Batman #589 (2001)

Batman #589 (May, 2001)
“Close Before Striking, Act Two”
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

I enjoyed yesterday’s discussion so much, figured we may as well get to the bottom of Who is (was?) Matches Malone…

The chapter begins with the Batmobile peeling out in front of the Ales of Justice bar.  Nightwing is pleading with it’s driver to wait.  That request falls on deaf ears, and so Dick calls in an Oracle trouble-ticket… which provides us with the perfect opportunity for some juicy flashback-age.

Upon hearing that Matches Malone was shot (at the end of last issue), Batman and Nightwing suit up and head to the bar.  Along the way, Dick inquires just how one of Bruce’s phony-alter egos could possibly be bleeding out on the floor of a dive bar.  Batman tells him that this story begins very early on in his crime-fighting career… even before Dick wore “the R”.

Batman knew it would behoove him to have a fake scumbag identity in order to blend in with and learn about some of the seedier members of the criminal underground.  His first attempt was under the guise of Irving O’Neil… who raised quite a few criminal eyebrows… leading to one baddie tearing open his shirt to reveal the Batman costume!  Oops!

He would use several fake personas in the months that follow… each more unsuccessful than the last.  One funnier bit is when he hid in blackface… which the Joker was able to see right through.  It was after these failed attempts that he finally met… Matches Malone.  The real one!

Matches and his brother Carver were a pair of orphans who had worked a racket in which they torched buildings for insurance money.  Batman came in contact with them when they decided that Gotham would be a good place to set up shop.  Batman reveals that the Malone brothers split their profits 50/50, even though Matches did all of the heavy lifting.  Turns out that shortly after their Gotham arrival, Carver was found dead… bullet through the head.  All signs pointed to Matches “doing” his own brother.

Batman found Matches at his brother’s grave… and informed him that he’s got his eyes on him.  Wasn’t long after that, Matches Malone was found dead.  Body burned, a result of (probably a very painful) suicide.  Nobody knew that Matches was dead… and so, Batman figured nobody would mind if he “used” his identity.  And so, Batman buried Matches Malone next to Carver without reporting the event into the police.

Wouldn’tcha know… it worked like a charm!  Batman suddenly had an alter-ego that already had a reputation among the scumbags of the world.  We get a cute scene of Bruce working on his Hoboken accent.

The dynamic duo finally arrive at the Ales of Justice… we’re still in flashback mode… but not the flashback-within-a-flashback mode we were just in.  They find Matches Malone with a hole in his gut.  Nightwing questions whether Matches is going to “die again”… which leads us back into flashback-within-a-flashback mode!  Ya see, during one of their “jobs”, the Malone brothers accidentally killed a transient who had squatted in one of their burnt buildings.  Carver starts panicking… but Matches tells him to go home.  He promises that he’ll make it all go away.

Matches continues, informing Batman and Nightwing that he didn’t kill Carver… Carver killed Carver.  In order to protect his brother’s legacy, Matches made the suicide appear to be a hit.  He then used the body of the burnt hobo to make people think Matches had killed himself.  He did a pretty good job on both, didn’t he?

From here, Matches left town… changed his name, the whole nine.  In the very recent past, he was sitting at a bar minding his own business, when he overheard a couple of mooks talking about the $10,000 bounty on the head of Matches Malone!  He decides it was time to return to Gotham to see what this was all about… and he gets shot in the belly by a puppet for his curiosity!

Back at the bar, Batman is trying to convince Malone to come with him so he can be taken care of.  Matches figures he’s as good as dead anyway.  Batman promises that he won’t let him die.  While on the subject of promises… Matches asks for one.  He asks that Batman kill the person responsible for shooting him… and… Batman agrees!

Back in the present, we wrap up with Dick finishing up his story to Oracle.  He’s troubled, because, when Batman made the promise to Matches… he didn’t sound like Batman at all… he actually sounded like… Matches Malone!

Another strong chapter in the Matches Malone saga… and another great straddling-the-line issue from Brian K. Vaughan.  We get plenty of exposition here, however, at no point does it feel like a lecture or info dump.  It would have been awfully easy to turn this into an overwritten espository mess.  Glad that was sidestepped.

Matches Malone, for all intents and purposes, is a brand-new character being introduced here.  I mean, the identity had been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until this arc that we find out that he’s a real dude… who lived a real life.  I remember around the turn of the century there were a few creators who entered the field through being recognized for their fan-fiction.  Names like Devin Grayson, Jay Faerber, and… Brian K. Vaughan.  Now, I know fan-fics get a bunch’a grief… and much of it is well-deserved… but this story kinda feels (to me) like a really good fan-fiction.

A fan-ficcer might see a concept like Matches Malone and imagine the storytelling possibilities just waiting to be explored and mined.  I could easily see this being nothing more than a fan-fiction story had Vaughan not been picked up by DC.  It has the distinction of leaving a “soft” imprint on the character and lore of Batman… something that I think fan-fic writers look for.  They want to write something meaningful… but not to the extent where it changes the core of the character they’re writing about.  Or, perhaps… I’m projecting.  That’s always a possibility.

Anyhoo… like the issue before, this one comes recommended by the humble blog.  Also, like the issue before, this bugger is available digitally, and as part of the Batman By Brian K. Vaughan trade paperback collection.

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