Batman: Streets of Gotham – Hush Money

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I really love Paul Dini’s take on Batman. Even when it’s not Bruce Wayne, there’s just something about Dini’s writing style that feels inherently Batman-esque.  Maybe it’s the way he balances brooding anti-hero with moments of levity. Maybe it’s the requisite Harley Quinn cameo, always a bright spot in his stories.  Whatever it is, Dini’s Batman just appeals to me.  It may not be Bruce, but it’s hugely entertaining.

This story focuses on the aftermath of Bruce’s death, only this time it’s emphasizing the return of Tommy Elliott, alias Hush.  Having survived his fall in the Bat-cave (duh) he resurfaces, and uses his newly bought Bruce Wayne face to collect money from various Wayne businesses around the world.  Unfortunately, Bruce’s reappearance sets off some red flags and he finds himself in the clutches of an old foe.

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Catwoman knows this isn’t the real Bruce Wayne, but she has a plan in mind to use Tommy as a scapegoat so that she can free captured animals.  Tommy plans on fighting Catwoman’s henchmen and escaping on his own; of course, this plan is soon foiled when he learns their true identities.

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Hush is captured and kept in a secluded cell where he can’t hurt anyone.  This is Gotham though, and no one stays behind bars for long. Hush escapes one chaotic night and addresses the public almost immediately; surprisingly, he intentions are a bit…bizarre.

Hush begins spending Bruce’s money like crazy, giving it away to various charitable organizations in an effort to restore Gotham to its former glory.  Fearful that Hush will bankrupt both Wayne Enterprises and Batman, an ultimatum (re: threat) is made to Hush, to ensure that he’s allowed to roam free without spending money that isn’t his.

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With an unstable but satisfactory truce met, Hush is allowed to continue his charade as Bruce Wayne, perpetuating the belief that Bruce is still alive.  No doubt this will all come to a head soon enough, especially with Gotham’s underworld building up to something much bigger beneath the surface.

It’s a bizarre conglomeration in the Bat-world.  Hush is Bruce Wayne. Dick Grayson is Batman. Robin is such a pain in the butt that I actually miss Jason Todd.  Everything’s topsy-turvy, yet Dini’s take on it all feels a bit more reassuring for the world of Batman.  Perhaps it’s just because the comic isn’t about Dick taking on the role of Batman; here it’s just assumed, with him seeming at least a bit more comfortable in the role. Removing this from the central storyline helps propel the plot and make the story as a whole feel entirely more “Batman” in nature.  It could very easily swing back around and focus on Dick’s insecurities in taking up the cowl, but for now I’d much rather read about him seeming at least somewhat comfortable in the role. If nothing else, I can pretend for a moment that Bruce is really back, and enjoy a true Batman story again.

-Jess

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Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn

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I went into this trade with some trepidation. I wondered (and worried) what I would think of a Batman comic without Bruce Wayne.  The last time this happened (in Knightfall) we were stuck with Azbats for entirely too long.  Knowing that Grant Morrison wrote this story gave me a little hope though, expecting something twisted and different.

My reaction after reading this is basically on par with what I expected, perhaps erring on the side of disappointed.  I knew I’d miss Bruce, constantly comparing poor Dick Grayson to his mentor at every turn.  Dick makes a decent Batman, but he’s just not the real Batman.  I like that Morrison doesn’t try to make Dick a carbon copy of Bruce. I don’t want to forget who’s behind the cowl, and I like being able to tell that the dark knight is someone different.  Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and I like that Morrison lets Dick dive headfirst into the role of Batman without forcing him to emulate Bruce too much.

That being said, a lot of the comic still felt like Dick was simply pretending in the role. A lot of this had to do with the brotherly bickering that filled the pages. Damien has adopted the role of Robin (with Tim apparently out of the scene for now…no real explanation is given in the trade).  Unfortunately, Damien doesn’t listen too well, and doesn’t seem to have much respect for the man who ought to be his mentor.

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Had this been an isolated incident, I could have overlooked it as merely an adjustment period for the dynamic duo, as they struggle to adapt to working with one another.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a prevailing theme among the Bat-boys, with all of them practically (and sometimes literally) at each others’ throats.

