Welcome. This is an ongoing attempt to review every Batman story published in (or critical to) his core titles since Batman #300. The earliest reviews were originally just informal posts in the "What have you read lately?" thread which I later reposted here. As the reviews continue, they become a lot more detailed. Also, I don't start including relevant stories from outside of the "Batman" title until page 4. Feel free to post your own thoughts/questions in response to any and all entries in this thread.
Shortcuts to key articles, lists, and arguments contained in this thread:
Batman #307 -- Dark Messenger of Mercy. In many ways, the beginnings of Batman continuity as a lot of key supporting cast members like Lucius Fox, Gregorian Falstaff, and Shamrock and his homeless friends are introduced and major story lines are begun (including Selina Kyle reforming). A great story in its own right, as well.
Batman #309 -- The Blockbuster Christmas story. Very moving.
Batman #316 -- The return of Crazy Quilt. Just a really solid Batman/Robin team-up.
Batman #321 -- The Joker's birthday party. Exceptionally well written, especially in the subtle relationship depicted between Batman and Joker.
Batman #323-324-- Wein's legendary Catwoman/Catman storyline. Absolutely amazing.
Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 -- Absolutely the best Batman origin story ever told. Synthesizes all the given information about Batman's origin over the previous forty years and incorporates it into a meaningful narrative that is dark, moving, inspiring, and ridiculously informative, all while ending in the creation of a Batman who can be goody-goody and yet be taken seriously at the same time. Parts 2 and 3 provide more useful back story on Batman (again putting together all the pieces from 40 years worth of continuity), but the solution to the mystery of who is messing with Batman is both predictable and a bit ridiculous.
Batman #332-335-- The Lazarus Affair. A beloved classic.
Batman #347-- The Shadow of the Batman. A powerful one-shot story that shows Batman's impact upon two young men considering getting into a life of crime.
Batman #349-350, Detective #517, Batman #351: The Monk/vampires storyline. Awesome Colan art and a decent Conway script providing intense action, tone, and visuals, as Bruce and Dick become vampires. Pretty unforgettable.
Detective #520, Batman #354: The Haunting of Boss Thorne. Powerful, powerful art and writing as Thorne's criminal empire begins to collapse on top of him. One of the best Batman stories I've ever read.
Batman #357-359 and Detective #524-526: Conway's classic Killer Croc storyline which introduces both Croc and Jason Todd. Though the storyline comes and goes, the plotting is strong, and the events are significant.
Detective #532: Great insights into Joker's motivations and his relationship with Batman.
Batman #368: Jason Todd officially becomes Robin, gets savagely beaten by Crazy Quilt. POWERFUL.
Batman #372: An unexpectedly powerful/risky story about racism and boxing. Highly moving.
Detective #542-547 and Batman #376-381: The Jason Todd custody battle/Nocturna's return/the fall of Mayor Hill. Very uneven, and a lot of the secondary characters and plot lines are obnoxious, but there are many truly great moments. Certainly, this was the heart of everything Moench was trying to do in his run.
Batman #383: A surprisingly lighthearted stand-alone story in which Batman fights to take a nap. Some love the comedy, some hate the comedy.
Batman #386-387, and Detective Comics #553: The Black Mask storyline, featuring his first appearance and origin, as well as some grotesque, action-intensive story-telling.
Batman #389-391 and Detective Comics #556-557: The final Nocturna storyline. Powerful art, action, and tone, as the Red Skies from Crisis on Infinite Earths pervade a sense of the world ending in each character's soul, bringing hidden fear and desires to the surface throughout this intense storyline.
The Dark Knight Returns: A non-continuity vision of a rougher, tougher anti-hero Batman in a Reagan-inspired future. This storyline had a lot of influence upon what post-Crisis Batman became and also introduced many Batman fans to Frank Miller for the first time.
