Tag Archives: Gotham City

Cut to the Chase by Emily Scott

Greetings, Legions of the Unspoken! Emily Scott here with yet another tantalizing round of telling you about a comic that never got to fully explore its potential! Come one, come all and gather ’round to gasp at the abandoned character development! Marvel at the missing resolutions! And if you’re very brave, try your hand at wildly speculating where the unexplored plot points would have eventually lead!

I kid, but as the links demonstrate, a lot of interesting and worthwhile comics never got the chance see how good they could really get, and each one makes me a little sad and wistful, even as I’m simultaneously glad I got to discover them at all. As fans of, say, Firefly or The Clash will tell you (whether you want them to or not), it can be rough to contemplate what might have been with any art that speaks to you, but as the links also demonstrate, good art goes away abruptly all the time, and there’s no use being histrionic or too sentimental about it. Sometimes you read a fun comic, and then there isn’t any more of it, and it’s a bummer. Such is the case here. So without further ado and sans the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, let’s cut right to the Chase. (You knew that was coming. Hell, I made it the title of the article.)

chase #1 pg00
Anyone else really want to know what Martian Manhunter is watching?

Chase, a DC comic published from the beginning to not quite the end of 1998, follows one Cameron Chase, a rookie agent with the Department of Extranormal Operations. (Its name calls to my mind the opposite of what it’s meant to. I picture of bunch of agents in suits investigating, like, really normal things. EXTRA normal things.) Its ten issues, mostly written by Dan Curtis Johnson, drawn by J. H. Williams III, and inked by Mick Gray, paint a character who feels very of her time but also slightly ahead of it.

Chase is cynical but determined, brave and unafraid to take action, but flawed in more than enough believable ways to keep her far away from fulfilling any Strong Female tropes. She might not feel quite as novel a character in a time when even non-comic readers know the name Jessica Jones, but in 1998 there was a dearth of female characters in any medium written complexly enough to wear their strengths and their weaknesses equally well, and there’s still one now. I may have gotten some 90s nostalgia reading Chase, but there’s not much about it that couldn’t have just been written today and still feel pretty fresh.

chase-kicks-ass
Someone getting kneed in the groin never goes out of style as a reliable source of comedy.

There also aren’t a ton of characters who can slot right in to as many different settings as Chase can, but that’s one of the benefits of a perpetually put out character. She feels just as natural rolling her eyes at Batman or scoffing at the Teen Titans as she does sneering at weird mystical creatures or quipping at an Artificial Intelligence. Her scorn makes her feel relatable in unrelatable situations, where you could see why a detachment from her surroundings would make her a top notch investigator. She has a disdain for the superhero (pardon me, metahuman) world in particular, and her choice to inhabit that world anyway and the ways in which she belongs there more than she knows seemed as though they would have been pivotal emotional conflicts had the title continued.

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I am retroactively sad for 15-year-old me that Vampires of Angst is not a real band.

Chase’s first mission finds her in Ohio investigating a case that would fit right into today’s world (well, today’s world if people had superpowers). Jerry, a high school kid sick of getting picked on by a chadbro actually named Chad, is set off by the sight of his crush with his tormentor and unleashes a pyrokinetic blast. Chase and her handler, Agent Sandra Barrett, track Jerry down, and Barrett tells him he will be sent to a training facility for “talented” youth, a decision that does not sit well with Chase. (This is another conflict that seems like it also would have been expanded on in further issues had there been more. There are references to a list generated by standardized testing used to identify children who likely have powers, and in a later issue, you see a newspaper with the headline “Govt. kidnapping super kids!”)

Chad ends up dying from his injuries, and the town shows up to Jerry’s cell out for his blood. Jerry escapes with another pyrokinetic blast, and Chase finds him by correctly guessing that he is heading for his crush’s house. Before Jerry can do any more damage with his abilities, something inside Chase reaches out and dampens Jerry’s fire. Chase decides not to tell anyone how she was able to counteract his powers, considering she is still new to the DEO, has already had an ideological disagreement with how they handle metahumans on her first mission, and has wholly negative feelings about those with powers anyway. And, you know, shadowy government agencies, real or fictional, don’t always have the best track record at handling things they don’t understand particularly well. So probably a good call on her part.

Chase’s next mission sends her off to South America to investigate an Artificial Intelligence called the Construct that had taken up residence in a temple and was a day away from taking over the world’s computer network when the Justice League shut it down. Amanda Waller informs Chase that there is still a heat output in the temple and sends her to investigate with, you guessed it, the Suicide Squad!

chase-and-suicide-squad-besties
This panel tells you just about everything you need to know about how well they work together.