As though two brothers aren’t enough, we get Jason Todd thrown into the mix, returned in yet another costume, this time a redesigned Red Hood.

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He gets himself a handy dandy scarred sidekick (because when you’re a masked vigilante, it’s what you do) and tries to become the new Batman, trying to win over the city and accomplish what Batman never could: the eradication of crime. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy a good Jason Todd story, but I’m kind of wishing he would just stick with a title/costume for more than three issues. He doesn’t really have a superhero/villain identity; he’s just Jason Todd in a bunch of different uniforms.  I can understand the appeal of using him – he adds another layer to the family drama bubbling up over at Wayne Manor, with 3 various Robins all fighting for the title of the man they viewed as a father figure.

It wasn’t a bad story by any means, it just felt like it could have been a bit better.  Jason and Dick’s interactions make them seem much younger than they actually are, feeling as though they’re all still trying to figure out how to do the whole adult vigilante thing without Bruce there to guide them.

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Maybe that was the whole point, but for me, I just found myself missing Bruce’s calm surety. Yes, he questioned his actions sometimes, but for the most part he knew who he was and why he did what he did; in comparison, Dick’s Batman feels too adolescent and unsure of himself to strike the same sort of fear in the hearts of Gotham’s underworld.

I’m not hating on Dick Grayson. Of all the candidates, he was the best choice to take up the mantle. I just hate change, especially when it means changing the man behind such a core character as Batman. The story is okay, but it felt too removed to even feel like a Batman story.  Maybe it’s meant to stress the fact that this is a new Batman, with new villains and a new story, but I found myself missing the old story far too much to be fully invested in what was going on.  I’m still eager to see where it all goes, but I can’t help but hope Bruce makes a triumphant return sooner rather than later.  It’s just not the same without him.

-Jess

Batman: R.I.P.

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**Disclaimer before we go any further: I did NOT read the final two issues of this trade, as they are included in the Final Crisis omnibus that’s up next on “the shelf”.  By the time this post has been published, I’ll have read them, but at the time of writing this I had not read it, so forgive any incorrect statements or guesses that may be clarified by those two issues**

I would say onto the trade at hand but…quite frankly, I have no idea where to begin.  Usually I’m pretty floored by what Grant Morrison writes, the way in which he can craft such a well thought-out story.  This Batman story though…it goes above and beyond anything I’ve come to expect even from him.  The cohesive storytelling, the overarching mysteries, the entire air about the comic is so well done that I’m hard-pressed to know what exactly to write about it.

I knew going in that there would be plenty of references to classic Silver-Age stories. To prepare for that, Batman: The Black Casebook was released to help familiarize readers with the story. While I knew this story would be heavily influenced by those earlier issues, I never imagined that they could be so seamlessly worked into the modern story without ever feeling out of place.

I had assumed that many of these references might simply be reworked or retold in such a way as to make them feel darker or more modern, leaving nothing more than the shell of what the stories or characters once were. Instead, Morrison remains true to each and every story. Yes, he puts his own spin on them, but they always feel authentic to Batman lore, and never like they’re struggling to fit in.

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Doctor Hurt dresses up in the original Batman costume worn by Thomas Wayne to a masquerade party and tries to pass himself off as Bruce’s dead father, and yet somehow this feels perfectly natural within the story.  HOW??

Had Morrison simply included one or two references to older stories, I’d have been suitably impressed. The sheer number of stories he references though is astounding, especially given how seamlessly he weaves them all together.  This could easily just  have been a reimagining of classic Batman issues, and it would have been great.  Morrison takes it to the next level though, merging these classic stories with his own incredibly mind-blowing Batman story.

While all of these classic references are popping up, we’re inundated with an earth-shattering Batman story as well.  What if Bruce Wayne was really crazy? What if the Black Glove was really a product of his own warped mind?  After all, who knows Batman better than him? And who could come up with such elaborate schemes besides the world’s greatest detective?  Bruce struggles with this concern, just as Doctor Hurt uses his long-ago placed trigger word (Zur-En-Arrh) to confuse Bruce and make him forget who Batman really is. Of course, Bruce may have planned for this, and installed a failsafe separate personality should this ever occur:

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Bonus Bat-Mite, just because.

