Batman #590 (June, 2001)
“Close Before Striking, Act Three”
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
It’s strange how things and folks you come into contact with can change the way you see things for the long-term. This is probably going to sound incredibly silly, but… on Twitter, I got this pal who goes by Matches Balone. He’s a great dude, and well worth a follow if you’re into the Twitter-machine, by the way. Anyhoo… each and every time I’ve had to type “Matches Malone” over the past few days, it’s gone something like:
M A T C H E S [space] B A [backspace, backspace] M A L O N E.
Every damn time! Anyways… let’s wrap this one up!
We open with a brief shot of the Ventriloquist (which is a much more difficult word to spell over and over again than I thought) and Scarface holed up at a theater until the “heat” blows over. Scarface, being the “brains” of the operation says they’ll split just as soon as they can. The Ventriloquist being the… I dunno, sometimes conscience of the duo is worried because if Matches does work with Batman… they just killed one of Batman’s pals. Speaking of Batman… he’s currently mowing through a gaggle of nogoodniks in attempt to locate the Ventriloquist. Even resorting to rather extreme measures to get ’em to squeal!
Luckily on this night, Batman’s got Nightwing in tow… who is able to stop things from getting completely out of hand. Though, if we were to ask Batman, he’d probably tell us everything was in control. It’s here that we also learn that Matches did not survive his wounds. Batman buried him next to his brother.
Batman’s pretty annoyed by Nightwing’s appearance… and tells him to hit the bricks. And so, he does. We follow him back to Oracle’s Clocktower where they talk about Bruce taking on very Matches Malone-like quirks. They discuss how easy it is to lose oneself in an alter-ego… considering between the two of them, they’ve had like a half-dozen.
He then reveals that Batman called off his hunt for the night, and said he had business to attend to at Wayne Enterprises. As he’s talking about this, a wave of… I dunno, realization washes over him. He has a pretty good idea what Bruce might be up to… and it turns out that he’s 100% correct. He arrives at the office to find that Bruce has made a $50,000 withdrawal from the company, with which he hopes to bribe some scums and find the Ventriloquist.
He sends Dick home… again. Dick pleads with Bruce that it seems like he’s turning into Matches… to which, Bruce says “Not yet.” It also gives him an idea. Perhaps the only person who might avenge the murder of Matches Malone is… Matches Malone!
Next thing we know, Matches Malone is sauntering back into the Ales of Justice… with nary a hole in his belly! The other patrons, and scumbags are shocked to see him still among the living. After taking his order for a Root Beer, the barkeep heads behind the bar to make a phone call. Luckily, Bruce has Oracle monitoring the place.
The barkeep is calling… the Ventriloquist, who is positively shocked to hear that Matches Malone still walks the Earth. Moments after hanging up, the Ventriloquist and Scarface find themselves in the shadow of the bat.
A battle rages on… and by “battle”, I mean Scarface fires a lot of bullets in Batman’s direction while Batman acrobatically avoids the shots. After one final flip, Batman hurls a ball of ink at the baddies… which blinds the Ventriloquist. Reminds me of anytime you’d fight an octopus-type character in Final Fantasy… poor Wesker’s just got this blob of ink covering his eyes!
Batman pounces on the prone puppet. Wesker pleads with Batman not to kill them… to which, he says “I don’t kill.” Unfortunately, moments later… they hear the familiar nasal Hobokenese of Matches Malone, who assures them that he has no such qualms about moider. Remember, the Ventriloquist (and therefore, Scarface) is currently blinded… he doesn’t see the change of outfit here.
Matches fires one up… and notices a note written on the matchbook. I can’t remember if I had mentioned it last chapter, but this matchbook was more or less Carver Malone’s “suicide note”. It was a message to Matches to “Remember who you are”. Well, it’s a good thing it was there, because it helps nudge Bruce back to sanity.
Matches throws the Ventriloquist to the ground, and tells him he won’t take his life. At the same time, however, he does have a dyin’ man’s request he’s promise-bound to keep. He promised to kill the one that shot him… and so, with the last match in the book, Matches Malone “kills” Scarface.
The issue (and story) wraps up with Batman and Nightwing having a chat atop a building. They are right by the… oi, theater that showed The Mask of Zorro that one night, where life-changing stuff happened. This is worse than Spider-Man and the bridge, ain’t it? Anyhoo, they talk about how maybe Bruce Wayne also died that night, yadda yadda yadda… yawn. We end with Bruce thankful for Dick being there for him, and how he trusts that if he ever go off the deep end again, he will continue to be there to pull him back.
Well… I gotta say that didn’t go the way I remembered it. I could’ve sworn that the whole MPD aspect was just a ploy… however, it looks to have been legit. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Actually, yeah I am… didn’t like it.
I think it’s strange that Bruce would be so susceptible to losing himself in a non-Batman identity. Especially one with such a drastically different moral code. Maybe he fell into a sort of fugue state… but, I wouldn’t think his sense of identity would be quite this fragile. I mean, we get that Bruce Wayne is sort of a broken dude… but, let’s consider for a moment that this is a guy who has the Justice League (and their technology) at his fingertips. Should a guy who can (in the matter of hours) fall into a different identity have that kind of access? I’m almost definitely thinking too hard… because, far as I know, this story arc is never referred to again.
As a story… if we remove the bit about Bruce Wayne’s fugue, I really quite enjoyed it. I still can’t shake the feeling that this is a bit fan-ficcy… seeing as though it plays with some long-standing lore, but ends with everything “back in its place” as it were. Future writers never need to address Matches Malone being a real dude, but it’s there should anyone find use for it. Batman losing himself in the Matches persona doesn’t need to be addressed, but it’s also there.
Overall, a fun little story arc… so long as you don’t think too hard on it. Definitely worth checking out. Vaughan has always been a great storyteller (though, I really could have done without the overused The Mask of Zorro chestnut), and McDaniel’s art here perfectly fits the vibe. Just like the previous two installments, this is available both digitally, and as part of the Batman By Brian K. Vaughan trade paperback collection.