Batman #423 (1988)

Batman #423 (September, 1988)
“You Shoulda Seen Him…”
Writer – Jim Starlin
Penciller – Dave Cockrum
Inker – Mike DeCarlo
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75

No real preamble today… casa Chris is in crisis, too much stuff coming to a head at once.  Let’s get right into this (spoiler alert) excellent issue of Batman.

We open on the Gothamboro Bridge as an officer is trying to talk a hopeless junkie off the safety railing.  The poor heroin addict, Kenny, feels as though his life isn’t worth living… and nothing Officer Bart says will persuade him otherwise.  Lucky for him, he’s got some backup… in the form of the Batman.  Unlucky for Kenny, Batman isn’t all that much more convincing… the junkie jumps!

Batman leaps after him… Kenny doesn’t realize it, but the Bat’s wearing a safety harness.  He catches the junkie just twenty feet before he hits the drink.  Kenny then gets the mother of all lectures from the caped crusader.  It’s really very well done.  He tells the fella that he should be dead right now… and had he not been there, he would be.  He tells him not to waste his second chance, and drops him to a coast guard boat below.

We jump to a diner the following morning where Officer Bart is sharing this story with fellow GCPD Officer, Greg.  “You shoulda seen him!” he says.  Well, it just so happens that Greg did see the Batman last night as well… during a hostage situation at a nearby Delicatessen.  A rather cliche-looking gang of goofs are holding several deli patrons at gunpoint… with the threat of, ya know… being made dead.  The hostage-negotiator is called… these geeks want a measly hundred-thou and a Caddy.  Really now… what, no nude pictures of Bea Arthur?  Anyhoo, if they don’t get it… people get dead.

The police don’t budge, and it looks like a poor elderly lady is about to have her brains blown out… Now… I dunno much about police protocol, much less fictional-police protocol… but this just seems like bad form, no?  Anyhoo… Batman is on the scene, and scares the rotten-mouthed punk into losing sight of the prize.  Another wonderful bit of Bat-dialogue here from Starlin.  Batman promises to make this goober feel the worst pain of his life… pain that will never end… because Batman will not allow him to die.  Brutal!

Back at the diner, a third officer overhears Greg and Bart’s conversation… and decides to share his Batman story for the night.  Earlier that evening, this officer, Kirby Jackson, saw some very young children hanging about in a bad part of town.  Once they realize he saw them… they bolt through the alleys and over fences to get away.  Kirby has trouble keeping up… he blames it on his lack of familiarity with “the terrain”… I think he’s just crap at his job.  Anyhoo… the tots run right into… the Batman.

The young boy doesn’t miss a beat… he picks up a little plank of wood as though he is going to start swingin’.  He tells both Batman and Kirby that they “ain’t going back”.  Batman calmly walks over to the children and kneels down to their level.  He is able to get through to them, although the reader isn’t privy to the exact words used.  The kids then lead him by the hand to the little crate in which they currently reside.

Batman and Kirby set a small campfire, and the foursome sit around it.  The kids explain their situation.  Hank is seven years old, while his sister Jenny is just five.  They are from Florida… and both of their parents have recently passed away.  Their mother passed in a car accident, and their father got mixed up in a shady poker game after arriving in Gotham to look for work.  A social worker went to retrieve the poor orphans… and broke the news that they would be placed in separate homes.  Well, that’s all Hank had to hear… and the twosome hit the bricks.

Kirby continues his story… he mentions that he believes he caught the Batman crying at the children’s plight.  Batman then promised the children that he would see to it that they were never separated again.  Ya see, he knows a guy… I think you may have heard of him… a Mr. Bruce Wayne.

We shift back to the diner and Kirby is wrapping up with his tale.  He takes his leave so that he can give his wife a ride to work.  After he leaves, Greg and Bart joke about how ridiculous Kirby’s story was… I mean, really now… Batman… crying?  Nahhhh…

We wrap up at Wayne Manor, where Bruce is… you know it… checking in on the tots.  Ya see, he’s going to keep them together until they can be shipped off to live with their Aunt Susan.  Alfred makes a joke about the Batman having gone soft… and Bruce smiles.

This may have been the perfect issue for me to read today.  Came very close to facing the arch-nemesis of many fellow bloggers of late… the most evil interloper… that thing, civilians like to call “real life”.  Many have fallen before it… and over the past couple of weeks I’ve felt its steely gaze and hot breath.  I’ll just say having a “softer” Batman story really helped me out today… for a variety of reasons, none of which I will bore anyone with.

Is this a perfect issue?  Nah… it’s a competent one… but, damned if I didn’t enjoy every it from cover to cover.  Weird as it may sound, it was just so… comfortable.  It’s a series of vignettes… just another night in the life of the Caped Crusader.  A night that we, the readers, would normally not be privy to.  There are no clowns, nor penguins, nor riddles to be solved.  This is just Batman out dealing with the folks in his city… and it’s great.

I’ve never felt that Dave Cockrum was a great fit for Batman, however, his work here is very nice.  There are panels where the children look like shrunken grown-ups, but overall… very nice.  In discussing the art, I would be remiss not to mention the Todd McFarlane-before-he-was-Todd McFarlane cover… which I really dig.  I can only imagine how Wizard Magazine priced this one during the years of the Image boom.  The cover is fairly iconic, though… Todd himself even used it as inspiration for a recent issue of Spawn (#230).  Check it out…

Pretty cool, eh?  Overall, despite my gushing… this may not be an issue that will rock everyone’s socks.  If you’re down for a night “off” for Batman… as in, his Rogues Gallery plays no part… this issue comes with a very high recommendation.  It is available digitally.

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