Thanks to various bile and rumor websites, forums that haven’t the slightest grasp of nuance, I’ve become known as the guy who hates Batman. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m the guy whose favorite character as a kid was Batman. I’m the guy who remained a Batman fan until someone at DC Comics got hold of Psychology for Dummies and launched the Batman on the road to becoming arguably the poster boy for toxic masculinity. I’m the guy who resents that Batman gets more love from DC Comics than any of the company’s pantheon of great super-heroes. I’m the guy who most especially hates that DC Comics keeps reducing my Black Lightning to nothing more than Batman’s obedient sidekick. I’ll cop to every one of those.
But I’m also the guy who looks for and yearns for any Batman comics that do not present my youthful favorite in that toxic light. I’ve praised Batman comics in recent years and keep hoping Batman will find his way back to the inspirational hero he once was, Sadly, DC Comics rejected my notion of having him work through a super-hero version of the twelve steps. It would have been an epic and maybe heart-warming series.
This was my frame of mind when I borrowed a copy of the hardcover collection Batman Vol. 3: Ghost Stories by James Tynion IV, Guillem March, James Stokoe, Carlo Pagulayan and David Baron [DC; $24.99] from my local library. It reprints Batman #101-105 and material from Batman Annual #5 and Detective Comics #1027.
To cover what has gone before as swiftly and as painlessly as I can manage...
Batman screwed up again. His arrogance and hubris brought Gotham to its knees and also left his crime-fighting apparatus in tatters. Once again, he allowed the Joker to go free to mass-murder to his heart’s content. If he learned anything, it was that he screwed up again and he needed the family members and allies he has modern-day historically treated like crap. These brutal comic books were quite the chore for me to read. The things I do for you.
I saw a grimmer of hope for the Batman in that he did realize he’s screwed up in so many ways and seemed willing to do the hard work to change how he does his Batman thing. It’s not the twelve steps I think he needs, but it’s actually a good start.
Enter the Ghost-Maker, a vigilante who knew Bruce Wayne when they were both training. Ghost-Maker is a killer, which seems to be the main issue between him and Bats. That we’ve never heard of Ghost-Maker before and that Batman has barely mentioned him to his legion of sidekicks, I’ll chalk that up to how many times the Darknight Detective has been hit on the head over the years.
During the course of this story arc, Batman shows a great deal of deference to his old frenemy. He does keep Ghost-Maker from killing Clownhunter, a traumatized young vigilante who has been murdering members of the Joker’s organization. But it seemed to me that Bats mostly wanted to kiss and make up with Ghost-Maker, which he does by the end of this initial story arc, inviting him to join him in fixing Gotham. Sigh. Vigilante, heal thyself.
I know. It’s so easy for me to ease into trashing Batman in these recent DC comic books. But, overall, I thought there were some very positive things in this collection. Batman seems more sane than in a long time. He treats allies better. He doesn’t manipulate them. He and Catwoman even make some grown-up decisions that don’t have them doing the deed on rooftops. At least for now.
Included in this volume, Batman Annual #5 is Clown-Hunter’s story and it’s a compelling tale made all the stronger by the presence of Leslie Thompkins. Leslie has never given up on making Bruce Wayne a better and more sane person. She seems willing to serve the same purpose in helping Clownhunter. She’s a gentle hopeful breeze in a city of brutal violence. Were I involved in the Batman comics, I’d make her a more regular presence. Of course, I’d also work my way back to an inspirational and sane Batman, something DC doesn’t seem very interested in doing. Oh, well.
For now, I’ll take what I can get. Tynion IV’s writing is decent. Even baby steps towards a better Batman are welcome.
Also from my local library...
Mao Volume 1 by Rumiko Takahashi [Viz; $9.99]. From the creator of such legendary manga as Ranma 1&2, Maison Ikkoku, Urusei Yatsura and more comes this tale of Nanoka, a young girl who survived the deaths of her parents and finds herself in the middle of an ongoing supernatural war between cursed exorcist/healer Mao and the demons he hunts. Transported back and forth in time, Nanoka finds that she also has supernatural powers and a mysterious link to Mao.
I prefer Takahashi’s comedies to her supernatural dramas, but she is such a great storyteller all her work is worth reading. Nanoka is a courageous young woman despite the horrors she now sees. Mao is more than an obsessed demon hunter; he is also a healer of both humans and non-threatening demons. A certain caped crusader could learn something from him.
This first volume entertained and intrigued me enough that I have requested the next book in the series.
I’ll be back soon with more stuff.
© 2021 Tony Isabella
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