The comic implies that Batman was intelligent enough, and planned for every possible contingency, that he would have had a plan in place should his mind ever be compromised.  I personally love these details, as I’m always a fan of emphasizing the detective side of Batman.  Too often writers take the easy route of just writing him off as a skilled fighter, neglecting the other aspects of his personality that truly define Batman.  I love that the story plays up this side of the character, in a way that’s both entertaining and unique.

At the point I left off in this trade, Batman appears to be dead (unlikely) and the future of the dark knight is unclear.  I’m literally rushing through this post right now because I’m dying to go read Final Crisis and finally find out what happens. Am I approaching it with incredibly high hopes? Yeah, probably. I can’t help it though. I’ve read so many trades leading up to this moment that I’m like a little kid on Christmas morning, just dying to find out what’s beneath the tree.

I write this post knowing full well that it’s impossible to do this trade justice after having read it only once.  This story deserves multiple close examinations, but I’m simply too impatient to sit down and read it through a few more times.  This is most definitely the sort of story I’d like to come back to after I’ve completed “the shelf” to reread, hopefully with an even better appreciation for the story after learning what all else is happening in the DC Universe at this time.  Even after only one read-through though, I can appreciate the brilliance that lies in this comic, and look forward to revisiting it at a later date, hopefully to uncover even more secrets on a second read-through.

-Jess

Batman: The Black Glove

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Prior to starting this trade, Mistah J recommended I go back and flip through The Black Casebook to familiarize myself with the stories therein.  I’m glad I did, because Grant Morrison’s story draws so heavily upon those earlier issues, so much so that I almost think it’s required reading in order to fully appreciate the many references to earlier continuity within Morrison’s issue’s.  I knew going in that Morrison would be drawing heavily upon many of Batman’s earlier, more eccentric tales. What surprised me though was just how seamlessly he managed to do so.

One of the most impressive stories happens early on, when Batman travels to a remote island to be reunited with the other “Batmen of the World”.

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A brief explanation is given as to why we haven’t seen Batman interact with these fellow heroes, while also showing that Batman is the only one who ever went on to the big leagues; these other guys followed suit as far as donning costumes and fighting crime, but Batman was the first, and remains, to this day, the best.

While at this reunion, Batman and friends realize that something nefarious is going on, with someone murdering each person off one at a time. The murders are well-planned, and unique for each victim.  Batman soon realizes the culprit, but is he really the criminal mastermind behind it all?

The story continues with Batman fearing that a larger, more threatening presence may exist – someone or something who’s been responsible for so many of the seminal moments in Batman’s life.  We’re graced with visits from many obscure characters, including Bat-Mite (who’s sheer inclusion in a serious-minded comic speaks volumes towards Morrison’s brilliance as a writer).  As more and more becomes clear, Batman begins to wonder who is behind this hidden force trying to bring him down.

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This faceless entity, dubbed The Black Glove, continues to evade Batman.  He’s slowly closing in, threatening Batman, implying that there are other dark knights waiting in the wing to take his place, yet we’re not told who he is or what his ultimate goal is.  I like the air of mystery about it; Grant Morrison creates a looming presence that never feels contrived, nor obvious who it really is.

The comic closes with Bruce Wayne and his current paramour Jezebel Jet being captured.  As they try to escape, Bruce is forced to reveal his secret identity.

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First off, I love the imagery of her hands helping form the outline of Batman’s cowl in the shadow. That’s just great in my book. Second, I never viewed Jezebel as much of anything other than another one of Bruce’s flings, and yet here she is, learning his true identity.  Does this mean she’ll be playing a larger part in the story down the road? Or does it just mean that she’s doomed to die?  I’m hoping Morrison doesn’t take the latter path, that feeling way too played out at this point.  Either way, it’s surprising that Bruce’s identity has been discovered, and given that Morrison never seems to do anything randomly, I’m curious to see where it’ll lead.

