Batman #454 (1990)

Batman #454 (September, 1990)
“Dark Knight, Dark City: Part III”
Writer – Peter Milligan
Pencils – Kieron Dwyer
Inks – Dennis Janke
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Edits – Dan Raspler
Edits – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00

Alrighty… let’s get straight to it…

Of course, if you need/want to catch up, you can check out the previous two chapters here and here.

When last we left Batman, he was about to perform a tracheotomy on a newborn.  Armed only with a dirty butcher’s knife and his wits… he cuts a hole in the baby’s throat… before rushing out of the sewer and delivering him to the hospital… where he would lay on life support.

Batman meets up with Jim Gordon at the hospital, and we learn that the baby is named Michael and is only eight days old.  On his diaper was pinned yet another clue…

Only one left, a little boy crawler…
You’ll find lots of him, though shorter and taller…

Well, my mind went straight to fun house mirrors, howsabout you?  Batman has the same idea in mind… though he humors Alfred’s attempt at referencing a Thomas Pynchon novel.  When Cooney’s Circus Land is popped into the Bat-Map, the locations of the last several riddles appear to be an unfinished question mark, hmm… When Batman proactively “finishes” the question mark, he believes the Circus is just one stop before the final showdown… Stockman’s Square.  Hey, where have we heard that name before?

Oh yeah… back in 1793, we visit with our old friend Jacob Stockman… he’s busily jotting away into his journal.  His mind keeps going back to “that night”… no, not the one where he and his parents went to see Zorro… the night when him, Thomas Jefferson, and some other wigged goobers locked a poor woman (who’d undergone preparations to become a “human bat”) in the cellar with the daemon Barbathos.

Back in the present, we join Batman at the circus.  He heads straight into the Hall of Mirrors… where he finds himself standing before the baby and… a goat?  A confused Batman is then shot with a flamethrower by one of Riddler’s men.  He narrowly avoids the flames by engaging in some aerial antics.  When the smoke clears, Batman finds himself alone with the goat… and the final (unharmed) baby.  He sits in a disturbing silence looking his surreal surroundings… shattered mirrors, a baby… and a goat.

Batman hands the tot off to a passing squad car and, remembering that the question-mark labyrinth on Gotham City map ends at Stockman’s Square, makes haste.  Minutes later, he finds himself standing outside of Q&A Storage.  Inside, the Riddler’s goons are surprised when Batman leads with a goat!  In the distraction, Batman swoops in and kayos one of the henchmen but good.

This must be a pretty old building… Batman’s batline breaks one of the rotting beams near the ceiling, and he crashes to the ground.  Just before the Riddler’s flamethrower goon barbecues the bat… the Riddler shoots him in the gut.  If it hasn’t been made clear already… he needs Batman alive.

Some time later Batman wakes up.  Before him stands the Riddler, who is wearing some sort of robe… and reading from an old tattered book.  We pan out and come to find that Batman has been tied to an altar… and there’s some symbols on the wall behind him.  Riddler explains that the book is in fact the journal of Jacob Stockman… the same journal we’ve been visiting on and off throughout this tale.

He explains to Batman about the sacrificial ritual that was never completed… even going as far as showing him the skeletal remains of the poor young lady from our flashback bits.  He continues, telling Batman that the young lady had been prepared… prepared to become a “human bat”.  She completed several trials, willingly, to be the sacrifice… we learn that all the hoops Batman has been put through over the past several chapters were fulfilling those same requirements.

The first step… kissing the lips of a hanged man… which Batman unwittingly did when he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the hung security guard at the Gotham University Library.

Next, bathing in blood… which Batman did at the transfusion center.  Third, taking part in a danse macabre… which occurred at the Gotham Military Cemetery when the zombies attacked.  Fourth, slaying a wild dog (hopefully not that Wild Dog!) with a silver knife… which happened when Batman stabbed the attacking pit bull terrier.  Next, and perhaps the most disturbing slitting the throat of an unbaptized child… which Batman had little choice but to do when that child is choking on a ping pong ball.  Finally, a “Black Sabbath Dance” (I… am… Iron Man) which is when you dance before the devil (in the pale moon light?)… which is a bit of a stretch here… Batman did acrobatic maneuvers to avoid flamethrower fire… in front of a horned goat?  Ehh, why not?