Batman #400 -- The final(?) pre-reboot Batman story in which he takes on most of his rogues gallery at one time. Pretty good story, and we get our first glimpses of an angrier, grittier Batman in official continuity. In many ways, I feel this story was the prototype for what Batman became after the reboot.
Detective #569 -- Barr and Davis begin their brief run together on Detective, mixing rich and intelligent humor with great action and just a touch of darkness. Joker's depiction in this issue is arguably his best ever. Catwoman is pretty fun too.
Batman #404-407 -- "Year One," Frank Miller's unique spin on the Batman origin story that aligns with DKR and sets the factual basis (if not necessarily the thematic nor character basis) of the Post-Crisis Batman and his universe.
Detective #574 -- introduction of the post-Crisis Leslie Thompkins. Also a companion to Year One, largely chronicling Bruce's boyhood (post-murder) and college years.
Batman Annual #11 -- "Mortal Clay," by Alan Moore, is absolutely one of the greatest rogues gallery stories ever written, in this case starring Clay Face III.
Batman #408-411 -- The post-Crisis retirement of Dick Grayson as Robin and the introduction of post-Crisis Jason Todd as Robin #2. Though the story is very weak, #410 actually does a really good job of explaining why a street punk (like the post-Crisis Jason) makes a far more logical Robin than an innocent kid (like the pre-Crisis Jason) would. All of the vital information in this storyline is covered again (and arguably better) in Batman #416.
Batman: Son of the Demon -- A non-continuity graphic novel that depicts what is arguably the definitive Ras Al Ghul/ Talia story. Very exciting and emotionally rich, even while a bit illogical and out of character for Batman. Though the events of this issue inspired Grant Morrison to create Damian Wayne, the baby at the end of this story cannot be him.
Batman #415: Our first glimpse of Starlin's "edgy" Jason Todd, though the characterization only continues through the next issue and largely isn't seen again until Batman #424.
Batman #416: Fleshes out much of the post-crisis origin of the Robins (Dick Grayson and Jason Todd). Also the genesis of the infamous post-crisis conflict between Bruce and Dick (told in flashback, but significantly altering the events of Batman #408), and possibly the template for the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne relationship later depicted by Grant Morrison.
Detective Comics #583-584: First appearance of Scarface and the Ventriloquist, as well as the beginning of the first Grant/Breyfogle run.
Batman #417-420: Ten Nights of the Beast, an intriguing four part story in which Batman and the CIA and FBI must track down and stop The KGBeast, a KGB super assassin. Surprisingly and intelligently immersed in (then) contemporary Cold War politics. First appearance of the KGBeast.
Detective Comics #585-586: First appearance of The Ratcatcher, as well as another all-around exceptional story by Wagner, Grant, and Breyfogle.
Batman: The Killing Joke -- Redefines the post-Crisis Joker as significantly more perverse and sadistic than before, and features the crippling of Barbara Gordon (ending Batgirl's career and paving the way for Oracle). Not my favorite Moore story, but it is important to continuity.
Batman #424 -- The shock ending issue that really establishes what most people consider to be the definitive Post Crisis Jason Todd characterization for the first time.
Detective Comics #592-593 -- The unforgettably disturbing first appearance of Cornelius Stirk.
Batman #426-429 -- "A Death in the Family" featuring the death of Jason Todd and supposed death of the Joker. Once again redefines the post-Crisis back-story and characterization of Jason Todd, albeit in more subtle ways. An uneven story, though it hits some truly high points, especially at the end of #427 and in the epitaph Starlin has Dr. Haywood give Jason in #428.
Batman #431 -- Christopher Priest (then James Owsley)'s fill-in story is the first to establish that the post-crisis Batman traveled across the world to study under many masters before becoming Batman. It is also the inspiration for the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Day of the Samurai" and may have inspired aspects of Batman Begins.
Detective Comics #598-600 -- "Blind Justice," a particularly well written science fiction premise that ends quite surprisingly. Written by Sam Hamm, the writer of the 1989 Batman film, it also sheds some light on Batman's early training.