The mission goes about as well as you would expect, with the Suicide Squad amusingly annoying the piss out of Chase, then deciding to go with Plan B (escape) when the conflict between some insurgents and the soldiers holed up in the temple prevent them from accomplishing their objectives. Chase attempts to stop them, which leads to her power-dampening powers flaring up on Copperhead, and she falls down a cliff and ends up in the custody of the soldiers. Those soldiers turn out to be form Soviet Intelligence, who are apparently just kind of bored since  the Soviet regime collapsed and scavenging for information in the temple. They stick Chase into the Construct’s interface, since they don’t know what it will do to a human, and she is informed that the Construct has infiltrated the Soviets’ armor with plans to take over the world’s systems next.

Chase does manage to escape with that valuable information after kneeing her captor in the crotch (see above), so it’s not a total wash, but she assumes incorrectly that her next assignment, babysitting the Teen Titans, is a punishment for the previous mission’s failure. Her misconception is corrected by the DEO’s director, Mister Bones, who she discovers is a talking skeleton. (Am I the only one who would read a title that’s nothing but a walking, talking skeleton engaging in mundane bureaucratic tasks to work his way up the ranks?) Bones tells her that a lot of European law and intelligence agencies are suddenly willing to exchange information with the DEO now, and since no good deed goes unpunished, Chase’s reward is to guard just the sort of people she can’t stand!

The real star of this issue, however, is not its titular character, any of the Teen Titans, or even Booster Gold, who shows up seemingly for no other reason than to rag on the Titans for his action figure being better than theirs. No, the real star of this issue for me is the villain, spoiling for a fight, and ready to introduce the world to his new group of henchmen, the Clockwatchers. It’s time (I said it) for the Clock King.

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Could he be wearing any more timepieces?

To be honest, there’s nothing beyond a really cool design that makes me like the Clock King so much, and his team gets handled pretty quickly by the Teen Titans and Chase’s still-hidden power. He and his Clockwatchers are mostly played for comedy, which is all worth it for the scene where they squabble about taking the bus:

clock-king-3
If this were really New York, nobody would be staring at them, no matter how many guys with clocks for faces were on the bus.

Chase is injured in the fight, and while she is laid up in the hospital, we get the chance to hear a story about one of her pre-DEO P.I. exploits, an encounter which Klarion the Witch Boy. This issue also gives us a closer look at the characters who make up Chase‘s supporting cast, her superhero obsessed sister Terry who has been displaced by an earthquake in Gotham, a vagrant named Knob with a penchant for the paranormal, and Chase’s boyfriend Peter.

I enjoy the way her relationship with Peter is handled because it is a prominent part of her life and interferes with and buoys the rest of her life in realistic ways. So often females characters are entirely defined by their romantic relationships or those relationships are presented as impediments to some mythical idea of “having it all,” so it’s always refreshing to see the situation handled with more nuance. When they bicker, it feels lived in, and the shadow of past grievances can be heard in their words. Peter may flirt dangerously with being something of a useless boyfriend cliche who only serves to, like, hold her back, man, but he always seems to be pulled back before he can cross that line. He  may not be crazy about, you know, getting a job, but he proves his worth with some 1337 haxor skills, and when he argues with Chase about her work with the DEO, it feels like the words of someone who truly cares rather than someone trying to keep her down.

chase-disappointment
But for real, look at that guy.  He’d be Mr. November on a calendar of dashed expectations.

Chase’s relationship with her family and the particular nature of her opposition to superheroes is explored in the next issue when she and her sister are stuck on an elevator. Chase is tired of hearing about the stories in her sister’s superhero tabloids and snaps, revealing a tragic past her sister is wholly ignorant of. Their dad, who Terry was lead to believe died in a benign way, was in fact a mask who belonged to a group of do-gooders. He was known as the Acro-Bat, which is both a great and a stupid name. What is just a great name is the moniker of the group of masks he belonged to: The Justice Experience.

chase-justice-experience
Who’s signing the petition with me for a Major Flashback solo title?

It’s kind of hard to blame Chase for being embarrassed by this piece of her family’s past, considering her dad is the only one of his friends who looks like an out-and-out dweeb, amirite? These wannabe heroes got into a fight with a villain group called the House of Pain (You’re hearing Jump Around in your head right now, aren’t you?), and a woman was caught in the crossfire and died. The man who loved her was less than pleased with the Justice Experience, as you might imagine, and he begins to take them out one by one. The comic goes from “Haha, look at these silly vigilantes in their silly costumes,” to, “Oh Jesus Christ, that’s brutal,” real quick when you see the aftermath of his revenge.

chase-jaws
C’mon, bro, you could have just gotten a knife or something. Like are you actually eating him? That’s next level revenge.

