Batman: Private Casebook

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I’m coming to appreciate Detective Comics as a series more and more as I make my way along “the shelf”.  When I first began reading all of these comics, I wondered what role Detective Comics would play; surely most of the major continuity shifts for Batman would happen in his titular series, with his role in Detective Comics existing simply because it was where he appeared first.  As I’ve read more and more though, I’ve begun to appreciate these stories for the role they play.  Unlike the lengthy storylines found in Batman, Detective Comics is often more episodic in nature; yes, the stories sometimes cross over, or are tangentially related to what’s going on in other titles, but very often the series exists completely separate, and serves to expand on Batman and the entire Gotham world.

Paul Dini’s stories here do an exceptional job of that, taking smaller stories and infusing them with just the right amount of edge to keep them relevant and entertaining.  The one story here that stood out to me most was actually a two-parter, spanning Detective Comics Issue # 843 and #844.  In it, we’re faced with a two-sided storyline (yet neither one is about Two-Face. Go figure).  The first story focuses on the new Scarface, the young woman known simply as Sugar. At least, until know.

We now learn that Bruce has a connection to Sugar. She was once engaged to one of his friends way back when, and as the story goes on we learn how she was forced into a loveless marriage by her father,  handed off to a man who would later kill her father and shoot her, leaving her for dead.

At this point, we get to see the moment this young woman becomes the new Scarface.

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Sugar suffered some sort of psychotic break, or perhaps the gunshot wound to the head had something to do with it. Either way, Sugar adopts the role of Scarface.  As far as origins go, I was really happy with this one. When a new character is taking over a role already established by someone else, it’s so easy for the writers to scribble down a random backstory with no real depth, assuming readers don’t care about the back story and just want to get to the action.  Sugar has plenty of back story to make her an interesting and sympathetic character in her own right. I’m especially a fan of how she seems to be struggling with Scarface’s hold over her, even reaching out for help at one or two moments in the story.  Unfortunately, she succumbs to her loyalty, choosing to throw herself off of a ship rather than be taken captive.

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I absolutely love the detail of Scarface professing his love, his words fading away as Sugar hits the water. It’s a subtle and wonderful addition to the character.  Of course, I’m sure Sugar isn’t really gone; there’s no way we got that awesome origin just to have her die at the end of the story.  No, I’m sure she’ll be back. Given how interesting she was here, I’m actually hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

I mentioned that this storyline had two focal points.  The other was one that caught me by surprise, but was nevertheless handled really well.  At one point in the story Batman enlists Zatanna for help.  The public knows that Bruce Wayne and she are friends, and at one point a nosy party-goer asks if they’re more than friends. Bruce quickly answers, “no,”, but Zatanna doesn’t let him get away with that so easily.  Instead, she basically questions why he’s never made a move.

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I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting this little twist at all. I just never really imagined Zatanna and Batman even considering getting together.  Despite the surprise, I found that it actually felt believable within the story, even if I hadn’t really considered it.  The know each other’s secrets, they’ve known one another since they were kids; it almost makes sense.

Of course, nothing with Batman is ever easy, and the story ends with Zatanna saying that she can’t be with a man who puts darkness before her.  The story leaves it open-ended, and I’ll be curious to see if this is something that’s ever brought up again.  Even if it’s not, it was interesting to see a very human interaction between these two.

My post has only focused on two of the five issues collected in this trade. That’s not because the others weren’t good. This story simply jumped out to me above the rest.  All of them were really solid stories though, and each added a little something new to the Batman lore that wasn’t there before.  I find myself almost preferring these smaller, self-contained stories, able to take in Batman in small doses, watching how he reacts in a situation, and draw my own conclusions.  I’m not bogged down by intricate storylines or innumerable characters. These feel more like the average, everday occurrences of Batman…at least, as average as the day of a masked vigilante could ever be. They’re entertaining without trying to be some grand multi-issue epic, proving that even a simple, single-issue storyline can keep the reader engaged.

-Jess

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