Batman #433 -- A powerful depiction of the (mistaken) death of Batman, in which only one line of dialogue is spoken across the entire issue. Bold and powerful, even though an unnecessary three part story piggy backs off of it.
Batman #436 -- Though the Year 3 storyline was not a particularly strong one, this first chapter features a solid retelling of Dick Grayson's origin, as well as provides the cameo first appearance of Tim Drake in flashback.
Detective Comics Annual #2 -- A very solid detective story set during the early years of Bruce's training to become a crime fighter.
Batman #440-442, New Titans #60-61 -- "A Lonely Place of Dying." Poor story overall, but it introduces Tim Drake and sets him up to become the third Robin.
Batman #300: I really thought this would be a good read. It's "The Last Batman Story" set in a possible future. I've always loved the DC "imaginary story" adventures and figured this one would really have to be something, but it wasn't. The plot was silly and incomprehensible, somehow involving rainbow men that broadcast communications off of the moon and held auctions for rare items. I still don't get it. At the very end, Bruce spontaneously decides to retire and run for public office. It's arbitrary, it isn't well done, and the final panel, in which Dick grins and recalls images of their past, is far more cheesy than it could ever be considered touching. I was really disappointed by this one.
Batman #301 and 302 really teased me. David V. Reed began with a fantastic premise -- an underworld mob boss who has wire-taps; sleeper agents moving about as normal citizens who, if the boss is killed, are suddenly activated into murderous drones bent on revenge. One is killed and discovered by accident, leaving Batman on a mission to uncover the others. They could be anyone. They could be anywhere. They could strike at any time.
Unfortunately, they were all circus performers who all struck at the same time. An amazing premise took a turn for the absurd and easy. Very disappointing. B-
#303 was just plain stupid, in my opinion. Batman suffers a concussion and suddenly mixes up his identities, swinging through Gorden's office in a leisure suit and walking to the park to buy a hot dog in Batman garb. This should have been (and probably was) a premise in the Atom age Batman stories of camp and severely suspended disbelief, but the story wasn't even fanciful and fun enough to have made sense there. D+
I'm really hoping these start to get better. I read up on David Reed, and he sounds like an impressive Batman writer. I'm just not seeing that yet.
Batman #304 -- "To Hell with Batman -- And Back!"
In this issue, Batman is randomly and inexplicably taken down by a common thug (seriously?? Couldn't they at least have shown how Batman made such a blunder?) and then taken by the Spook, who somehow expected that this would happen (this all needed a lot more explaining. Were these trained assassins disguised as thugs or something?) After that, the story get a bit better, though. Batman appears to be a ghost, but it's just The Spook using overly elaborate tricks (some of which made very little sense) to create these illusions, ultimately planning to gun Batman down at the end and sell the whole thing as the world's first reality TV video.
My favorite thoroughly illogical moment, while Batman is still unconscious:
"Let's take his mask off, Spook, and see who ---"
"Absolutely not! It may be booby trapped!"
Exactly how would that work?
The weirdest thing about this issue is how inconsistent the art is. John Calnan draws an incredibly awkward looking Batman, but he does an amazing job of dramatically half-showing Batman when he's eclipsed by shadow.
Incidentally, the second story in this feature, "The Amazing Secret of Dr. Dundee" is probably the best part of the issue. Dr. Douglas Dundee is introduced as Bruce's closest confidant outside of Alfred, as well as the doctor who takes care of him when he's injured as Batman. Of course, this thoroughly contradicts the role of Dr. Leslie Thompkins (introduced only two years earlier), but it still makes for a great story when two goons demand that the doctor operate on a bullet wound at gun point and then make off with his drugs, making the doctor humiliated and outraged that Batman didn't do anything to stop them. Bruce then uses simple detective work to take them down while disguised as Dr. Dundee. A fun detective story all around, and it didn't even require Bruce becoming Batman, thus being the first in the series "The Public Life of Bruce Wayne." Let's see how long that lasts. Just last issue, they started the "Unsolved Cases of the Batman" series. What happened to that?