The Justice Society of America veterans are eventually enlisted to take care of this threat, sparing anyone else from being maybe sort of eaten, but leaving lasting scars of Chase’s psyche. Terry is understandably indignant that no one told her the truth sooner, but she doesn’t hold it against her sister very long. That’s good news for Chase because she will need all her focus on her next mission, which sends her to Gotham, to properly verbally cut Batman down to size, once of my favorite things in the title.

The gist is there is a new drug mutating its users, who now look demonic. The DEO and the DEA have been experimenting with thyroidal mutagens, which only one corporation in Gotham is licensed to use. Chase sees Batman skulking around the place, and when they return together the next day, they discover the doctor who designed the mutagen went missing with the drug in the days after the earthquake. The doctor had been growing increasingly paranoid that the government wanted to steal his work to create superheroes and supervillains. They find two more kids who’ve been mutated, and Batman turns up to stop them. Chase shoots one of them who is about to get the drop on Batman, and he has, what she will later describe in a way that makes her one of my heroes forever, a Bat-Tantrum.

chase-buzzkill-batman
“You’re….welcome?”

I’ve got to go with Chase on this one. I first read this comic right after seeing the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, and I was so tired of Matt Murdock’s smug sliding scale of morality, that I was happy to see someone pretty sane just take some decisive action without wringing her hands a whole bunch about it. I understand why the taking of a life is a huge moral dilemma in a lot of comics (and obviously in a plenty of real world scenarios), but it seems like it’s usually someone on the Punisher’s level of not ok that you see characters fall on this side of things. Seriously, though, if you ever see a large demon creature trying to rip me apart, you certainly have my permission to do whatever it takes to stop them without spending a lot of time considering if they might be able to be changed back.

The doctor escapes, and the mutagen is recovered, at which point we find out Chase’s presence has been a cover for her real mission, which is to find out if Batman is a lone nut. Since she had previously met him in her first appearance, in Batman #550, she is able to confirm that it is the same man and not a group of men all using the mantle Batman.

chase-cover-stort
Yep, would still read a comic of nothing but this guy smoking and muttering to himself while he does paperwork.

Chase uses the pretense of trying to find the doctor to stay in Gotham, and Peter continues to be marginally useful with hackzor assistance to try and smoke Batman out. He eludes their attempts, at which point we find out it was actually the Oracle they were tracking all along. She warns Batman, who is already aware the Chase is spying on him, which he probably can’t be too upset about, considering he is already spying on her. Oh, those kooky spooks!

Chase attends a party at Gotham Broadcasting, where she uses all her secret agent and private eye skills to come to the startling conclusion that Batman must be the guy in charge of GBC, since Batman has to be using its satellite. Well, in all fairness the guy was standing next to Bruce Wayne. Ok, seriously, in all fairness, that man is the Sentinel, Alan Scott, so it’s not like she was completely off base on the whole him being a superhero thing.

Chase encounters Batman again, where she learns some less than savory stuff about the agent she was working with on the case, and Batman delivers the world’s most hypocritical advice about revenge not healing the death of a parent. At least, it would be the world’s most hypocritical advice if it were actually Batman and not Alan Scott doing Batman a solid.

chase-batman-dead-father
Even knowing it’s not Batman, I still am getting riled up.

Chase….chases him across the top of some buildings to tell him just how wrong he is, and “Batman” falls through a roof. Chase considers taking his mask off while he’s dazed, but decides not to, saying that her actions haven’t been motivated by hatred but a desire to keep anyone else from going through what she went through. Her proof her intentions are good will be to keep his identify safe. We find out the ol’ switcheroo was Nightwing’s idea to throw Chase off the scent of both Wayne and Scott’s identities, but Batman, of course, has to be the smartest guy in the room, saying that he knew Chase didn’t really want to know but she had to discover it for herself.

And that’s about that for Chase the title, even though Chase the character would make plenty of other appearances in other titles. As I said earlier, I’ll do no bemoaning there’s not more. It was good, I enjoyed it, and you probably would too. Chase has also recently been portrayed on Supergirl by the fantastic Emma Caulfield, so she has been far from forgotten even if her solo title was regrettably short lived. What will hopefully not be short lived is your enthusiasm for the subject of my next article, Valiant’s Magnus, Robot Fighter. How can you not be enthusiastic for something with such a great name? See you then, Legions!

 

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Six Weeks of Punishment: Deadly Knights

 

 

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!

I sure hope you enjoyed the first installment in our Six Weeks of Punishment leading up to Daredevil Season 2!  Emily and I had a ton of fun doing the podcast, and speaking of a ton of fun, the 90’s were saturated in the form of fun that only arrives in the form of an inter-company crossover!

Speaking of crossovers, you’re well aware that we’re heading quickly toward the Daredevil crossover with Punisher, but let’s also keep in mind that we are rapidly approaching the Batman/Superman movie as well!  We have’t seen this many crossovers since…well…the 90’s!