This story is a great set-up for whatever showdown is going to occur in the next storyline.  I love that Morrison draws upon so many random silver age stories, reincorporating them into mainstream continuity.  I never would have thought so many of these earlier stories could ever fit into the darker, grittier world of Batman that’s been evolving over the past twenty years, yet somehow Morrison manages to bring them all into the modern era while still remaining true to their original stories. I was suitably impressed with how seamlessly these stories tie together.  While I don’t have any spoilers, I know enough to know that Morrison’s run on Batman is pretty epic, so I’m sure the ride is just beginning here.  Mistah J keeps informing me that “the devil’s in the details” with these stories, and that I need to pay attention to everything in order to get the most out of it.  Sometimes it’s a little tough to do that, just because there’s so much going on. I have a feeling I’m going to have to return to these trades at a later date and reread the entire run, just to fully appreciate everything I’m seeing.  For now though, I’m content to just sit back and enjoy watching the story unfold.

-Jess

The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul

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Nothing like a nice resurrection story to celebrate Halloween, eh?

You can never really assume a character is dead forever in comics. Countless times I’ve read the dramatic death of a character, only to have said character return in later years.  There’s always some sort of explanation given as to how they were able to cheat death, with varying degrees of believability.  That’s not to say that I dislike these events; on the contrary, I’m often incredibly happy that a character’s death has been reversed, especially if it never felt like the proper send-off (I’m looking at you, Stephanie Brown).  While certain resurrections, rebirths, or otherwise “returns” of any character are sometimes unexpected, there are others that are less a matter of if and more a matter of when.

Ra’s Al Ghul is one such death.  He has been such a seminal part of Batman lore for so long that it seemed impossible that he would remain dead.  I assumed that at some point, he’d make a return. That’s just the inevitability of comics.  What I wasn’t sure of was exactly how that return would come about.

The Ressurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul provides details on how The Demon’s Head was able to make a return.  I could go into detail about that, but I found it to be a less interesting aspect than the smaller details of the story.  Essentially, Ra’s’s resurrection was planned for centuries, and his ever-loyal subjects helped aid in his return.  More interesting to me though was what happened after Ra’s was brought back from the dead.

You see, Ra’s was back, but he wasn’t really fully alive. His spirit and memories were placed into one of his followers, but the body had been poisoned with radiation, and so was decaying rapidly.

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Ra’s knew he needed a better body to complete his resurrection; unfortunately, that body had to be a male blood relative.

Hmmm…I wonder where this is going…

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Ra’s informs Talia that this is always what Damien was meant for, but in an unexpected display of maternal instinct, Talia refuses to submit to her father’s wishes and escapes, hoping to keep her son safe.

You might notice a distinct lack of Batman in this post. Well, that’s because he just wasn’t as compelling in this story as other characters. That’s not to say that he was uninteresting in the least; I simply wasn’t as drawn to his character as to others.

The most fascinating element of the trade actually focuses on Tim Drake.  Tim is captured by Ra’s and extended an offer: Ra’s claims he can bring Tim’s lost loved ones back to life.  Understandably, Tim is torn by this, wondering if it’s even possible, and then struggling with his own morality as he decides whether it would be the right thing to do.

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Tim and Nightwing get into a pretty fierce battle, with Nightwing acting as the voice of reason in the scenario.  Tim seems determined to allow Ra’s to resurrect his parents, but at the last moment he decides it would be wrong.  Although only a sub-plot of the main story, I found this to be incredibly well-written.  Tim was incredibly sympathetic, and it raises the question of what any of us would do if presented with a similar situation.  Nightwing shows a great level of maturity in the scene, and I found myself actually glad that it was him and not Batman having this conversation with Tim.  The two are closer in age, they’re able to bond over their shared role as Robin, and they can both understand what it’s like to lose your loved ones (yes, Batman understands to a point, but he’s hit a sort of psychological break where he just seems both driven by and entirely disconnected from his parents’ deaths, all at the same time).  Tim’s story was especially well done, and I appreciated the realism behind his wavering beliefs.

