Batman #414 (December, 1987)
Writer – Jim Starlin
Penciller – Jim Aparo
Inker – Mike DeCarlo
Lettterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75
Okay, after a weekend in WildStorm we’re back in the safety of the DCU proper. Today we’re going to check out another issue from such a wonderfully surprising run on Batman.
Also… if my calendar-reading is right, tomorrow starts our Twelve Days of Christmas on Infinite Earths special.
We open with Batman conferring with Commissioner Gordon as they watch over the crime scene of a young woman who was murdered, mutilated, and left in a dumpster. Tonight’s is the third such occurrence in recent times. Gordon mentions that the murderer is a “non-secretor”, that is to say that he leaves no evidence behind. He then gives the ol’ “I’m getting too old for this” spiel, and Batman assures him that eventually their perp will slip up… and when he does, they’ll nail him. In the distance, Batman notices a raging fire. Gordon sets to call in the Fire Department, and Batman heads out to lend a hand.
Upon arrival atop the burning Decker Street apartment building, Batman finds a young blonde woman holding a child. His thoughts give the impression that he is thankful that this woman is a stranger… it’s always easier to deal with strangers, no emotional attachment. The fire quickly spreads, cornering the woman at the very edge of the roof… she falls, never losing her grip on the child. Batman swoops in and saves both lives.
On the ground, we learn that this woman (Kate) was simply a passer by. A social worker who just happened to do much of her work in this nasty South Heights Gotham neighborhood. She is responsible for saving several lives on this night… which causes Batman to actually crack a bit of a smile. He offers to have the GCPD escort her home, but she… tough cookie that she is, declines. Hell, she’s shown tonight that she is quite capable of handling herself.
Batman again… kind of smiles. He appreciates her spunk. As the sea of looky-loos parts for him, he takes notice of a well-known skeezball drug pusher called Cutter. He considers rattling his cage, but ultimately decides against it. Hmm, is your spidey-sense tingling?
A week later, Bruce Wayne attends a dinner party held by a Morton Babcock. It is here that he learns that Kate’s last name is… Babcock! She is Morton’s do-gooder daughter who sees more value in helping people than just being a rich wife and mother. Bruce can certainly dig that. Over the next few weeks, Bruce and Kate saw a lot of one another… but kept things casual. They were friends, nothing more.
Which makes what’s about to happen somehow worse… A neighborhood woman sees a lady being forced into the back of a blue van. She calls the authorities… and the following morning we learn that there has been another “dumpster killing”. Batman arrives on the scene… and, yup… you guessed it, today’s victim is Kate Babcock.
If Kate and Bruce simply had a fling, I think he’d more easily “shake” this off. Of course it would still be horrible… but for this to happen to Bruce’s friend… someone he admired, someone whose work he respected… I dunno, it just feels like this may be a tougher pill to swallow. Bruce returns to the Batcave to do some research, when suddenly he puts two and two together and realizes that the dope-peddler he let go on the night of the fire goes by the name “Cutter”. These murders all have “cutting” in common.
And so, Batman sets out on his mission of vengeance. He shakes down all of Cutter’s contemporaries… however, nobody seems to know where he is. Next, Batman finds out where Cutter lives, and does a little non-warranted searching… but finds nothing. Just as he’s about to give up the search, he finds out that Cutter drives a… blue van! He’s back in business.
A few days later Batman learns that the GCPD is trying to work a sting on a drug drop… one where Cutter is expected to show up. He offers to give his support to the Department as “back up”. Back on patrol, he notices that he’s kept seeing not a blue van… but a red one. Well, perhaps Cutter just got a new coat of paint, right? He decides to tail the van… but before he can catch up, he notices a pair of small-timers robbing a convenience store. He makes the call to take care of the robbers rather than pursuing the van.
The Gotham PD take their time coming to cuff the creeps and Batman hopes he isn’t too late to catch Cutter in the act. At the warehouse where the drug-drop is to occur, Cutter does show up. He plans to screw over his customers… keep the cash, and the coke. Ya see, he got his name “Cutter” from cutting pure cocaine with powdered sugar and baby laxative… or something. The tensions rise among the druggers… and Cutter brandishes a… blade!
Upon seeing the blade, Batman’s mind immediately goes to his friend Kate. Without even thinking… he pounces into the fray.
Batman is ruthlessly aggressive with the creeps… and, ya know… I think he actually might have killed one of them… or maybe broke his neck. Ya don’t screw with Batman’s friends…
It comes down to Batman and Cutter. Cutter declines to “come peacefully” which is exactly the answer Batman wanted to hear… this gives him complete license to just pummel the hell out of the jerk… and he does! Until Commissioner Gordon intervenes. Before Batman leaves he informs Gordon that Cutter is the Dumpster Killer.
Later at the Batcave, Bruce gets a phone call from the Commissioner. It is here that we learn two things… first, that Cutter could not possibly be the Dumpster Killer… he’d been in jail for the last couple of murders…
And also… there’s been another murder. Which takes us to an hour later, as Batman arrives at the crime scene. An officer on duty informs both he and Gordon that an eyewitness claims to have seen a… red van.
We close with Batman standing alone on a rooftop. He’s processing the night’s events… and accepting responsibility for this fifth murder. He stopped his pursuit of the red van… and it cost a poor young woman her life. He states that he will catch the butcher responsible, and pledges so in Kate’s name.
Kind of a punch inna gut, innit?
This Starlin era on Batman has been such a wonderful surprise and I can’t figure out why I haven’t gotten to it sooner. Guess I may have just written Mr. Starlin off as a “cosmic” writer… I’ve been so impressed by this entire run thus far. Every issue has been a treat.
His Batman is perhaps the most human that I’ve ever seen him. He’s truly a complete and complex character who is not always the coolest guy in the room… he’s a man with flaws, urges, and guilt. He’s not always right… which is perhaps the most refreshing part of this issue and this era.
I love that he’s human enough to let things become personal, while at the same time conscientious enough to realize that he’s done so… just as he has here with Kate. His drive does not usually cause him to fall victim to tunnel-vision… he’s usually able to see things from all angles, even in the heat of battle… yet here, he shows those signs of humanity… he lets himself become obsessed with finding… and punishing, Cutter.
This issue seemed to play a bit with Spider-Man’s origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15. We watch as Batman chooses not to rattle Cutter’s cage, passing him by during the fallout of the fire. I thought for sure that he was going to be tangentially responsible for Kate’s death. Turns out he couldn’t have saved her from the blue van… but he could’ve saved the next poor victim from the red one.
This issue puts Batman’s “position” in Gotham as something of a blindfolded juggler… he lets the red van get away so that he can stop a pair of petty thieves… you gotta wonder just how often something like this occurs… how often he chooses the lesser (or greater) of two evils… not even realizing what he may be giving up in the pursuit. It’s a staggering and sobering thought… just adds another horrible layer to Batman’s already shaky psyche.
So yeah… absolutely loved this issue. The Starlin/Aparo pairing is pure Bat-magic… and should be enjoyed by anyone calling themselves a Batman fan. This post-Crisis-infancy era on the Dark Knight is rapidly climbing its way to the top of my favorites… This gem and those around it are all currently available digitally, and they’re definitely worth your time. If you think Year One was all this era was good for (like I used to!), I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.