There were possibly too many crossovers at the time, but you couldn’t convince me so then, and you’d still have difficulty convincing me so now.  While there were some real stinkers and some cash grab crossovers, I was still entranced by the idea of characters meeting that rarely met.  I wanted to see the outcomes of these fights!  I wanted the supporting characters to interact. There’s something magical about these stories to me, and sadly, the first Batman/Punisher crossover, Lake of Fire, just didn’t capture that for me.  I’m not a big Denny O’Neil guy, and he wrote that one in a way that sort of embodied what naysayers say about crossovers.  The book did look good, and redemption was possible because Punisher/Batman:  Deadly Knights would emerge next.

Deadly Knights washed the bad taste of Lake of Fire out of my mouth with the ferocity of a fire hose.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the creative team of Chuck Dixon, John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson did what i feel is still the best Punisher story of all time, and Chuck Dixon certainly knew his way around the Batfamily as well, with long runs in that area of comics, including his excellent treatment of both Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake).

Dixon knows how to craft an action story.  I probably read more of his stuff in the 90’s than anyone else’s.  Every month, I could expect MULTIPLE solid action tales from his pen alone than some writers could do in a year.  JRJR and Janson also certainly make his tale come to light.  They waste no time. From the moment the cover is opened, we see Punisher raining fire upon the savage mooks of Gotham City in his quest to find Jigsaw.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 5
People from NYC  in comic books talk about Gotham City the way people in real life talk about NYC.  (I kid, I kid!)

The place is surrounded by Gotham’s finest, but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t think any of this apocalyptic gunfire is worth risking any of Gotham’s finest over.  He’s probably right, as you can tell from the picture above, Punisher and these goons are in a gunfight, and as much as I love Punisher, he’s definitely not worth risking any cop lives over.

punshoot
Gordon is the most hands-on police commissioner in history.  He’s at every firefight.  How does he get any paperwork done?

After Punisher manages to plant a few rounds in some paint vats, he blows up the place BECAUSE PUNISHER.  He moves in to question the surviving mook (being the last guy to survive a firefight with the Punisher is like winning a lottery where the prize is being slow-cooked in a vat of creamed corn like on that one Halloween episode of Roseanne.  What did you really get?) when everyone’s favorite flying rodent-styled-vigilante arrives on the scene, as he is wont to do when people are shooting paint vats in Gotham City.

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Not gonna lie-Commissioner Gordon has a rather Cavalier attitude about his public responsibility.  If anyone is alive in there, shouldn’t public servants try and save them, even if they are criminals?  Also, note the capitalization of Cavalier; that’s a Batman joke for both of you who’ll get it.

Of course, Punisher has his own ideas, despite Batman’s presence.  What’s especially interesting about this crossover is that the last time Frank Castle met Batman, it wasn’t really Batman (Bruce Wayne).  It was Jean-Paul Valley, better known as Azrael, also known as THE CLAWED TANK WHO WOULD BE BATMAN.

azbats
No matter what he may say or think about Batman, I bet Punisher could get behind claws that fire rockets.

One of the first things Castle figures out here is that this Batman isn’t the same as the Batman he already fought with and beside.  For all of the stuff we love about Punisher, I feel like his detective skills are one of the things that we don’t discuss enough.  It takes him maybe 14 seconds to figure out what it took Gordon weeks to figure out; it’s also something I do not believe Superman ever figured out. (I’m possibly wrong about this.  Correct me in the comments if so!)

Punisher manages to question the lone surviving mook, but Batman shows up, Punisher figures out who he is, and Batman proceeds to engage Frank in a fistfight.  Normally it’d be a huge mistake to take on a gun-wielding Punisher with just your fists, but this is Batman.

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Almost is underlined so you know just how almost Batman feels.

The mook Punisher was trying to question gets away and makes his way back to his boss, Jigsaw.  Jigsaw came to Gotham City in the last Batman/Punisher crossover, as he wants to move on the mobs here to get away from the heat of NYC.  It seems like he would have opened up shop somewhere not famous for having the world’s most prominent vigilante in it.  Maybe somewhere like Dos Rios, Texas?

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Wait, this guy is in Dos Rios.  There’s no safe place for a crime lord, Jigsaw.

The mook promised Jigsaw that he said nothing about him to Punisher, but Jigsaw’s partner, The Joker, doesn’t believe him and shoots him.  Or maybe Joker did believe him and shot him anyway.  There’s no telling, y’all.  IT’S THE JOKER.

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We get it, Joker. We get it.