Batman #305 -- "Death-Gamble of a Darknight Detective"
Gerry Conway takes over as writer for this issue, and boy is there a difference. Whereas last issue, Batman had to have a thought bubble for every single action he took, Conway is comfortable having Batman work in silence for many panels which seems a lot more fitting for the grim darknight. In this issue, an anti-capitalist terrorist group known as the Death's-Head is killing thousands of innocent people in an attempt to stop capitalism, I suppose. Doesn't really make much sense. What makes even less sense is that they've been doing this all around the globe and have already led ten attacks against Gotham, yet Batman is perched on a roof top doing standard patrol and is actually surprised when a bomb goes off. Why wasn't he already looking into this terrorist group??
It's also upsetting how easily he's beaten again this issue, this time by a single grenade lobbed at him. How is the Batman not dead or exposed by Bruce Wayne by this point if every flunky he battles in Act 1 manages to take him down?
A lot of the rest of the issue is nonsensical and hokey, involving a hypnotic device that forces wealthy businessmen to take unnecessary risks, an obvious twist revelation about who the leader of the Death's-Head gang is, and an absurd climactic battle involving over-sized slot machines and roulette tables, but the art and writing are both strong, and the issue does provide two moments that I really enjoyed: one in which Gordon is genuinely worried about Batman and, in a bewildered desire to help, asks to take him out for coffee, and one in which Batman charges into combat, well aware that he's been hypnotized into taking unnecessary risks, but still jogging casually into a heavy rain of machine gun fire. Really, the good outweighed the bad in this issue.
The second story was, once again, arguably the better of the two. Bob Rozakis writes a story in which a woman is found dead with a wedding ring. The ring's inscription reads "To my darling wife. Love, The Batman." Gordan's reaction to this is quite touching. Between his careful interaction with Batman at the crime scene, unsure of whether or not this really was his wife, and the coffee offer in the previous story, this entire issue does a lot to build the relationship between Batman and Gordan. The rest of the issue doesn't do much other than follow a red herring and deliver obligatory action. It's a to-be-continued that will hopefully pay off in the end, but the premise and the haunting weight it gives to both Gordan and Batman in this story make it all worthwhile. Even though this clearly wasn't Bruce's wife, the art strongly suggest that he has taken this implication personally and is affected by the mystery before him. Incidentally, this is another "Unsolved Case of the Batman," so what's going on with these B features? are they rotating back and forth each issue, or was that Public Life of Bruce Wayne installment from last issue an anomaly?
The Black Spider is one of those characters who I've noticed on the covers of some of my older Bat books and always wondered about. Having read one of his stories for the first time today, I was suitably impressed. He makes a very compelling character as the motivated vigilante who lacks Batman's values, and while the character type has been done many times before and since, I haven't seen it done better.
There were some glaring lapses in logic in this story but, overall, it held together better than any of the five Batman issues I read prior to this. I also feel that Conway did a better job in this issue of conveying the idea of a "powered down" Batman who is human and genuinely at risk every time he goes out on patrol without making him seem so fallible that the idea of his having done this for so long without getting captured or killed seems unrealistic. We see Gordan worry about him, watch him improvise on the fly, hoping Alfred will take his cue when attempting to deceive a drug lord in front of him, and watch Black Spider royally kick his ass without ever worrying whether or not Bruce will survive. Well done all around.
edit: I did a little more research and now realize both that Black Spider was Conway's creation and that this was the second of only two issues of Batman that he came back to write. Looks like Conway wanted an opportunity to resurrect and rebuild his character. He certainly accomplished that beautifully in this issue.
