Batman #421 (July, 1988)
Writer – Jim Starlin
Penciller – Dick Giordano
Inker – Joe Rubenstein
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75
Boy, there’s a cover that just jumps out atcha, eh? Not really sure if I dig it or not, however, it does fall in the midst of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite runs on Batman. This picks up on a story we’ve already discussed back in December, Batman #414… which is a surprise. I kinda thought, despite the open ending, that it was a one-and-done.
Let’s hop in… remember to check the link above if you’re interested in finding out what brought us to the events of this issue.
We open up with Batman meeting with Commissioner Gordon. They are discussing the recent string of murders by an assailant they are referring to as the “Dumpster Slasher”. He’s the one who killed Bruce’s social worker friend Kate Babcock, remember? It would seem that this killer has something of a pattern… kills for two weeks, takes one week off, then repeats the cycle. By Bat-math, there should be eleven victims by this point, however, the Gotham Police only has ten. Gordon suggests that the Slasher may have skipped town… though Batman hopes that’s not the case.
We shift scenes to our titular character, Elmore. He’s a burnt out transient, who doesn’t appear to perceive reality all that well these days. We watch as he rummages through a dumpster… “grocery shopping” he calls it… I bet you think he’s gonna come across a body here, huh? Well, no… what he does find however, is trouble. A couple’a punks approach from behind… and they’ve got some bad intentions.
And so, they proceed to beat the hell out of this poor defenseless old man. Lucky for Elmore, Batman just happens to be on a dumpster tour himself. He takes the punks out without much effort, and checks in on Elmore… who he knows by name. Elmore’s excited to see Batman, because he’s got some big news… he’s done gone and gotten hitched! Yes, our man Elmore is a married man. Asamattafact, he met his wife right here at the dumpster! Wha–? Batman checks the bin, and finds what he thinks might just be dried blood. He asks Elmore if he might meet his blushing bride, and he happily agrees.
The pair head toward Elmore’s former bachelor pad located in a tunnel off an abandoned railroad spur. Our tour guide informs us that his wife’s name is Suzy… and when we meet her… well, she’s tied to a chair. No, she’s not being held captive… she’s long dead… though the art doesn’t make that entirely clear.
|Is she dead… or just annoyed?
Batman keeps his composure and asks Elmore some questions which may hasten his search for the killer(s). Elmore volunteers that he saw men driving a red van with a picture of a dragon and a hand on the side of it… who dropped the body into the dumpster. Batman recognizes the symbol as that of the Iron Dragons. He excuses himself to make a call… and that morning the body is picked up, while poor Elwood protests.
Later, Batman decides to pay a visit to the Iron Dragons… who are none too keen on giving him any information. So… he beats them up pretty good. All but one, who agrees to let Batman search the van. Inside there appears to be blood… which will have to be tested by the police labs. The gang canary informs Batman that on the night in question their entire gang was locked up for starting a fight… the van had been in impound, so they’ve got an alibi. Before Batman leaves, and this is great… the stoolie asks to be punched in the face so that his gang-associates won’t realize that he cooperated. Great scene!
Batman returns home to check the GCPD records, and learns that a Victor Giambattista was in charge of the police impound yard on the night in question… and so, he pays the yard a visit. It would seem that he “just missed” ol’ Vic… however Giambattista overhears that Batman’s looking for him. He rushes to a phone to call the person he “let borrow” the van while it was in impound… feels like we’re chasing wild geese here, don’t it?
Batman decides his next stop will be Vic’s apartment… however, along the way he gets caught up stopping an idiot purse snatcher. By the time he can get to Giambattista’s apartment… well, it’s been set ablaze… and inside, Vic’s been stabbed in the back. That’ll learn ‘im, right? Anyhoo… before he passes on, he babbles a bit in Italian and points to the ground where writ in blood is the word “CUGINO”.
Batman returns to the cave to Rosetta-stone his way to the killer. Cugino is Italian for cousin… and so, Batman knows his next stop. Vic’s cousin Vito Procaccini’s apartment. While snooping around… Vito creeps up on him with a blade. This does not work out so well for our cugino.
With Vito down, Batman starts with the questions… he doesn’t get far however, as a giant man called Branneck enters the room. He huffs and puffs and with all of his strength… threatens to call the cops if Batman doesn’t split. Batman knows when he’s beat… so he leaves. He doesn’t have anything concrete on the “cuz” just yet.
We wrap up with Branneck deciding that it’s time to make their kills “an even dozen”… while Batman broods atop a nearby building wondering how he’s going to fix all of this.
Boy do I dig Starlin’s take on Batman!
First… I gotta say, how cool is it that they picked back up on the Dumpster Slasher here? I really thought that was a one-and-done… more of a commentary on just how dangerous Gotham City is rather than an actual storyline. Really glad to see it brought back up here.
The storytelling here was a lot of fun too… I know I compared it to a wild goose chase during the spoilery-synopsis… but it was a chase I really enjoyed. I liked “accompanying” Batman as he followed all of the threads and clues. When it was implied that a crooked cop was behind this, though, I think I audibly groaned. I mean, that’s certainly not a novel idea… it’s pretty much expected in this post Year One world. I was more than pleased to find out that the cop, while being “on the take”, didn’t actually slash anybody.
I appreciated the ending. Ya know, sometimes Batman’s not going to win… right away. He knew he was illegally searching Vito’s apartment… which would probably make anything he did turn up inadmissible in court anyway. He has a better idea what went down though… and with this education, he can take a step back and plan his next move. Very well done.
The art here was serviceable… however, I do have one pretty big gripe. The scene where Batman “meets” “Suzy”. There’s no reason why we needed to see her from the front… especially since it wasn’t entirely clear whether she was alive or dead. I figure, you show her from behind… have Batman have a shocked or saddened expression… bada bing, bada boom… we know we’ve just found victim eleven. Seeing her face… which looked to be somewhat alert (and annoyed!), it seemed as though she was just being held against her will by Elmore. They could’ve given her a word balloon, and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
Overall… another very good issue from this run on Batman that has somehow (for the most part) eluded me. Definitely recommended. It is available digitally… though, to my knowledge, has yet to be collected. We might just need to start a petition to get Jim Starlin’s complete run collected in a spiffy hardcover. Who wouldn’t want that?
|Appear… invisible? I thought the whole point of invisibility is that you don’t appear?