Of course, everything isn’t Joker’s-lips rosy between these two.  Jigsaw is mad about not having made more headway into the Gotham City gang scene, and he lets Joker know this in a very diplomatic fashion.  He tears the place apart.  Of course, Joker is an insane and evil clown, so he isn’t impressed and reiterates to Jigsaw that Joker’s plan is the best. Once they get in, Jigsaw will be entrenched.  Also, as a bonus, Joker has gotten Jigsaw’s face fixed.  I’d wonder why Joker doesn’t get his own face fixed, but then I’d be wondering about The Joker, and I am quite sure that doing so for too long will just render one mad.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how both Batman and Punisher find the other one to be crazy.  They each claim that they are the proper response to the criminal element and that the other is nuts.  It’s like watching Ed Gein and Jeffery Dahmer call each other cannibals.  You listen because it’s interesting while knowing that the pot is calling the kettle black, or in this case Bat.  Of course, in their worlds, the other is the one that is off his rocker.  Punisher doesn’t get it when it comes to Batman because he isn’t a wanton murderer, while Batman doesn’t get Punisher because Punisher IS a wanton murderer.  If this wasn’t about wanton murder, I reckon they could agree to disagree, but that seems like too an intense a topic to let drop easily.

Batman can’t let Jigsaw’s presence in Gotham City drop easily.  Of course, neither can Punisher, who’s brought Microchip with him to help gather information.  Both Microchip and Batman are asking and answering the most important question in this scenario…

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 17
Yeah, Micro, Batman’s the crazy one.
Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 18
Gang Wars that play it a little closer to the vest are ok, though.

Of course, the information that one can glean from a computer is limited, or at least it was in 1994, what with having to use an AOL floppy disc to get going.  Think about that; despite how impressive that Batcomputer looks above, it was still using dial-up.  You hearing the modem noise?  GOOD.

Since one can only learn so much, both Punisher and Batman take to the streets in their own ways to get more intelligence.  Of course, with Batman, this means we get to see the awesome and infamous MATCHES MALONE.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 22
Does Batman always drive with his pinkie or is that just something he does to throw folks off from thinking he is Matches Malone?

Frank Castle’s cell phone looks about 10 years ahead of its time, so perhaps the Batputer from earlier at least has DSL.  Matches is driving around a gangster, Jimmy Navarone.  Jimmy just happens to be the next target of Jigsaw and Joker in their bid to move up the Gotham Mob Ladder. (That should be either the name of a story of some sort of awesome Batman accessory.)

 A key point above is Frank asking Microchip to nose around in Navarone’s computer business, which it leads us to some Hackers-style…well…er…um…hacking between Robin (Tim Drake) and Microchip.  This is a neat little bit here, and it’s so cool to see Batman’s supporting cast in this crossover.  It’d have been much easier to just have Punisher and Batman punch each other in the shadows of the Bat-Signal, which has somehow been changed into a skull for most of the comic, but instead, by getting to see Batman’s supporting cast, even if it’s just seeing Alfred being delightfully snooty for just a second, Dixon has deftly given anyone who picked this up that didn’t already follow Batman a sense of Batman’s world that may entice them into pickling up another issue.  We also see all of Punisher’s supporting cast, which really just  means Microchip, once again, BECAUSE PUNISHER.

I suppose Jigsaw could sort of count, as he’s been around Punisher for quite some time.  I honestly think he has the superpower of being the only guy throughout all of history and time that Punisher is unable to kill.

Back to the story, Navarone is living it up at the clubs, and Punisher has grown tired of waiting.  He walks by Matches, but he doesn’t make him.  Also, let the hack-duel begin!

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 23
I don’t know if what Robin is saying is really computer talk or not, and I don’t care.  That sounds cool as hell!

Despite seemingly having an open invitation to the depraved (I’m basing this on the crazy look that duck is giving us in the lower right panel), The Toy Box actually is very selective in regard to its clientele, as Frank Castle learns very quickly upon entering the establishment.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 24

Punisher has a scar but Jigsaw doesn’t.  Nice.

Yep, that’s Jigsaw, and he is looking good!  Jigsaw just can’t resist messing with Frank Castle before he offs him, and I just had to show you the best possibly glimpse at Jigsaw’s new face as he does it.

As you see above as well, Batman is on his way to The Toy Box, where you just know that this “conversation” between Jigsaw and Frank Castle isn’t going especially well.  Of course, we can’t forget that the reason that Jigsaw and Joker are even there is because they are chasing Navarone in order to remove him from the Gotham City Mob power structure.  First, though, let’s get Punisher some guns.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 26
Somehow Joker peering between the piano and its cover is one of the creepiest Joker panels I have ever seen.

While all this is going on, the Hack-Joust between Microchip and Robin comes to a close, and you see just why he’s the Boy Wonder!

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 27
If your name is Microchip, you’ve sort of got to win your computer battles; it’s all you have got.

