Batman #588 (April, 2001)
“Close Before Striking, Act One”
Writer – Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller – Scott McDaniel
Inker – Karl Story
Colorist – Roberta Tewes
Separations – WildStorm FX
Letterer – John Costanza
Associate Editor – Michael Wright
Editor – Bob Schreck
Cover Price: $2.25
Heading back to around the turn of the century today, back when I was just settling in with many DC books. Batman, as a title is one that I kinda come and go from. Instead of having one solid run of the book in my library, I instead have several decently-long runs. I guess it’s just one of those books I tire of more easily than others.
This is also a book with some early Brian K. Vaughan wordsmithery. Imagine a time in which he wrote a comic that wasn’t preemptively issued 10/10 ratings from the comics “media”!
We open at the Ales of Justice bar in one of the seedier parts of Gotham City. Matches Malone is engaging in some small talk with some doll-faced dame about how down on his luck he’s been of late. He claims that it’s difficult to find “gainful employment” because so many of the scores he takes part in get busted by the Bat! He says that a lotta low-life crooks even believe he might actually be Batman! Well, tonight they’re all in for a surprise!
Batman enters the bar, and he’s looking for information. He wants to know the origins of the “cop killing” bullets that have been entering Gotham of late. It’s been so long since I read this that I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the (at the time) recent Officer Down storyline, but I’m betting it does. Most of the mooks clam up… and try to appear as though they’re on their best behavior… all but one, in fact. One dopey kid refers to Batman as “just a fruit in a cape”, and draws his piece. This doesn’t work out so well for him.
Batman then grabs Matches by his collar and tries to get him to squeal. Malone claims not to be scared of the Batman… because he knows he doesn’t kill. So much for Batman being an “urban legend” post-Zero Hour, right? Anyhoo, Batman informs Malone that there might just be a few worse fates then death, which brings him around. He tells Batman he’ll talk… and proceeds to hock a (green!) loogie in his face. Batman hurls Malone through the bar’s window.
Batman threatens all of the “patrons” about the “cop killer bullets” and leaves. Outside a heavy tends to Malone, and claims that their “boss” wants a word with him. He’s led into the back room, and dropped at the feet of the man (men?) in charge… Scarface and the Ventriloquist! The puppet appears to like the kid’s moxie, and tells him he wants him as part of his team.
Matches agrees, and stumbles out of the bar… where he’s met by the Batmobile. It’s revealed that the Batman we just saw was really Nightwing. In a cute exchange, Batman (the real one) gives Dick some constructive criticism over the way he handled himself under the cowl.
After driving for a bit, and discussing how dangerous the Ventriloquist is… ya know, due to the fact that he’s able to assuage any the guilt for his actions by blaming it onto the puppet… Batman is dropped off at the railway station that the next cop-killer drop is occurring.
Batman watches the commotion for a bit, before introducing a smoke grenade to the proceedings. He swoops down and begins trouncing the thugs… until the train begins to pull away. He pulls out a Batline to give chase when he is grabbed from behind by the same heavy from earlier. To escape, Batman fires the Batline into the baddie’s foot! Dang.
Moments later, Batman catches up with the Ventriloquist on the train. Rather than attack, he simply disconnects the Metropolis-bound train car filled with “cop-killers”. The Ventriloquist mentions that Matches Malone was pretty fortunate that he didn’t show up for this dud of a deal… to which Scarface scolds him for not realizing they’d just been had. He says once they’re situation, Matches Malone is as good as dead!
We wrap up back at Wayne Manor. Bruce is watching Dick working on his acrobatics, when they receive a panicked call from Oracle. She is relieved to know that both Dick and Bruce are safe because… somehow, Matches Malone has just been shot!
Great little story here… really enjoyed it!
I believe there’s a sort of balance, which is really difficult to find, when it comes to how much a writer should explain. There’s a thin line between leaving too much ambiguity and over-explaining things to the point where you’re no longer telling a story, but giving a dissertation. I think Vaughan did a great job finding that balance with this issue.
It stands to reason that the mooks and nogoodniks around Gotham would “get wise” to Matches Malone after awhile. There’s only so many times a job can go awry before the baddies begin looking inward… what are the commonalities between this failed heist, and last month’s failed heist… and last year’s failed heist for that matter. If Matches Malone is a constant, his presence and participation will be scrutinized.
It’s one of those things I don’t think we’re supposed to think about… because if we did, we’d immediately realize that it’s a pretty flimsy facade, that should have been sussed out ages ago. By giving the reader a smidgen of an explanation, Vaughan extends the shelf-life of Matches Malone to “stooge” another day.
Another explanation I really appreciated was the focus on just how dangerous a character the Ventriloquist is. He was always one of the more cartoony and less scary characters to me, until it was made clear that his dissociative disorder makes him brutally dangerous… and pretty terrifying. There really is no limit to the lengths of depravity and violence he might engage in… because, in his head… he’s not doing anything wrong. It’s all the puppet! Love it!
Not only was the story a lot of fun, the dialogue here was fantastic as well. I loved the back and forth between Dick and Bruce in the Batmobile. Dick’s just pleased as punch about how everything at the Ales of Justice went, and Bruce brings him back to reality with one statement. Really great.
When I was filling out the “Labels” for this piece, I was surprised to find that this was the first time we’re discussing an issue drawn by the great Scott McDaniel! His work here is just as good as ever… perfectly fitting the mood, setting, and characters. I always enjoyed his turn of the century Bat-work. Such a wonderful artist.
Overall… yeah, this is a great issue that I would recommend checking out. The post-No Man’s Land/pre-Hush Batbooks are a great underrated trove of Batman stories… definitely worth tracking down. This issue is available digitally as well as in the (recommended) Batman By Brian K. Vaughan trade paperback collection.