Batman #424 (October, 1988)
"The Diplomat's Son"
Writer - Jim Starlin
Penciller - Doc Bright
Inker - Steve Mitchell
Letterer - John Costanza
Colorist - Adrienne Roy
Assistant Editor - Dan Raspler
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $0.75
This is one of those issues I'd been looking for off and on. Not one that I have in my "white whale" list or anything... just one I'd heard a lot of good (and interesting) things about.
Thankfully, it's odd-Colorforms cover (thanks, Joe!) makes it easily and immediately identifiable... when I was shuffling through the cheap-o bin at Half-Price Books, it just jumped out at me! I think if the cover was more conventional, I might have passed it by assuming I'd already had it.
Let's check in with the second Boy Wonder, and see how he deals with a baddie getting away with some reeeeally unsavory behavior.
We open with Jason Todd responding to a woman's cry. He crashes through the window of an apartment, where he finds young foreign socialite, Felipe Garzonas stumbling out of a bedroom. Jason is all about punching first, asking questions later... and so, he gets to punching.
Felipe's calls to an associate named Juan for aid, and he wastes no time coming at Jason with a bowie knife. It doesn't look good for the Boy Wonder, but as luck would have it someone Juan's "own size" has arrived to even the odds... the Batman. This doesn't end well for Juan.
Batman scolds Robin a bit for his brashness, and questions what might have brought him to this place. Jason tells him about the woman's cry. He enters the bedroom only to find a beaten young woman who is fearing for her life.
The dynamic duo take Felipe, Juan, and the young woman down to the Gotham City Police Department. Here we learn that the woman's name is Gloria, and she had been kidnapped (at Felipe's behest) by Juan. This is the second time such a thing happened to her, though she never reported him the first time out of shame. Robin assures her that she is safe, this is all behind her...
... but, it's not. Commissioner Gordon enters and shares that Felipe and Juan have corroborated a story in which Gloria arrived uninvited, and was only there to cause trouble because Felipe broke things off with her. They blame her black eye on her falling into the door knob... likely story, right? Doesn't matter... Gordon knows it's bogus, but there's nothing he can do. Hell, even if he could... the kid's got family in high places, and so he has diplomatic immunity... Felipe is untouchable. Gloria, as you might imagine, does not handle the news well.
Later on we join Batman and Robin on a roof. Robin is noticeably ticked off. He wants this guy... he wants him bad. Batman quite matter of factly says "Well, you can't have him." Ouch. He continues, sharing that he has a plan to take Felipe down... another way. Felipe's father is Jose Garzonas, the Ambassador of Bogatago, which is a country currently working with the United States to eradicate the coca fields within its borders. He points out Felipe's behaviors at the time of "arrest"... and deduces that he was stoned... probably with a nose full of cocaine. If they can catch him at a most opportune time, the State Department will request a recall... deporting Felipe back to Bogatago. Jason feels this punishment doesn't quite fit his crimes... and I kind of agree.
Over the next few days, Bruce and Jason keep tabs on Felipe. Bruce is really taking his time here... he wants to make sure they nab him at the most advantageous time... he wants to make sure whatever they get him with sticks. Jason... well, Jason's getting a bit antsy.
Lucky for him... he doesn't have to wait much longer. Batman notices Felipe leaving his apartment flanked by a pair of bodyguards... he knows something's about to go down. They follow him to a run down apartment building... which Batman describes as screaming "Buy your dope here!", which is pretty great. They wait for the transaction to begin... battering ram the door... then, they go to town beatin' baddies left and right!
With the riff-raff out of the way... the only fella left is Felipe. In a really cool scene, Batman turns his back... tells Jason "He's all yours." Jason then BEGS Felipe to resist... sadly, he doesn't. Really such an excellent scene.
This time, down at the GCPD, Felipe is booked. He doesn't stick around long... but everyone knows it's only a matter of time before he's sent packing to Bogatago. Before he leaves the station... in full view of Batman and Robin, be makes a phone call... to Gloria. He promises that he'll see her soon... which causes Jason to absolutely lose it... Batman has to hold him back. I'm with ya, Jason... this dude's got it coming.