Robin seems to think that Batman is missing all of the action, which is sort of like thinking that someone on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean could miss all the water.  Dude, the action is all around him.  Batman being Batman, he jumps right in, with Bat-Bombs flying.

Batman doesn’t recognize Jigsaw based purely on his voice, but he does recognize someone else’s voice despite the cacophony that must be reverberating in this building, what with all the gunfire, explosions, Bat-Bombs, and ninja kicking going on.

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Wouldn’t it be more mysterious if he left his logo off of everything?  On the other hand, I’m totally in for the Bat-Bomb Batman action figure variant.

The world catches fire as Punisher and Batman join forces to get out of this maelstrom, although neither of them seem to be especially happy about it.  Of course, how happy is Punisher supposed to be?  It’s barely 18 seconds into this fight and he has already gotten shot.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 30
Only The Punisher would call Batman a Boy Scout.

In the midst of all the fighting, Punisher gets Batman some breathing room by, you know, blowing folks away.  This distracts Punisher enough to enable Jigsaw to sneak up on our beloved vigilante, but it also costs Jigsaw dearly…

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 33
Yep, horseshoes and buckshot grenades.  Just like they say, close counts there.

I think there are three moments in this book that everyone was waiting for, and we’re about to hit all three of then in rapid order.  The first one happens right now, as the shit has hit the fan, there are mooks everywhere, and the only thing that can save the day is Batman and Punisher, side-by-side, taking out or taking down every Gotham mobster in sight.

Of course, what fun would this be if our two vigilantes didn’t toss a barb or two at one another, and how could this guy be Batman if he didn’t tell Castle to leave town when his immediate killing is over.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 34
Um, that’s why he has Robin, Frank.

The fight breaks down, and Batman winds up taking on Jigsaw while Punisher chases down The Joker.  The Batman vs. Jigsaw fight is as uninteresting as it sounds like, and I don’t find this to be the fault of the creators.  The fracas looks and sounds as good as it could, but at the end of the day, it’s Batman vs. Jigsaw.  Even with Jigsaw’s facial road map, I am sure that dealing with Two-Face the second of every month has Batman finely attuned to the nuances of dealing with those afflicted with severe facial scarring.  He shows it by making short work of Jigsaw.

What’s much more interesting is Frank Castle vs. The Joker.  Of all of Batman’s opponents, The Joker is the one that you routinely hear come up in the constant “should Batman kill?” debates.  There’s a very strong argument that he is a deadly force that should be eradicated.  To Batman, the stronger argument is that he is a person and so he’s entitled not to be murdered.  This is sort of what makes Batman Batman at his core.  Despite his brutality, there’s a core of decency that enables Batman to provide even The Joker with respect for him as a human being.

Punisher, of course, is bereft of all of that, and thinks the best thing he could do for The Joker is put a bullet right in his brain.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 41
I am pretty sure the joke is that they’re both nuts.
Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 42
IT’S BATMAN, PUNISHER

Castle was this close to killing The Joker, but Batman stepped in to stop him.  Of course, Punisher isn’t going to take that lying down, which leads to our final of the big three moments, which is Punisher hitting Batman with a punch; you gotta buy the book to see that one!

As much as I love The Punisher, I’d be the first to admit that Batman could take him in hand-to-hand combat.  I think it’d be a little harder than most folks that I know, but that may be because of my love of the character.  I honestly wish we had seen a bit more of the two of them fighting in this book, but the story moves along well without it.  I don’t miss it as I read it, but afterwards, I notice it in reflection.

In the last of their encounter, Batman takes Punisher down again, saying that while Punisher may have been entitled to one punch, it’s just going to be the one.  Batman takes advantage of one last opportunity to call Frank Castle crazy.  So he responds by calling Batman crazy.

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I’m not sure who wins the scowl-off here.  Both competitors are quite impressive.

The books ends with Punisher leaving Gotham City and heading back to a New York City that he knows and understands, which is the only ending the book really could have had.

All in all, this was a quite satisfying read.  Some of it moves a bit fast for my tastes, but there was a lot to squeeze in here, especially when considering that there’d be no opportunity for a follow-up issue.  Fans of both Batman and Punisher will be happy, and a fan just looking for an event would get those three big moments.

I have to give credit to Richard Starking and Comicraft for the lettering job as well.  The captions for Punisher and Batman really stand out and add a level of depth to this story.  I love it when I get to see creators take advantage of the little things that only comic books can do to add depth to a story.

That’s it for Round 2 of your Six Weeks of Punishment, Legions! Thanks for coming to Gotham City with Frank and I! Be here this weekend when Emily Scott shows us how Punishment will work in the future world of Marvel 2099!!!!

