn’t like. It was still important to recognize the new continuity in order to understand certain story elements in the future. I just wasn’t going to let it rewrite my own understanding of the world. Like I said earlier, that is why I loved this so much. It completely validates my own personal take on continuity.
This story on its own gets a 9/10.
For those of you interested in the actual stories behind these covers, look for a future post from me detailing the curious cases of the Batman.
I was originally going to have a whole section here going into depth on “The 11 Curious Cases of Batman”. As I wrote it, I began to realize that it was going to be bigger than the review itself. Hence, it’s getting its own post now. If you can’t wait for me to finish writing it…I’ll share the issue numbers and titles with you now in case you want to look them up on your own. I noticed that they were impossible to make out when I zoomed in (except for #50+70), so hopefully this is useful to some of you.
- Detective Comics #50 (1941) “The Case of the Three Devils!”
- Detective Comics #70 (1942) “The Man who could read Minds!”
- Detective Comics #425 (1972) “The Stage is set…for Murder!”
- Detective Comics #427 (1972) “A Small Case of Murder”
- Detective Comics #434 (1973) “The Spook that Stalked Batman”
- Detective Comics #442 (1974) “Death Flies the Haunted Sky!”
- Detective Comics #469 (1977) “By Death’s Eerie Light!”
- Detective Comics #531 (1983) “The Face of the Chimera”
- Detective Comics #553 (1985) “The Mask of the Black Death!”
- Detective Comics #562 (1986) “Reeling”
- Detective Comics #602 (1989) “Tulpa Part Two: Night Moves”
It’s kind of funny how many of these titles have an exclamation point in them.
- You want to see how “The Bronze Age” ends.
- You’re a fan of extended fight scenes.
- You’ve enjoyed the dynamics that were on display in the previous two parts. The first half of this story has plenty more for you to enjoy.
- You want to see an awesome art gallery that pays homage to several multiple-decades-old Batman covers.
The ending was far too simple for all the incredible setup we were given. It devolves into nothing more than fisticuffs with no real meaning or explanation. As it stands, it’s hardly terrible, but it could have been so much more. The real surprise here was the back-up story that had me grinning from ear to ear. So while I can’t really give the ending of the main story my seal of approval, the backup was awesome!
SCORE: 7.5 / 10