Batman: Death and the City

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Paul Dini continues to prove that, when it comes to Batman, he can do no wrong.  More specifically, he can do no wrong and continues to write comics that read like episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (and I mean that as the highest of compliments).  This collection continues his genius run on Detective Comics, with Dini exploring Batman’s exploits around Gotham City as he encounters a host of criminals.  It’s rather fitting that I’m reading this run just as I’m smack dab in the middle of watching the entire Batman: The Animated Series show, as I’m able to see so many parallels and references to the beloved classic that I might have otherwise missed had I not been enjoying them concurrently. It must be kizmet, and all that.

There really isn’t a single issue in this trade that I didn’t like, but obviously certain stories stood out to me more than others. The first to catch my eye was the first in the trade, with the reintroduction of Scarface, this time on the arm (and hand) of someone other than the classic Arnold Wesker.

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Wesker is still very much dead, but that hasn’t stopped good ole’ Scarface from resurfacing.  Now in the hands and mind of Sugar here, we get the same old Scarface we’ve always known, just with a brand new host.  What’s so brilliant about this twist is that Scarface feels very much the same as he always has, even though technically it’s a brand new character behind the crazy.  Sugar has adopted the Scarface persona, but Scarface is so hypnotic and convincing that I often forget that the puppet isn’t actually alive.  It takes skill to get your reader to buy into the whole “puppet as gangster” schtick without it feeling contrived, yet somehow Scarface just works in these stories.  Wesker was such a timid, easily forgettable character most of the time that it’s not too hard to replace him with someone new. No, Scarface is definitely the star here, and as long as he continues dishing out his brand of old-school gangster punishment, I’ll be happy.

Following up on this lady-Scarface storyline, we’re greeted with a tie-in a few issues later in a Harley-centric issue.  Here, Harley is stuck in Arkham, but she’s trying really hard to go straight and get released.  Bruce Wayne keeps shutting her down (who can blame him?) and it looks like she’s stuck for now.  That is, until Scarface has her broken out of the asylum  so she can pull a job for him. She goes along with it for a while, but eventually double-crosses Scarface and calls the GCPD (who in turn call Batman) so that she can be brought back into custody.

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I’m a big fan of the “Harley tries to be good” storylines, and although I may be shunned by some people for saying this, I think I might actually prefer her stories when she’s not paired with the Joker. I enjoy those, but Harley’s allowed to be her own person when she’s not being used as Joker’s punching bag, and I find her far more intriguing as a woman slowly emerging from the haze that was her love for a madman, and how she struggles to return to a life of normalcy.  It doesn’t help that Dini’s version of Harley is by far my favorite incarnation (he invented her, after all, so it makes sense).  Nobody else can quite write her the way he can, and I relish every appearance she makes in one of his works, because I know without a doubt I’m in for a treat.

Speaking of Joker, we got a two-parter in this trade staring the Clown Prince of Crime, although it wasn’t clear at first.

 

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Masquerading as the illusionist Ivar Loxias, Joker traps Zatanna and Batman, only revealing his true identity after ensuring that they can’t escape.  Of course, while Joker provides a lengthy summation of just how he came to take over Loxias’s identity, Batman manages to break his bindings, forcing Joker to flee.  He’s eventually apprehended with the use of a rather ingenious spell on Zatanna’s part through which, in an ironic twist, she forces the Joker to laugh uncontrollably.  The Joker’s storyline here was great, but what really stood out to me were the subtle (and sometimes overt) references to past events. Batman still hasn’t forgiven Zatanna for the whole “Namtab Pots” debacle, and his mistrust almost leads to the magician’s death.  Only upon realizing his own ability to make mistakes is Bruce finally able to forgive her, acknowledging that “they’re only human”.  It was an important moment for the pair, and while it’s sad that Zatanna’s life had to be endangered for Batman to realize this, that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Overall I really loved these Paul Dini stories, and honestly can’t help but wish they had been made into Batman:TAS episodes.  Dini’s writing lends itself so well to on-screen adaptations, and I would have loved to see these further stories brought to life on the show.  I’m still perfectly happy with the comic version though. I haven’t peeked ahead on “the shelf”, but I’m hoping this isn’t the end of his run, and that I have plenty of other Dini-written Batman stories to look forward to.

-Jess

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