The second story, on the other hand, was truly infuriating. This was part two of the Unsolved Cases of the Batman in which Bruce is trying to figure out the mystery of why an unidentified dead woman wore a wedding ring with an inscription that said "To My Darling Wife, Love The Batman." At the very end of part one, an obnoxious antagonist showed up, threatening to expose Batman's identity and, worse yet, threatening to side-track an otherwise fascinating plot. Sure enough, this issue was entirely about Batman stopping him and then ends by leaving the mystery entirely unsolved.
The first Unsolved Case of the Batman (back in #303) was a completed story in which Batman chose not to reveal the solution to anyone outside of himself. It had been my logical assumption that each of these stories would either be cases that Bruce would choose not to reveal, that he would not be able to solve (but enough clues would be left for us to do so), or that he would solve them in the present while reflecting on how he could not solve them when they first happened. This, though, this was just damn dirty. The ONLY compelling thing about this story was the mystery of "Mrs. Batman." How dare they leave it like this?
I've always been an admirer of Len Wein because of the characters he created and the great works he fostered and oversaw as editor, but having read his work on the X-Men and Swamp Thing, I was never all that impressed with his actual writing and plotting. Maybe I was too young to appreciate it then, or maybe I was just looking at the wrong Wein works.
This first issue of Wein writing Batman positively blew me away. The plot was compelling, the mystery was downright clever (Wein so effortlessly threw us a subtle red herring by mentioning that wealthy recluse Gregorian Falstaff had just moved to Gotham, and Falstaff was the name of a famous Shakespeare character that very loosely resembled the mysterious villain), and the writing was incredible. A few examples of this:
Without question, the Batman is an impressive figure. His unexpected visage, looming large out of the darkness, is often viewed with admiration...or hostility...or outright fear...but rarely with indifference.
Before them, fiery-eyed rats scurry from their path, chittering their annoyance...and the persistent drips of water plays a monotonous dirge
Add to that the fact that the story isn't just the slow unfolding of a plot. Wein adds scenes, entirely unnecessary to the plot, that simply build character and tone, such as Bruce's long exchange with Luscious Fox about priorities, Batman's attempt to reason with a schizophrenic bum, and Batman's extended introduction to Shamrock and his homeless friends. Incidentally, it's a shame that Shamrock, Slugger, Poet, and Good Queen Bess, good-natured homeless people living beneath the city who can easily provide street info that Batman needs, didn't become larger parts of the extended Batman cast of characters. They were truly endearing, compelling, and useful here.
I think Wein must be helping with panel arrangements here, as this issue looks so much more fascinating than the past six did, and yet it's still Calnan and Giordano doing the art. It's also possible that Giordano is taking on a larger role in setting up the pages at this point, I suppose.
The back-up features have mysteriously disappeared as of this issue. Did the DC Explosion really implode this quickly? We only had four months of back-up features.