For a comic supposedly all about Ra’s Al Ghul, I’m not really talking about him all that much.  I liked the fact that much of his past was written into this trade, and carried over from past storylines (I’m a fan of writers maintaining continuity within the story).  The focus was on finding Ra’s a suitable blood relative to inhabit. The finale, with Ra’s faithful servant being revealed to be his son, felt a little too “deus ex machina” for my taste, but it got the job done.  Ra’s doesn’t reveal anything about his plans now that he’s back, but I’m sure they will inevitably involve wiping out the world’s population (after all, that’s kinda what Ra’s does).

As I mentioned before, I’m not too surprised that Ra’s is back. He was far too good a villain to be gone for good.  His return had the proper level of drama and fan-fare one would expect for one of Batman’s top foes.  Although I only focused on certain details in my post, the entire trade was well thought-out and certainly interesting enough to keep me reading.  The storylines surrounding Batman and Co. seem to be ramping up even more than usual. With all of these new reveals and resurrected characters, who knows what will happen next?

-Jess

Batman: Gotham Underground

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a Batman comic that I just didn’t care too much about, but for some reason Gotham Underground was really underwhelming for me.  Maybe it was the stilted writing. Maybe it was the emphasis on crime families over any of the more colorful villains. Or maybe it was the very obvious lack of BATMAN in a Batman comic.  Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t get into this story, and found myself struggling to finish it.

The crux of the story is this: Batman has been tossed in prison, under the guise of Matches Malone, while investigating criminal activity in Gotham.  While there, an all-out battle erupts as various players enter the scene. There’s Penguin, who at least pretends to be on the up and up; Tobias Whale, a powerful man with his eyes set on Penguin’s territory; and Johnny Stitches, an up and comer who’s more than a little unhinged and also looking to set up shop in Gotham.  These aren’t even all the players, as there are handfuls of less-important side characters thrown into the mix for good measure.

The problem is, all of this is going on and I really don’t care too much about any of it.  The new villains feel somewhat generic, and their squabble with each other just doesn’t feel all that important.  I was never drawn to the characters, and so I didn’t care too much about the outcome of the story.

While the bad guys are talking and making tenuous deals, Batman (as Matches Malone) is stuck in prison, where a target has been placed on his back.  While sleeping, a paid-off guard lets a fellow inmate into his cell, to finish him off once and for all.

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This battle, though brief, was at least somewhat interesting. It was fun to see Batman have to fight outside of his Bat-suit, and use nothing more than his own skills to survive.  He manages this somehow, and slips away from the guards so that he can continue his investigation.  Truth be told, this portion of the comic was the most enjoyable, as it at least focuses on Bruce and his storyline. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the focus of the comic, and as a result my attention couldn’t be held.

With all of this going on, Batman doesn’t even show up until over halfway through the trade (at least in costume).  This obvious lack of Bat-action was apparent, and left me forgetting that I was reading a Batman comic at all.  While I have no problem with comics focusing on different characters, I should at least care enough about those characters to want to keep reading.  As it was, I felt as though this could have been a random storyline tossed under any number of popular title banners. They simply chose Batman because it takes place in Gotham.  Change the location and maybe a few side characters, and this comic could have taken place just about anywhere.  There certainly wasn’t anything about it that screamed Batman.

As the comic comes to a close, Intergang has gained control of Gotham, but I didn’t really care.  We were even granted with a single-page synopsis of the entire trade, as though the writers knew we weren’t really paying attention.

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And this is all you really need to know.  Sure, you miss some of the details, but truth be told, the details don’t really feel all that important in this one.  Am I supposed to be surprised that rival gangs are vying for control of the city?? This is Gotham after all; isn’t that pretty much all anybody does?  This just felt like a mini-series that didn’t really need to be written.  This could easily have been condensed down into one or two issues in the main series, without anything having been lost.  Here it was just unnecessarily drawn out, leaving me waiting for it all to be over.

Certainly not my favorite Batman story, but then it barely even counts as one anyway. With how little Batman is actually in it, it’s difficult to classify this as a true “Batman” storyline. Sure, his banner is on the trade, but it just feels so disconnected from anything else that’s going on that I’m hard pressed to catalog it in my mind as a true Batman story.  Wherever it fits, I’m just glad it’s over, and hopefully when the arc picks up in the main comics, it gets a bit more substance added and is able to connect to the overarching storyline far better than it does here.

-Jess

 

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