After delving headfirst into the worlds of The Flash and The Green Lantern, I’m glad to be back on familiar ground with another collection of Batman stories. This is a more specific selection than others I have read so far. Collected here are stories that inspired Grant Morrison’s award-winning run of Batman comics (I have Mistah J to thank for that bit of information. He’s very excited for me to get to that period of Batman). I was given the preface that although these stories seem a bit random, they will become important later on in the series. I love a good foundation, so I happily picked up this book and began reading.
(Side note: This particular trade, while technically on the bookcase otherwise referred to as “The shelf”, is not on the top shelf with all of the other trades I’ve read so far. This is in a separate section, grouped together with Grant Morrison’s other Batman books. Given that Mistah J thinks it will take me a year to finish the top shelf of his comics, and I disagree, I’m convinced he’s attempting to thwart my progress by throwing in other random books.
Okay, I don’t really think that, but come on. I’m making good progress, only to find out that nope, those thousands upon thousands of pages aren’t enough, here’s some more. *sigh* I’m quickly learning a comic reader’s library is never complete.)
Anyway, back to the trade. The cover alone was enough to draw me in. It’s simple but fits the Batman motif quite nicely, and the concept of the “Black Casebook” was very intriguing. The thought of reading a collection that would all be tied together by a later storyline was more than enough to make me devour these stories.
One of the featured issues that really stuck out to me was Detective Comics Issue 235, “The First Batman”. In this story we learn that Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne, had previously donned a Batman costume while attending a masquerade ball, was subsequently kidnapped by a criminal for medical attention, fought his way out, and had the crime boss brought to justice.
Even more intriguing about this issue was how it delved deeper into the mystery surrounding Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders. For years, Bruce Wayne believed Joey Chill, being the gunman, was solely responsible for his parents’ deaths. This issue reveals, however, that a criminal by the name of Moxon, the same criminal whose plot Thomas Wayne foiled many years prior, had made it his mission to destroy Thomas, and had hired Joey Chill to commit the crime. The comic even goes so far as to explain that Bruce Wayne was left alive that night so that he could testify that Chill committed the crime.
The issue ends with Batman confronting a now-aging Moxon while wearing his father’s old costume. Moxon, remembering the image, flees in terror out into traffic and is struck dead by a passing truck. The story seemed to have a mild “justice will prevail” theme, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Batman at the end of it. The truth had come to light, but he was no better for it. This was one of the first Batman stories I’ve come across with a truly dark tone about it, with a problem that wasn’t neatly tied off with a bow at its completion. This story felt ever so slightly more sinister than those before it. This was no longer an open-and-shut case. Long-held beliefs were questioned as new evidence came to life, completely changing our perspective of past events. It’s easy to see how Grant Morrison could have drawn upon this motif to create a newer, darker vision of Batman.
Another instance of a Batman comic changing tones occurred in “Robin Dies at Dawn”, originally found in Batman #156 and also featured in this trade. The story begins with Batman being mysteriously transported to another planet, where he stumbles upon Robin before being chased by a giant stone creature. The duo defeats the creature, but at a heavy price:
Robin’s untimely death greatly affects Batman, and he sinks into a serious depression and eventually falls into a hysteria, before it is revealed that it was all a simulation Batman agreed to partake in.
However, the effects of such a profound shock are lasting on Batman, wracking him with guilt. The psychosis goes so far that he begins to hallucinate while chasing after criminals:
Although the effects wear off and Batman is eventually cured, this particular issue is still quite moving. For the first time we see Batman as being truly vulnerable. He is no longer the unbreakable beacon of strength and justice; he has a weakness. I can only imagine how many criminals to come will eventually exploit that weakness over him.
Based on the two stories mentioned above, it seems only natural that Batman would eventually become a darker comic. The early seeds of the darker tone to come are presenting themselves in these stories, and I find the gradual progression absolutely fascinating.
Although developing this darker tone, these are still earlier Batman stories, and so there is still plenty of humor to pick through. The other stories in this trade each had their own unique twists, many of which I couldn’t help but giggle at. For instance, in one issue we see the appearance of Bat-Mite, a dwarf-like creature from another dimension who wants to join Batman and Robin as a crime-fighter:
This is one of those instances where having knowledge of future comics is maddening. All I kept thinking while reading about Bat-Mite was, “How in the hell does Grant Morrison draw upon this for his comics?!” I don’t know much about his image of Batman, but what I do know doesn’t really jive with a mini-Batman running around and wrecking havoc. I’m curious to see if he draws upon this issue for inspiration in a literal sense, or just uses the vague outlines to create an entirely different story.
Another point I have to make mention of: Ever since I was a child I had been hearing homo-erotic jokes about Batman and Robin, people snarkily commenting that Robin was more than just Batman’s ward, etc etc. I always just thought people were taking things to extremes, creating innuendos that aren’t present just for the hell of it.
And then I read this:
My eyes bugged out a little when I read that. There is no way my mind is the only one perverse enough to take that the wrong way. I mean come on people. This is just way too easy. And yes, I realize that’s not Robin, but if they can make these references once, they can (and I’m sure do) make them again. I’m oddly intrigued to see if these oddly-placed comments appear more or less frequently as the decades progress.
Overall I thought this trade was an excellent collection of Batman’s more oddball tales. There were certainly some stories I liked more than others, but all had their merits, and all were entertaining. Knowing that these particular stories inspired Morrison only made me want to pay closer attention to the details, picking up every little point to see if it resurfaces in later issues. I know I’m still years from Morrison’s run, but I feel as though I’m reading the prequel to his comics, and it’s made me eager to get to his stories.
If those presented here are any indication, I have a feeling I’ll greatly enjoy them.