Batman #308 -- I'm enjoying Len Wein's writing so much that I have no trouble overlooking this relatively ridiculous plot in which Mr. Freeze turns wealthy men into frozen zombies that obey his every whim. Batman's survival at the end is more a result of blind luck than careful planning, which bothers me a bit. In general, Wein seems to have continued the trend of depowering Batman and making him a lot more beatable, adding to the dramatic tension in each issue and also making Bruce more human and capable of uncertainty. It's not the way I prefer to see Batman, but Wein handles it well. I also really enjoy the world he's fleshing out around Batman -- building interest in Gregorian Falstaff, a rival captain of industry who (though still unseen at this point) poses a growing threat to the Wayne Foundation, developing the story of a newly reformed Selina Kyle, and even keeping rich secondary characters like Lucias Fox and his daughter in the picture. The Bat universe is shaping up to be an exciting place to visit with each monthly installment. B+
Batman #309 The return of Blockbuster, as well as Julie Schwartz's final issue as editor. I found this issue incredibly touching, even while Calnan and McLaughlin's art was downright distracting (Blockbuster should not look like a drugged out hippie!). Probably my favorite story Wein ever wrote prior to my reading this issue was Hulk #181, and it wasn't because of Wolverine. It was the naive sensitivity Wein gave to the Hulk as he witnessed the villianess distraught and weeping at the end and sought to comfort her. He lends that exact same sensitivity and characterization to Blockbuster in this issue, conveniently removing his ability to talk, and then having him spend the issue attempting to protect an innocent young woman who had ODed on sleeping pills. It's a truly beautiful story, amply supported by Wein's wonderful narration, and culminating in Blockbuster making the ultimate sacrifice to save this girl. Incredibly touching, and a great note for Julie Schwartz to go out on, confident that the title was in good hands. A
(Paul Levitz takes over as editor)
Batman #310 The Gentleman Ghost shows up and hypnotizes Alfred. Not a great story by any stretch of the imagination, but Wein's writing, supporting cast, and ongoing background developments keep it interesting enough. B
Batman #311 The long awaited return of Batgirl (post Bat Family) and Steve Englehart (just for one issue). It's incredibly fun watching Batgirl kick Killer Moth's butt with quick thinking at the beginning of the story, but the rest is pretty lame. Barbara's characterization isn't anything special, Dr. Phospherus is an incredibly lame and single-minded villain, and the climactic battle is just ridiculous as Batman intentionally plows the Batmobile into Dr. Phospherus's plane, gets knocked out, and leaves Batgirl to fight Dr. Phospherus alone, only for her to figure out a ridiculously easy way to take him down that Batman should have thought of way back the first time the villain appeared. I love Englehart, and I love Batgirl, but I really didn't love this story. C
The one thing I did appreciate, though, was the letter column, in which new editor Paul Levitz lays out his plans for the Bat Office, including standardizing the Bat Universe to the point that Gotham City would actually be mapped out with individual streets and intersections. I'm curious to see how well he held to this plan. The biggest challenge in writing these legendary characters with multiple titles is that everything fluctuates. To actually have an editor make a serious attempt to standardize that world, especially as Wein is laying down such fantastic groundwork (even going so far as to describe Bruce's daily and nightly schedules and how he balances being CEO and vigilante) is enticing, to say the least. Plus you've got Denny O'Neil on Detective and Jim Aparo on Brave & the Bold. I really need to pick up a full run of those titles under Levitz's editorialship. Anyone know which issues of Detective and B & B that would be? Do you feel that Levitz delivered on his promise??
All in all, I am LOVING Wein's run on Batman, and I'm really excited about Levitz's plans as editor. Can't wait to read more! In fact, I think I'll do that right now...
Looking at the solicits in the next issue of Batman, it looks like Levitz's tenure directing the entire Bat Office begins with Detective #484 and Brave & The Bold #150. I have most of those Detective issues , so that's a bonus!
EDIT: Checked Detective #484. Julie Schwartz was still editing that issue, but Levin did the letters column and had clearly taken the reigns. Cei-U, GCD backs you up on Levitz editing B&B far earlier than #150, but I believe #150 marks the first issue he edited since taking over on Batman and Detective as well.
Batman #312 I've had this one in my collection since I was twelve years old and joyously grabbing up any old Batman issue I could find at my LCS. This was always the one that I laughed at, an absurdly bad cover with an absurdly bad villain (Calendar Man??). Now having read the Len Wein run up to this point, I knew that I had mistakenly judged a book by its cover. Surely this was going to be an excellent comic and Calendar Man would somehow prove to be a decent and compelling antagonist.
Wrong on both accounts.
This issue was terrible! The plot was awful (the big climactic moment is Batman getting his foot stuck on a train track and then taking off his boot), and Calendar Man was every bit as absurd as anything I ever watched on the West/Ward TV show. The only highlight was the fact that Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano took over the penciling for this one issue, so, for the first time in this run that I've been reading since #301, the art was of a consistent high quality. My only complaint was that Calendar Man looked too buff in the Simonson style, but then looked surpisingly ordinary when out of costume. I swear even his jaw shrank.
