Underworld Unleashed: Patterns of Fear #1 (December, 1995)
"Patterns of Fear"
Writer - Roger Stern
Penciller - Anthony Williams
Inker - Andy Lanning
Letterer - Pat Prentice
Colorist - Patricia Mulvihill
Editor - Dan Thorsland
Cover Price: $2.95
I've been in kind of a Batgirl kinda place these past few days... been revisiting (and visiting for the first time) some of the more seminal moments for the character, Barbara Gordon or whoever is under the cowl. The issue we're going to talk about today was, obviously, part of 1995's Underworld Unleashed crossover where, per the cover copy, Oracle is going to face her ultimate temptation. It doesn't take a super genius to see where this one is going, right?
We open at Oracle's Clocktower. She is narrating this piece, discussing the severe spike in crime and such oddities as five of the Flash's rogues dying... separately... but at the same time. There is certainly something strange in the air this night... and she soon learns that "that something" is... a poncy blonde dude in one of Wilson Fisk's suits... either that, or the horrid mullet she is sporting here.
He talks to her... rather calmly, but with a gravelly timbre. Her first instinct it to reach for her escrima sticks... however, no sooner does she grab them than they vanish out of existence. They reappear in the man's hands, as he tsk tsks her for acting so foolish. He tells her that he's not here for anything "sinister", rather he just wants a look into her files. Like, her Oracle files... no double-entendre implied...
From here we enter into a makeshift Underworld Unleased Secret Files and Origins bit. We learn a bit about some of the players in the story, and about some of the changes they had recently undergone. For those not in the know, this blonde fella is *spoiler alert* Neron... the Underworld Unleashed event consisted of him "powering up" folks in exchange for their, say it with me... mortal souls. As an example, I'll include an image of the "new look" Killer Moth for the dear reader's bemusement.
Now, it gets a bit wacky. We've got Oracle giving the fella a guided tour of her files. He asks who her sources are, which is really a strange question for someone as knowledgeable about the world as Ner-- the blonde guy. She picks up on this right away, but the thing of it is... yeah, Neron knows... he just wants to make her say it. He's a pretty messed up fella. Babs' response? Hold up a cross!
Neron's all "that's adorable" and plucks the crucifix out of her hand... he then turns it on her, and instead of Christ being on the cross... it's James Gordon. Yup, Neron's pretty messed up.
We go back into the Secret Files for a few more pages, and when we return, Barbara remembers that not all of her files are online (or on-line as this mid 1990's book says). It just so happens that she has a folded file that hasn't been uploaded (up-loaded?) as of yet... so she hides it behind her back. This, as you might imagine, does not work out so well. Neron poofs the files away like he did with the escrimas earlier.
At this point, Barbara knows for sure that the man in front of her is Neron... and she calls him out on it. This amuses him, and he dramatically sheds his Kingpin clothes and causes flames to surround him... which lasts for all of one panel.
We go back into the files, and Neron becomes curious. Her files are so exhaustive, yet... for whatever reason (wink wink), seem to be lacking in information on... the Joker. Why, clearly Barbara should know a thing or two about him, right?
Neron mentally tortures Oracle with images of the Joker and a pretty decent recreation of the events of The Killing Joke. As she attempts to flee, her wheelchair morphs into a grotesque arm and hand covered mess... holding her in place.
After another trip into the files, we return to see Barbara's wheelchair being held up by two Batgirls. Here is where the temptation begins. Neron wants to... hire Barbara as an "archivist" in exchange for, ya know... fixing her shattered spine.
She hesitates... and he only sweetens the deal. In addition to fixing her spine, he will give her invulnerability on par with Superman. He gets into real Billy Mays mode, and throws in yet another piece... if she joins him, he'll let her keep her soul! It looks like she might go for it for a moment... when he asks if they've got a deal, she gives a very... verrrrry 1990's, "We do........ NOT!", whoa... party on, Babs!
Neron, actually being a decently intelligent villain just replies with a "Very well then." and rather than waste his time, turns to leave. This was certainly not the response Barbara was expecting, as she begins to protest... thinking the other show must be about to drop. Neron turns back and tells her he has no reason, good or bad, to deal with her any longer. He walks through the Clocktower wall, and out of Barbara's life. As he vanishes, she yells "Wait--!", perhaps because she wants more information... or... or, perhaps because she fears she just missed out on the deal of a lifetime.
Let's face it... this issue gave us the exact story we were expecting, right? Not a bad thing in the slightest... it was still very well done. Having Barbara faced with someone as powerful of Neron is a decent novelty. For all of her talents and intellect... there is literally nothing she can do to Neron.
We get yet another call back to that story... ya know, The Killing Joke. I have no problem with this. I know a lot of folks do (especially lately, for whatever reason)... but, ya know... it's part of the character's history. It makes complete sense to cite it here, as the entire impetus for the "deal" is predicated on that story having happened. Neron would obviously use it to torment Barbara... considering he's trying to sway her to his side.
Now... it's gotta be said... this is an ugly book. Like, really ugly... Barbara's mullet is truly a sight to behold, and that's not even the worst of it. It looks like a disposable backup story from an issue of X-Men Unlimited or something. That, along with the muddy colors and terrible mid-90's glossy paper makes this one a toughie to look at.
I would definitely recommend this for the story and the "secret files and origins" bits... the art though... oy... it's a tough sell. I guess I can safely say if you come across this in the cheap-o bins, it's something you ought to snag... otherwise, it depends on your Barbara Gordon mileage. If you're a fan, you'll likely dig this.