Batman #437 (1989)

Batman #437 (September, 1989)
“Batman: Year Three, Part 2: Changes Made”
Writer – Marv Wolfman
Penciller – Pat Broderick
Inker – John Beatty
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor – Dan Raspler
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75

Short preamble today… been fighting a cold for a few days now, and it’s starting to win.  Such is the life of a husband of a second-grade teacher, I guess.  Was actually considering just running an early-nineties DC Direct Currents piece to get me by, but I’d rather just keep on keepin’ on with Year Three.  While I can still see straight, figure I may as well give it a go!

We pick up right where we left off last issue.  The mobby compound has just had a rocket fired into it by a helicopter hovering nearby.  Satisfied with a job well-done, the chopper pilot leaves the scene.  Nobody could have possibly survived that, right?  A-hem.  Anyhoo… we next join Nightwing as he follows the bloody and beaten trail of the Batman.  He notes that Bruce is especially sloppy at the moment… it’s quite easy for Dick to trace his steps.  This first step… a bar that Batman questioned some fools at earlier in the night, should serve up a few answers.

And it does!  The bleeding goofballs give up the information pretty quick.  They tell Nightwing about an expected gangland hit at the very location that was just blowed up real nice by the helicopter.  Nightwing hops on his motorcycle, and heads on up.  He finds the wreckage of the compound, and begins to frantically dig through the debris.  He is finally able to find the Batman, who gives him quite the warm reception.  No, not really… he basically tells Dick that he doesn’t need him, and he should eff off.  When Nightwing inquires about what is going on… Batman walks off without a word.  Nice.

We shift back to the Manor, where Alfred is lamenting the news that within the week, Tony Zucco… the man who more-or-less murdered the Flying Graysons, will be walking the streets a free man.  He stops in the hallway to admire a portrait of Bruce and Dick on a camp-out during happier days.

This throws us into flashback mode, and we revisit the night that Alfred arrived at St. Jude’s Orphanage to pick up his Master’s new ward.  On the drive home, he informs Dick that Bruce had also lost his parents to a killer when he was a child.  They arrive at the Manor, and Dick finally meets his new guardian.

Bruce takes Dick on a tour of the home, including such sights as a heated indoor pool, then the questions begin.  Not from Dick… from Bruce.  He asks the boy if he’s serious about taking on Zucco.  I mean, that’s weird, right?  Dick says sure… but he doesn’t want to kill him… after all, it wouldn’t bring his loved ones back, right?  At this point Alfred begins acting a bit squirrely… as though he isn’t quite comfortable with where this is all headed.  Ultimately, Bruce invites Dick… downstairs.

Now… as if this isn’t all weird enough… the dialogue here becomes rather ominous as well.  Dick stands atop the stairs leading into the cave… it’s dark… it’s scary… the poor kid just got here… and when he asks Alfred where they’re headed… well, this is what he gets as a response…

Not too cryptic… 

… Yeah.  Let’s put ourselves in Master Richard’s shoes for a moment.  An eccentric stranger sends his creepy butler to retrieve you from an orphanage… then suggests you follow him into the dungeon behind the grandfather clock… and then… and then… the creepy butler tells you the stairs lead to Hell.  When you reach the bottom of the stairs… you are blinded by a light… and when that passes, you are standing in front of a 6′ man wearing a bat costume,  Wha—?

What follows is a training montage… we watch as Dick and Bruce work together to ensure he’s crimefighting-ready.  We see them lift weights, study, research, and computer.  I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing with the computer… so, computering works just fine.

Not sure which inspirational 80’s song to set this montage to…

Back in the “present”, Nightwing arrives at the Manor and chats a bit with Alfred.  Bruce has taken down anything that reminds him of Jason Todd.  It’s as though the poor orphan never darkened his doorway.  Dick comments that Bruce has become so violent of late… which is rather unlike him, or at least to these levels.  He heads toward the study, where Bruce is currently brooding.  First, we flashback again… this time to the moment where Bruce handed Dick his first Robin costume.  Thankfully it still has the short-pants.  Not sure why they retconned them out of existence… well, that’s not completely true… I have my suspicions why they did that… still, hate when they do stuff like that.  It’s almost like they’re embarrassed of where they come from.