I really hope this was a single low point in Wein's run and next issue will be better. D+
Is it a coincidence that, around the same time Paul Levine took over as editor on this title, Wein started throwing the more outlandish members of Batman's rogues gallery into each story, complete with elaborate and impractical hideouts and resources? Whatever reality Wein has been carefully weaving into these stories now clashes hideously with the Calendar Man's custom built Wednesday mobile, and now Two Face's two-toned apartment complete with elaborate booby traps that would be outright impossible for someone to surreptitiously install in a single apartment without neighbors noticing. And seriously, don't they notice Two Face walking down the hall to the elevator??
This entire shift just feels editorially mandated and entirely unnatural for the world that Wein is attempting to build for Batman.
The only thing that I truly enjoyed about this issue was Batman's explanation about his personal interest in seeing Harvey rehabilitated. Was Wein the first to present this dynamic in the struggle between Batman and Two Face, or had an earlier writer beaten him to it? As far as I'm concerned, it's really the only aspect of their relationship that makes Two Face an interesting villain.
Incidentally, this issue marked the first time Batman meets King Faraday, but I wasn't all that impressed with the character. What makes this guy so special? C-
Heheh. A two part story for Two Face featuring two heroes trying to take him down. Clever. I liked this issue a lot better than the previous one, and I appreciated the fact that the two parts were written as two separate stories with two entirely different plot structures, even while the over-arching need to capture Two Face and reclaim the stolen missile launch codes remained throughout. Two Face seemed almost too logical and crafty in this second part, not at all like an obsessed maniac, and Wein addressed that well at the conclusion, having Batman call him out on that and then showing Harvey become obsessive again, this time to a fatal extent, was priceless.
I also appreciated that Wein did a better job of explaining Harvey's absurd hideout, booby traps, and overall resources. Suspension of disbelief was a lot easier to maintain this time around, even if I'm still not sure how he had those heat-seeking missiles installed in a grounded landmark riverboat on a moment's notice (he was on the run with Batman and Faraday close behind him, after all). Oh, and why did the US govt only send one agent? There should have been snipers on roofs when Two Face was negotiating the sale of the missile codes in the middle of the Mardi Gras parade.
Very good story, over-all, but I can't buy that Two Face comes back again after this one. An unplanned headlong plunge out of a helicopter at high altitude seems like a pretty final exit to me. Even the Joker had a lower cruising altitude and an ocean to leap into when he survived the same trick at the conclusion of Death in the Family. B+
Dredging up these ridiculous villains from the past is getting very tiresome. The Kite Man proves no more compelling, enjoyable, nor compatible with Wein's style than Calendar Man did a few issues earlier. Even Dr. Phospherus and Gentleman Ghost (borrowed from Hawkman) felt forced and lame, but now we're scratching the bottom of the barrel. It seems highly evident that Levitz is functioning as a desperate salesman here, throwing everything he can at the readers (including a never ending line of colorful enemies, Batgirl, and Robin next issue) and hoping we like something. Unfortunately, all of this Batman Close-Out Sale style of editing is completely undercutting the more serious and mature feel that Wein has been attempting to cultivate for the title. Levitz would have worked better with previous writer David Reed. I just hope that Wein's tenure on the title outlasts Levitz's new approach and not the reverse. I really respect Levitz's desire to create continuity amongst the titles and rejuvenate the whole Bat Office, but he clearly doesn't understand what Wein's Batman run already had working for it. I still appreciate Wein's writing, but these (presumably) editorially mandated rogues are testing my patience. C-
While I know for a fact that reintroducing Robin into the title wasn't Wein's idea, I really like how he handled it. Dick has his own mind now, is short tempered and impulsive at times, but is still a mostly positive and likable side-kick at the same time. His verbal exchanges with Bruce are exceptionally well done and reveal a true camaraderie. Even Crazy Quilt is very well done. He's an absurd villain, but Wein really shows us what makes the character tick as he puts everything on the line with the sole hope of restoring his eye sight, earnestly pleading for the Batman to kill him when he's once more blinded at the end. I wouldn't mind seeing Crazy Quilt again (though hopefully with a better name and costume), and I'd love to see Dick return. B+
The long awaited return of the Riddler, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. His Riddles were terrible and often non-sensical, he used a lot more slang than I would have expected from an intellectual powerhouse, he was suspiciously buff in that leotard costume, and I still can't decide whether it was exceptionally original or a cheap cop-out that Batman and Robin didn't use the Riddler's clues at all to uncover his scheme (which, in itself, was rather disappointing and left many open ends. What was up with the chicken heist?).