Commissioner Gordon fetches Gloria's phone number from their records to call and make sure she's okay... to let her know that they will protect her. Robin makes the call... but there's no answer. Batman and Robin head to her apartment... and, well... they find her. After receiving Felipe's call, she committed suicide. Batman calls for an ambulance, during which time... Jason disappears. Batman has a pretty good idea where he's headed.
We shift scenes to Felipe's apartment... he's toasting to his good fortune, and knowing he's about to be sent home, bids farewell to Gotham. He steps onto his fire escape... and is soon joined by a colorful young man.
The next (and final) two pages are
Welp, that went pretty much the way I expected it to... and it was great!
I can't help myself but to gush whenever I read a Jim Starlin Batman issue. I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again... I never expected to read such great non-cosmic stuff from him. This is a run that definitely deserves being collected in trade... hopefully one'a these days it will be. Lord knows almost everything else with "Bat" in the title has been.
For the issue itself... this is probably the best Jason Todd-centric issue I've ever read. It's here where we learn that he might be just a bit more than "rough around the edges". He's in very ends justifying the means mode here... which not only fits with his upbringing, but helps give a fairly striking differentiation between him and the Robin who came before.
I feel like we sort of had this dynamic following Batman RIP, where Dick was a more jovial Batman to Damian's all-business Robin... but this is different in that Jason had a different kind of baggage than Damian... and appears to have his own twisted sense of justice rather than "programming". You've gotta wonder what was going through his head during this issue... watching as Batman just looks on at Felipe's activities... watching as Commissioner Gordon shrugs his shoulders.
This case really affected Jason... whereas it was "just another day" for Batman and the Commish. Even when Batman suggested his "plan" to have Felipe sent back to his home country, Jason comments that deportation is "not much of a punishment". This speaks more to his more extreme sense of justice... and perhaps also speaks for a contingent of the readership. In seeing what Felipe had done to Gloria... on more than one occasion, a reader might be right there with Jason... wanting a more "final" resolution. Something we can truly draw a line under.
Gloria's end is tragic, to be sure... and Jason discovering the body makes it that much more. Jason at this point... if I'm not mistaken, believed his mother dead... and he'd discovered her body as well. Gloria's death is one that could have been avoiding... had justice been done. I think that's probably the worst of it. Felipe instilled enough terror in her that she'd rather die than go through what he'd put her through before. Jason knows that. Jason knows that sometimes justice will not be served... not by the police, and not even by Batman. It's here where he knows he needs to take matters into his own hands... he needs to cross the Rubicon, and become something more than Batman's colorful sidekick.
Now... did Jason kill Felipe? Did Felipe slip? Does it matter? Jason sure doesn't think it does... and to be honest, I don't think it does either. There's enough ambiguity here... and enough twisted motive, that anything could have happened. Felipe was a drug addict... he could've been high. He might've seen Robin and thought he was a four-headed demon for all we know. Maybe Jason was telling the truth, and Felipe just became startled and fell... or... or... maybe Jason pushed him. It seems pretty clear that's what Batman thinks happened... though he doesn't come out and accuse him, necessarily. If I had to guess... I'd say, yeah, Jason killed Felipe. Right or wrong... that I cannot say.
Shifting gears a bit... the Felipe "story" is the kind that I'm surprised doesn't come up more often. Diplomatic immunity is just such an interesting obstacle for a superhero to contend with. Hell while I'm thinking about it, just a couple of issues from here The Joker becomes the United Nations Ambassador for Iran! It seems that diplomatic immunity was going to be a thorn in ol' Jace's side until the day he tragically passed.
Before we go... just a few words about Jason Todd's time as Robin. In acquainting myself with these Starlin issues, it's refreshing to see Jason treated with such a level of depth, conflict, internal turmoil... instead of just being the Robin that happened to be a jerk. This is a character that deserved a better legacy than he had (prior to Superboy-Prime's reality punch, of course). Growing up when I did, I never had time for Jason... I came a few years too late... and all I'd ever heard was he was "the Robin everyone hated"... hated so much, the fans killed him. Oh well.
Definitely recommended... and available digitally for your convenience. Well worth the read... and the hunt, if physical is more your thing (as it, ahem, should be).