Now, Batman is fully “prepared” to be sacrificed.  Before the Riddler does the deed, Batman asks him what’s going on.  In a really neat bit, he plays to his rationality… offering that he always thought they had a kind of respect for one another.  The Riddler, however, ain’t buying it… just as he’s about to plunge the blade into Batman’s chest… a “presence” makes itself known.

The Daemon Barbathos begins speaking to the pair.  He mocks the Riddler, claiming he was nothing more than a means to an end… what it wanted was the Batman.  The Riddler frantically beats a hasty retreat… and re-boards up the underground temple, leaving Batman to die alongside the poor sacrificial woman from two centuries prior.

Barbathos turns its attentions to Batman, who by now has freed himself from his bindings.  It shows Batman the events of that tragic night in 1765.  Stockman, Jefferson and the whole gang all flee like cowards… and leave the young woman behind.  We watch her scratch at the door until her fingers bleed.

We learn that the bat-shaped figure that swooped into the unholy temple was… get this, just a bat.  These geeks ran away from a normal bat.  Barbathos uses the skeletal remains of the bat as a means to communicate with Batman.  It laments the fact that it has been trapped in this underground temple for 200 years… and demands that Batman finally free the young woman, and in so doing… free Barbathos.

Batman and the woman, who we come to find is called Dominique share a moment’s conversation.  They feel a sort of kinship between them… almost as though they share a bloodline.  As they chat, smoke starts billowing through the cracks in the hatch.  The Riddler has set the building on fire!

A few panicked moments later, the hatch opens.  Alfred has saved the day!  Batman takes Dominique in his arms, covers her with his cape… and runs out of the burning building.  Outside, when Batman opens his cape, we find that he was carrying Dominique’s remains.

Time passes, and we join Batman at the Wayne family crypt… where he’d had Dominique interred.  On her plaque, she is referred to as “My Sister”.  We learn that the baby, Michael survived… and may just get a visit from Mr. Wayne the next day.

What a crazy story!  This is one of those gems that it’s so fun to revisit once every bunch of years.  As I think I’d mentioned previously, it’s been about a decade since I last read this… so, most of the finer points of the story were forgotten.  I had a blast experiencing this bugger again.  The main thing I remember from my last read through was that I walked away from it satisfied.  It was a tight, well-paced, beautifully rendered tale that made sense and ended with a pay-off.

I know there’d been mention of Barbathos during Grant Morrison’s run on Batman & Robin before Flashpoint, which isn’t much of a surprise.  I remember hearing that before taking over the Batman-ship, so to speak, Grant Morrison read every single issue that came before.  I could definitely see this Peter Milligan story catching his eye… I can’t remember just how deep the mention went, and I would have to dig through many longboxes to find the answer.

It was interesting that Batman was sorta-kinda given a sorta-kinda sister at the end there.  I cannot find any reference of Dominique “Wayne” following this story… but I think it was a pretty neat addition to the mythos.  If I were to guess, I’d figure there may have been an “Easter Egg” or two referring to her the the subsequent decades… but I cannot say for certain.  Maybe one day we’ll get another visit to the Wayne family crypt and see if she’s still there.  Do the Waynes have a crypt?  I always thought they just had a grave site… hmm…

I suppose I gotta mention the man of the hour… The Riddler.  Wow, what a take on this classic character.  Truly disturbing… and a fun approach to Nigma.  I really appreciate how the entire event was weaved through riddles… I would say that the Riddler would be an odd fit for such a dark and occult tale, but given the circumstances, I really dig it.

Even though I just spoiled the entire thing… this one should definitely be tracked down.  There is such a wonderful flow throughout these three issues, that I’m sure my spoilery synopses didn’t do proper justice to.  This is a story all Bat-fans should experience!

That’s gonna wrap up our impromptu Bat-Week… we’ll do something special for Independence Day tomorrow… and then…

Christmas on Infinite Earths… in July???

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