Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

From the Bookshelf

by Nicolas Juzda

Batman Year Two is something of a historical peculiarity. From the very beginning, it was over-shadowed by its companion piece Batman Year One, and over time this Mike W. Barr/Alan Davis/Todd MacFarlane story has faded into semi-obscurity. At least part of that may be attributable to just how little it actually contributed to the development of the Batman franchise. The villain introduced would appear again only very rarely (twice to my knowledge), and the sole story element that truly attempts to make this tale central to the Batman mythos has since been retconned out of existence.

As a collection, it's a fair package. All four parts are included, obviously, along with the original covers and an introduction by Barr. This is nothing to write home about, but it's still better than some TPBs give you.

The plot is simple. The Reaper, a vigilante from decades ago, reappears, and his murderous tendencies mean that Batman must take him down. To do that, Bats allies himself with Gotham's criminal element, and ends up working with the man who murdered his parents, Joe Chill. Oh, and Bruce Wayne has found true love in the form of a woman who just happens to be the daughter of The Reaper.

My main problem with this story is that a large portion of it doesn't make much sense. He loses one fight, and instantly decides he needs the help of the city's crimelords. Are we really supposed to buy that? Maybe, because we're also asked to accept that a fifty-something hitman in his corner would be a real asset to Bats in a fight. Uh huh. Said hitman would be Joe Chill, a former mugger who has apparently risen to become the city's number one assasin, in a twist only mildly less probable than the coincidence involved in him being the man who murdered the Waynes. Bruce, meanwhile, decides to start carrying a gun on his nocturnal outings, mostly so that he can dramatically reject it at the end of the story, but his motivation for avoiding the weapon that killed his parents and scarred him mentally for life (and, incidentally, he literally wields the gun that killed them, which the police let him keep as a souvenir or something) was already pretty damn apparent, as far as I was concerned. Then there's the fact that he refuses to tell Gordon why he's going to have to appear to switch sides, so the police end up hunting him as a criminal. This is allegedly because Batman thinks there's a leak in the department (I can't remember if that subplot actually goes anywhere), but unless he suspects it's the commissioner who is betraying the force he could have saved himself some hassle. The list just goes on.

The story isn't actually all that bad despite that. It's like a blockbuster movie. If you turn your brain off and just experience the ride, there's enjoyment to be had. The main selling point is probably the fight sequences, some of which are spectacular. The one that opens the fourth part is especially good, nearly overwhelming the reader as Batman, The Reaper, Chill, criminals, and cops all converge in a series of punches, gunshots, car crashes, knife slashes, and explosions worthy of the best action films.

The character of The Reaper provides a nice counterpoint to Batman. Their origins have very clear parallels, and both have become grim and menacing figures who wage personal wars on crime. But The Reaper has taken his too far, and become what he opposes. His final statements to Batman drive home the point that that is a risk Batman himself constantly runs, and only Wayne's rejection of murder (symbolized by the gun he has carried since the story's first part) demonstrate that he hasn't yet fallen into the abyss. The plot may make no sense, but Barr can still deliver some nice moments, give him that.

Another such sequence that sticks with the reader is Batman's confrontation with Chill on the very spot where the Waynes were murdered. Here, Bruce reveals his identity to Chill at last, and begins to beat the older man before threatening to kill him. I won't reveal what happens next, but I will say that I prefer the beautiful irony of the pre-Crisis death of Chill to the one provided here. In his introduction to the book, Barr reveals that he intended his version as an homage, but despite the vague similarities, the point has been lost. Nevertheless, it's a good scene; the original just happens to have been a near-perfect one.

Unfortunately, it should be noted that that was the first time that Batman's reaction to working with Chill seemed at all plausible. Bruce has got a lot of emotional control, but would even he be able to betray no trace of his feelings when forced to work with his parents' murderer? Maybe this goes back to my problem accepting that The Reaper is such a big deal that Bats would do absolutely anything to stop him.

This entire sequence is considered non-canonical anyway, since Batman allegedly never caught his parents' killer in current continuity.

The romantic subplot also could have used a lot more work. There's little indication as to what it is about this particular lady that elevates her above the many in Bruce's life, and the end of their affair, when she breaks it off with him because she has literally decided to become a nun instead, is more silly than poignant.

Back on the positive side of the ledger, it must be observed that the art is very nice. Alan Davis and Todd MacFarlane both provide some excellent work, though their vastly different styles do clash if you read the book in one sitting. I'd particularly commend their respective interpretations of Batman and The Reaper. These aren't characters you'd want to meet in a dark alley... or at all, if you could help it. The decision to make one of Gotham's crime bosses look just like FDR remains a bit mystifying, though.

I'd recommend that you don't buy this unless you see it on sale (I'm not saying it has to be a great sale, just a few bucks below cover price) or you are a real fan of Batman, Barr, Davis, or MacFarlane. There are, frankly, better things to be had for similar cost. And if you have a few bucks more, go buy the video of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which took much of its plot from Batman Year Two and made it into one of the best comic book to screen adaptations ever, or pick up the TPB of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told and read the original Joe Chill story.

Fiction editor Nicolas Juzda is currently studying law in Saskatchewan. He fills the void that was left in his soul by contributing to Fanzing. He has twice been among the winners in the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.
AIM name: nwjuzda

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