The Character of a City-Gotham Nights

Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope you have enjoyed the debate I had with Paul O’Connor of Longbox Graveyard over 70’s vs. 90’s comic books, and I hope you come down strongly on my side that the 90’s are the best!

Seriously, though, we had a good-natured conversation about 90’s comics myths, 70’s comics, the differences between the two eras, and all sorts of cool stuff.  Take a listen here if you haven’t, or give it another one if you have!  The classics never get old, do they?

I sure hope not because today I’m taking a look at one of the all-time classics in superheroes, Batman!  We won’t be looking at him in the traditional sense, however.  We’ll be looking in particular at one of the most important supporting characters in the Batman mythos.

The supporting characters are almost what drives Batman.  If Batman’s rogue’s gallery are counted as supporting characters, then they’re almost certainly the most important element to Batman’s tapestry.  Even if we don’t count the Joker or Calendar Man, the supporting cast makes the Batman comic book come alive in ways many other comic books do not.  Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Nightwing, Lucius Fox, Leslie Thompkins, and more bring out the “man” in Batman, and that’s good, because otherwise Batman would just be a weird rich dude who beat up the criminally insane and street level criminals.  Thanks to them, he is now a weird rich dude who beats up the criminally insane and street-level criminals  while having relationships with various folks.

The most important character in the Batman books, though, could possibly be Gotham City.  Gotham City gives a vibe few other locales, fictional or otherwise,  in comic books of any genre can match.  I think it may be the only location in comic books, especially superhero comic books, that can actually say it is a character (other than Danny the Street, of course).  Gotham City means as much to Batman as Batarangs, the Batwing, and Alfred’s snide comments.

I think we can all agree that the architecture in Gotham City reflects the environment that it is, but it is often people that determine the character of a city.  We speak differently about the people of New York City than we do the folks of Los Angeles.  In fact, we think of people within those cities as being vastly different!  Beverly Hills and Compton aren’t the same, and neither are Staten Island and Queens.  The people of Gotham City are a proud lot, but they are also a hard lot.  Their city reflects them, even as their hero reflects their city.  Gotham Nights was a 4-issue mini-series published by DC Comics in 1992 that attempted to show us Gothamites, and by doing so also showing us their city.

John Ostrander handles the writing chores, while Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson are on top of pencils/inks.  The book reads well, although it is not as good as some of Ostrander’s other works, such as Suicide Squad, Grimjack, Punisher, or Spectre, but it is a very solid read.  Of course, it is also important to note that Ostrander’s high marks are so high that is no surprise that some of his other works don’t measure up to them.  Even Justin Verlander can’t throw 100-MPH every pitch!  What he can do, though, and what Ostrander does here, is deliver a solid outing each time.

We get an enjoyable read that may not quite reach its potential, but I think some of that is due to space limitations.  If one is going to do a mini-series about the people of Gotham City in a way to bring the city to life in a new way to Batman fans, it seems like it would need to be longer than four issues.  The stories about the individuals are charming, but they feel rushed.  Just as we start to get to know the varied types of folks that comprise the human landscape of Gotham City, the series ends.

But for something to end, it must begin, yes?  This series starts with Batman chasing a mook.  Doesn’t it seem like all Batman titles are legally required to start that way?

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That mook looks a bit more like he is doing the Batdance than he is running away from Batman. Remember Batdance? I don’t think anyone does except me.

The very start of the series has most of the action you’ll see from Batman in this story.  That doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean that if you are buying this because you wanted to see Batman swoop down on every mugger in every alley of  Gotham City then this book isn’t for you.  I think the covers sort of told someone that, but I can only imagine how ripped off someone might have felt if they got this on an impulse buy hoping to see Batman doing Batman stuff.

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This is the cover that I think could have inspired the most of those regretful impulse buys.
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The first time I saw this cover, I thought it was Catwoman enticing some hapless mark. It isn’t, but that isn’t bad.
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All I can imagine when I see this is the idea that Batman is enforcing one of the vast array of anti-homeless ordinances that have sprung up across the United States. “It’s illegal to sleep on a park bench after dark, citizens! Let the Shadow of the Bat remind you!” Seriously, though, those laws are bunk.
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The pastries and the gun make for a beautiful dichotomy.

The covers have a cool design, and I especially enjoy the bordering.  I feel like that alone sort of set these apart as “not your typical Batman book”, although with the first (and possibly the fourth) issue(s) I can see a casual fan picking it up and being disappointed that there isn’t more Batman in it.