We join the dynamic duo on their first night out.  They stake out the Nebula Club, which is one of Zucco’s holdings.  The pair swoop in and easily take down the mooks inside.  They give the warning… Tony Zucco has been marked!  In the present, Dick enters the study… but Bruce is already gone… but where?

We head to a fairly extravagant mobster meal taking place at a penthouse restaurant.  Batman, disguised as a waiter, listens in to the conversation… however, it seems that nobody really knows who’s behind these “hits”.

One of the baddies, a Mr. Fairfax, simply suggests spilling as much gang-blood as possible until they find out who has put targets on the backs of “connected” criminals.  A voice from off panel suggests an alternative… why, it’s Batman… and he looks like he wants to cut a deal.  It’s troubling how often he wanted to do that in his early years.

As we begin our wind down, we peek in at Tony Zucco in prison.  He’s got a visitor named Taft… and we learn that he’s still got his Book that we mentioned last chapter… he knows everyone’s secrets… and with those secrets, he plans to take over the city.  Why, he even seems to have the dirt on the very man visiting him today.

We close out with Dick leaving the Batcave.  We then focus on Alfred… who believes strongly that Tony Zucco must be stopped… that is to say, someone has to stop him… and with that, he enters his room… on his bed, there is a gun.

I often struggle with what voice I ought to use when it comes to these post-synopsis notes.  Do I cover the book as if it were my first time reading it, even if it’s not?  Do I allow my “experience” with a given issue to dictate the tone?  I’m not sure I have that steady of a track record when it comes to such things.  Hell, I’m not even sure what I do can be considered a “review” in the truest critical sense.

Well, I said that so I can say this… with Batman, things are different.  With Batman, I go through phases… this is very rarely a book I follow for years at a time.  I usually float in and out as the stories call out to me.  As I sit here now, I haven’t read Batman since well before Rebirth.  Still collect the thing, because I’m an idiot… but don’t have a whole lot of interest in following it at the moment.  That having been said… so many of these classic (and perhaps not-so-classic) Batman stories and issues have sat in longboxes for around a decade.  Reading them today is not dissimilar to reading them for the first time.  Also, this means if I make any predictions… it’s because I’ve honestly forgotten what’s coming next.

After all that Nyquil-induced mess… on to the issue in question.

I liked it.  Liked it a lot more than the first chapter… even felt as though Pat Broderick’s work was more on point.  It seems as though he’s adapting his drawing style for the flashbacks… though, I’m not sure who, or if, he’s trying to ape any Golden/Silver-Age artist(s) here.

This issue serves to fill in/clear up more of Dick Grayson’s becoming the junior member of the dynamic duo.  I really appreciate how gobsmacked Alfred seems to be here.  He’s not too keen on Bruce fighting crime… now, after the introduction of a small child?  Seems pretty nuts!  I know I had a little bit of fun with it above, however, it’s something I feel many of us fans simply accept, because… well, that’s the way it’s always been… and, lets face it… we’re already suspending our disbelief anyway.

It’s probably because we just finished discussing Year Two… but it feels like certain elements from that story are popping up here.  We’ve got Batman attempting to form something of an uneasy alliance with the underworld… just like when he was battling The Reaper.  We also have the appearance of a gun.  While it’s not Batman wielding it, it’s still important.  This time, it’s a desperate Alfred Pennyworth who eyeballs the piece.

Now I am a sucker for the dysfunctional Batman and Nightwing dynamic from the early post-Crisis DC.  The scene we get between them is… almost painfully brief, but gives just enough to make us hungry for more.  Love any scene where Dick is trying to “get through” to Bruce.  There’s such frustration… from both sides.  Some great storytelling here from Marv.

Overall, I’m still engaged and interested in how this winds up.  Of course, the end result isn’t in question… but, there are certainly bits and bobs that I can’t for the life of me remember.  Dunno if Zucco goes the way of Joe Chill… really looking forward to finding out.  Definitely recommended.  I feel funny calling this a “fun” story, but it is the best word I can think of to describe it.  This issue, like the one before it, is available digitally for your paper-free convenience.

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