THE MANY DEATHS OF THE BATMAN
THE MANY DEATHS OF THE BATMAN
Why on earth am I bothering all of you fine folks with a review of a three issue Batman arc that’s 28 years old? I can hear you all, you know: “This better not be another rant from Old Man Malmon going on and on about how great comics were BACK IN HIS DAY.”
Shut up. Comics are great now. But they were also great back in my day, too.
Batman 433-435 is a bit of an anomaly. It’s a three-issue mini-arc that was written by comics legend John Byrne (who also did the covers) and illustrated by Batman legend Jim Aparo. From Fantastic Four to X-Men to Superman, John Byrne’s list of comic book highwater marks is too numerous to list here. And Jim Aparo? Aparo was DC’s go-to guy during the Silver Age of comics. He rendered the entire DC catalogue for Batman’s team-up book, “The Brave and the Bold”, and then drew Batman’s team book “Batman and the Outsiders’. I was lucky enough to catch Aparo’s Batman work near the end of his time on the book in the early 90’s. When it comes to Classic Batman, most folks preach the work of Neil Adams. I’ve always been Team Jim Aparo.
So, with this creative team, why is this three-issue run such an anomaly? Simple.
I’d never read it.
I had found the first two issues some years back. But being a completest, I refused to read them until I had tracked down #435. Today I did just that, and I’m sorry I waited so long to find it. As one could assume with this creative team, this is one hell of a Batman story. The story kicks off in #433, which opens with emergency vehicles speeding through a vicious thunderstorm, only to come upon a full page shot of Batman tied up on a fence. It’s a deeply impactful opening with Aparo at the top of his game. Police cars splashing through rain soaked streets, the fully rendered faces of the police and medical personnel in various stages of panic. It’s all the more impactful because, except for one instance, the issue is completely silent. Many artists can draw a great looking Batman or a cool speeding car. But seeing a full issue of a master comic book artist telling the story through panel to panel action is just amazing to see. This issue really punched me in the gut when Aparo shows one of the medical staff reaching for the unconscious Batman’s mask. Another doctor reaches over to grab his arm and stop him.
Even lying on a table, Batman’s secret identity is sacred.
Needless to say, Commissioner Gordon discovers that the deceased Batman isn’t the real Batman. (duh.) But the mystery only gets deeper and weirder as more and more Batmen (Batmans?) show up DOA. Each one done in in stranger and stranger ways. The next two issues are told in traditional words and pictures, allowing for a nice spotlight on Gordon and the medical examiner to take the lead on the investigation.
I think this is where the story really appeals to me. I’ve said many times how the modern (shut up) Frank Miller/Christian Bale inspired growly-punchy Batman doesn’t do much for me. I prefer “The World’s Greatest Detective” Batman. The Batman that isn’t just smarter than everyone else in the room, but is smart enough to look for clues and put a puzzle together. Byrne has Gordon and the ME doing that here, and, in a nice twist, Bruce Wayne is stuck in Wayne Manor for a good portion of the story surrounded by police that are assigned to guard him. It’s up to Alfred to get Bruce out of that crowd of cops and back into the Batcave.
Of course, Batman has most of the mystery figured out based on the identities of the deceased Batmen. Watching him put together the final pieces is not only rewarding for the reader, but it also adds layers to the Batman mythos.
These issues should be easy to find in your local comic shops back issue bins, as well as on Comixology. Check them out. You’ll be glad you did.
(Bat) Dan Malmon