But just because there isn’t more Batman doesn’t make this title a disappointment.  In fact, I’d say it is almost worth it for the great art of Gotham City alone.  Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson make the city come alive as a character in and of itself. Some of their work makes the buildings of Gotham seem like the night solidified  as they reach as high as they can into sky in an attempt to embrace their ethereal cousin…

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That quote about Gotham being for giants sums up the way Gotham City has looked in nearly everything except the Batman ’66 TV show.
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Man, is there anything one can’t quote Churchill about?
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With just that single train, Gotham City has better mass transit than Atlanta.
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Different parts of a city make a city’s personality so varied. I love that Gotham City is no different.  Of course, someone just out of the panel is bemoaning the lack of English being spoken, because, hey, Gotham City is no different.

The pages almost allow the city to breathe.  If it could breathe, you just know Gotham’s breath would be rank.  Thankfully, you don’t have to smell that, while you still get to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, as I stated earlier, cities become characters due to the folks than inhabit them.  While it seems like Gotham City is populated solely by guys who are part crocodile or have clocks for faces, most of the people in Gotham City are quite normal…some of them appallingly so.  Take Jimmy and Jennifer.  These two folks remind me of that non-couple we all know.  You know the one.  They obviously like each other, but neither do much of anything about it other than act in a flirtatious way toward one another that annoys all around them.  That having been said, they are nice people, even if Jennifer has little to no idea how to act in regard to talking about sexually transmitted diseases in public.

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Jennifer’s way-too-loud discussion about AIDS in public followed up by her assumption that Jimmy is gay due to his concern over AIDS and his never having made a pass at her sort of tells you what sort of lady she is.  Jimmy also seems to be judging her because she has sex and dates a lot, so you can tell what sort of person he is fairly quickly as well.  They are nice enough folks, but there is a bigger picture they aren’t getting.

You may not have noticed the doughnut lady who dealt with Jimmy’s ever-so-clever order.  That seems to be par for the course for her, as she is perpetually building her own world in her own head.  I don’t blame her; I spend a great deal of my time dreaming about what my life would be like if I won the lottery.  (Basically, it would be more or less the same but with more comic books, less work, and probably an Unspoken Decade magazine.  Maybe it will happen!  Keep dreaming, Legions!)

Her name is Rosemary Hayes, and she is something to behold in her dreams.  Aren’t we all?

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Man, she sure makes Wonder Woman fat in her dreams!  I love it!  Her character is a tragic one, whose loneliness reaches out and just grabs you through the page.  I feel so badly for her after this next page, when she wakes up and the reality of her dreams dissipates with ever beam of light that makes its way into her eyes.  We’ve all felt that way after a dream, right?

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I have felt that too, Rosemary. It just ain’t fair.

Life, of course, isn’t fair to many folks, but it seems decidedly harsh on Joel and Emma, an older couple who have all sorts of problems, ranging from health to money.  Being broke is bad, but it is also tough to watch the world change around you when things are going poorly for you, especially as you get older.  That gets really tough if you recall when things were different, when you were younger, and when you could do something about it.  Things could not be going much more poorly for Emma and Joel, so Gotham, being the harsh mistress that it is, ups the ante just a little.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 9 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 20They will support and care for one another as best they can through these issues, but at least they do have each other.  Dio is an ex-con on parole, who insists on pushing away anyone who is close, especially his pregnant wife.  He also has words with Batman, who says he’ll be keeping an eye on him.  I love that; it’s so small-town sheriff in a western, but it is also so Batman.  Those two genres don’t line up that neatly very often…

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Dio’s path in life hasn’t taken him anywhere awesome thus far, except maybe for his wife, Migdalia, but all he seems to do for her is to threaten to hit her and demand beer.  I am a big fan of beer, but I am not so much a fan of a violence against women.  He also appears to have a past as a high-end henchman, having worked for The Penguin.  I like that Batman has such a memory that he recalls this guy; Penguin must have stopped dressing his guys like he did in Batman ’66, where they’d have a hard time being told apart.

Dio’s tale is a sad one, and no tale in the book is devoid of heartbreak.  The question is is how will these people that comprise the great city of Gotham survive their personal tragedies?

Gotham Nights reminds us that each city, even the fictional ones, are full of people.  These people have dreams, hopes, fears, bouts of depression, hankerings for ice cream, and all of the various feelings that go together to make up human existence.  You’ll see these folks rise, fall, get up, stumble, sleep, eat, and engage in all sorts of activities just to keep their lives moving along.

Normally, I go through bit by bit and give you the story, but that seems a disservice to such a character-drive story as this one.  Instead, go out, find the book, and see yourself in these characters for yourself.  See yourself and your choices in a new light.  See yourself in Gotham Nights…and never forget one thing always remains constant in Gotham City…

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Hope you had fun, Legions of the Unspoken!  Next week, Emily Scott brings you Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, and Darry Weight takes a look at Cable. We’ll talk Rob Liefeld’s Avengers in an upcoming podcast, and Super-Blog Team Up returns on 4/21 with Top 10’s!  Hope to see you there for all of it, folks!