Not a great issue, overall, and Irv Novick's Bruce and Dick faces were creepy to look at. I'm still watching Wein's treatment of Dick with tremendous interest, though. He's continued the trend of humanizing Batman and making him more fallible, and that treatment is now carrying over to Robin, who is often impulsive, foolish, and hot tempered. It bugged me in this issue a lot more than it did in the last one, but Wein will hopefully find the balance soon or, more likely, just stop using the character. C-
I'm starting to think that Wein is checking out. His depowered Batman of previous issues has now given way to a Batman who unexpectedly falls out the window of a burning building with a child in hands, adjusts his fall to somehow land on telephone lines that didn't appear to be nearby, and then bounce off of them to safely land on a pile of rubber hoses. The kid doesn't even seem shaken after they land. He also conveniently carries a fire suppressant capsule in his utility belt and has a fireproof Bat costume that looks identical to the regular one and somehow protects the exposed lower half of his face from direct contact with sustained bursts of napalm.
Firebug, the new villain in this issue, almost sort of kind of makes sense as a bad guy, except that there's no way that kind of guy would have the resources or interest in designing an elaborate costume and villain identity. He's just a revenge-fueled arsonist who only intends to hit three targets and then call it quits. Why design an elaborate costume just to do that?
Lucius Fox finally has his meeting with Gregorian Falstaff in this issue after months of build up, yet all he does is tell Falstaff he doesn't want the job and then leaves. What the heck was all that build-up for? Fox originally planned the meeting in order to gain Falstaff's trust and learn more about him, even ultimately deciding he couldn't risk telling Bruce and bringing him into it. We watched him sweat over this plan of action for months, and then he just sits down, says no, and then leaves? What a cop-out. Yeah, in real life, people have changes of heart. I get that, but Wein really built this thing up and then didn't do anything to treat this moment as the climactic end result of months of planning and preparing. He treated it as if it was nothing special; just a room and meeting that he had to get Fox out of so that the story could continue. It's a tremendous let down.
All in all, it seems like Levitz's editorial direction is discouraging Wein, pushing more colorful villains and far out plotlines when Wein wanted to keep things real and close to street level. I sincerely hope something changes soon because what began as potentially the best Batman run I'd ever read has turned into utter tripe. I'm very disappointed. C-
Did we really need to see the return of the Gentleman Ghost only nine issues after his last appearance? This one wasn't written any better, culminating in the Ghost and his two lackies suspending Batman over a tub of boiling acid, only to leave him completely unattended for no good reason so that he could escape. Bad issue all around, and Wein's strong narration barely makes up for it.
It seems that Levitz has pulled the final stunt in returning Batman to his cornball days of colorful rogues and sidekicks. Bruce returns to Wayne Manner this issue, one hundred and two issues after Frank Robbins and Julie Schwartz moved him out in order to make Batman more realistic and gritty. Schwartz has been out of the Bat Office for less than a year, and yet Levitz has already managed to undo nearly everything Schwartz's office accomplished over the course of 15 years. It's downright upsetting. C-