writer: Doug Moench
pencils: Rick Hoberg
inks: Rudy Nebres
letters: John Workman
colors: Adrienne Roy
editor: Len Wein
I do believe Moench has successfully managed to employ a clever double meaning as the title of a story. He's tried many times before, but it actually works this time.
I think that's a good set up for discussing the story in general -- much of it works better than usual.
I should begin, though, by making note of this story's odd tie-in to Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the time of this story, the first two issues of Crisis had already hit stands. This issue explicitly and unnecessarily ties into Crisis by having a bunch of scared thugs from Dr. Fang's old gang call a number they were given and hire The Monitor to broker a contract on Batman. One phone call later, and Batman has a motivated villain for this story. The Monitor's involvement in this story was largely unnecessary. The criminals could have hired someone themselves.
The odd part about this tie-in to Crisis is how uneven it is. At this point in Crisis, Batman has witnessed a dying Barry Allen, appearing panicked before him and announcing that the Earth is dying. It spooks him enough that he calls upon Superman to discuss the issue and is then promptly visited by Pariah, who explains the exact same thing. Batman is indisputably freaked out by this. Yet, in this story, there's absolutely no acknowledgment of this. We see Bruce haunted by the loss of Selina and haunted by his obsession for Nocturna, but larger concerns like what's happened to Barry or what's up with the Earth dying never seem to cross his mind. So Moench fully and clearly wants to acknowledge that the Crisis is happening, yet he largely ignores it when it threatens to derail the focus of his storylines.
Still, there's a lot working in this issue.
I'm mixed on Moench's depiction of Calendar Man, though I definitely liked him more than not. There's a tremendous effort on the part of Moench to sell us on the idea that Calendar Man is a major Batman antagonist when, in fact, in his two previous appearances, he was a thorough joke. Yet, when The Monitor must call on a villain (any villain) to kill Batman once and for all, the call goes out to Calendar Man (odd since he admits, only a page later, that he's never killed anyone). This Calendar Man is no longer a demented obsessive personality. He's a refined, apparently wealthy (so that's how he can afford all the costumes and vehicles) and elegant man who is more fascinated by, than clinically obsessed with, calendars. I must admit, Hoberg and Nebres help to sell me on the guy by drawing and inking his face so well. The eyes are deep, serious, and complicated. He could say nothing, and I'd still feel like I understood and even admired him. Still, Moench may push it a bit far when he attempts to make Calendar Man's relationship with Batman as time-honored and personal as The Joker's when Calendar Man comments:
Could it be that I actually respect the Batman--and look forward to our periodic contests? Of course it could, and were I to kill the Batman--red letter day aside...the rest of my days could well be blank boxes. With the Batman dead, would I have any reason to live?
Buddy, you fought him twice, and neither struggle was particularly epic.
So the romantic drama continues this issue with one noticeable difference -- it works. Yes folks, this is where Moench really surprised and charmed me this issue. Batman's revelation that Selina survived her fall a few issues back, and his mixed emotions and internal struggle between Selina and Nocturna that follow, are both done quite well. Even when Vicki calls, ending their relationship (again), I didn't mind. Once again, Hoberg's art helps here. He's the first to draw Vicki in an endearing way.
A nice touch here are the subtle continuity points brought forward from last issue. As Moench walked us through the gag of Bruce not being able to get sleep, Bruce unwittingly made a date with Julia and half-slept through a serious talk with Vicki about their relationship. Both points seemed incidental then but have had consequences in this issue. Both women were hurt by Bruce's actions.
The real charm of the romantic plot in this issue is Julia...Yes, I said Julia. My second least favorite character in Moench's Bat Universe really really pulled it off this issue. First, Alfred had an earnest talk with Bruce, finally explaining why he wants Julia and Bruce to be together, so it no longer bothers me that it doesn't bother Alfred when Bruce comes onto his daughter. Next, Julia expresses true concern for Vicki's hurt feelings, even volunteering to cancel her date with Bruce in order to comfort her (of course she never says the date is with Bruce), and finally, the big moment for me comes when Alfred comforts Julia over Bruce breaking their date yet again. He wants to explain things with all his heart, but only allows himself to say, "He...he is a complex, many-sided man..." to which Julia gives the surprising reply:
That much I know. Vicki may think of Bruce as an irresponsible playboy...but from the moment I first met him--I've sensed deeper dimensions...
True, this could just be Julia being love-sick and seeing what she wants to see in Bruce, but (once again) Hoberg and Nebres convey it all with an intelligent, focused face that strongly suggests that Julia has, in fact, tapped into a part of Bruce's inner self. For once, I get what makes her special and why she feels she belongs with him.
And then the conversation goes further:
Alfred: I'll say only one thing in his defense, Julia, asking you not to repeat even this much...He has legitamite cause for whatever seemingly callous actions he takes.
Julia: I notice Jason is not here. Does the "legitimate cause" involve him?
Alfred: Yes...but we'll leave it at that...
Wow. No "I knew it!" or similarly shallow reaction followed by an emotional outpour of gratitude and relief. Instead, her reaction is purposeful, intelligent, and further proof that she understands Bruce a little too well. I'm actually rooting for Julia now.
The Calendar Man story continues (and will carry over to the next issue of Detective) but, for once, I'm more interested in Moench's romantic subplots than the core storyline. He's doing more with Calendar Man than I ever imagined someone could (or would even try to), but at the end of the day, it's just another forgettable villain.
Worth noting: I believe the portable Bat Signal makes its second appearance in this run. I neglected to mention it in Batman #383. Cei-U could better answer whether or not it had appeared prior to this run, but I'm too pressed for time to consult his index right now.
Funny, it seems that Colan's return to this title was a tease. Hoberg is back on for at least this and the next issue...but I'm not disappointed. He and Nebres really did something magical in this issue, and I have high hopes that they will continue to wield that magic consistently.