Batman #433 (May, 1989)
“The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter One: Period of Mourning”
Writer – John Byrne
Penciller – Jim Aparo
Inker – Mike DeCarlo
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Assistant Editor – Dan Raspler
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75
We open on a Gotham City night… police cars are speeding down the busy streets with little care for the civilians in their path. They pull down an alley, hop out of the car and continue on foot with only their flashlights to show the way. What they come across is something none of them could have prepared for.
The Batman is loaded into an ambulance and swept away to Gotham General. The doctors seem to be mixed on whether or not they should unmask him… but ultimately settle on not. They do what they can for the Caped Crusader… but it’s all for naught. Batman flat-lines on the table.
The body is wheeled down to the morgue. An opportunistic photog makes his way into the hospital, and down to the drawers. He pays off a security guard, and snaps himself a few pics.
It’s around this point that I realized that this was probably going to be a “silent” issue. Whether that means I’m a bit slow on the uptake, Aparo’s storytelling was just that engaging, or a combination of the two, I’m unsure. After these photos are taken, news of Batman’s demise spreads to the papers, and the Gotham News runs the item on their front page.
From here, we see a few reactions to the news. In Arkham, the Penguin is quite displeased indeed.
Two Face has to flip a coin to see how he feels… and I’m left unsure because the only reaction face we see is the scarred side… which is always scowling. His “good side” might be smiling, I suppose!
Dick and Kory come across a copy of the paper on the street. Dick looks devastated. The pair embrace.
At Wayne Manor, Alfred sees the paper while on his way to deliver breakfast to Bruce. He drops his tray, and runs down to the Batcave.
Finally, Commissioner Gordon is told. He cuts out of the Police Commissioner Convention, hops a plane and flies back to Gotham. He is driven to the morgue… and when he is shown the body, utters the only line of dialogue in the entire issue. Two words, “Get out.”
Alone with the body, Gordon proceeds to… unmask Batman! What he finds behind the cowl is a… blonde fella. I’ll concede that it’s been forever since I first read this, but I can’t recall if they were hinting that Jim knew that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one in the same… or if there’s something else here that tips him off that this isn’t the right dude.
Either way, he orders the Bat-signal lit. In the lights glow, we can see… Batman… atop the Gotham Plaza Hotel. Suddenly, there’s an explosion… and among the rocks and rubble that falls is shreds of Batman’s cape and cowl.
I had totally forgotten that this was a silent issue!
It really wasn’t until about halfway through (page 11-12) that I realized what was going on. Like I said above, that’s either high praise on the storytelling of Byrne and Aparo… or an indictment on my perception acumen. I feel like the silence really added to the mood they were going for… and only having it shattered the one time really emphasized the importance of that line.
With all that said… I’m glad I didn’t buy this off the rack, because I’m sure I’d have felt ripped off. Seems crazy to say, we still do get a story here, and a lot of awesome Aparo art… unhindered by thought/speech balloons or captions, but I flipped through this in less than five minutes. Couldn’t imagine trudging myself up to the newsstand, plopping my meager lunch money on the counter in exchange for this issue… going home and feeling satisfied.
I feel like this works as a part of a greater story… but as a chapter unto itself, it’s something I definitely would not have appreciated at the time.
Silent issues are always a bit hit or miss… well, let’s say 5% hit-95% miss… though, I’m only speaking for myself. I still remember being mystified reading an article in Wizard Magazine about G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21 (March, 1984). I thought it was the neatest thing ever… and there was a bit of controversy as to whether or not the issue was originally intended to ship without dialogue (Larry Hama would confirm that it was). I just couldn’t shake the idea of this weird issue being out in the world, and what’s more… it made sense! It was an issue featuring the mute Snake-Eyes, after all.
Years later, Deadpool #42 (July, 2000) would do a riff on the classic ARAH issue… even red-white-and bluifying the logo and adding the subtitle “A Real American Zero!” I recall really enjoying that issue as well, because… well, it’s Deadpool, and if you’re going to do something silly… ya may as well do it with Deadpool. Hell, Reggie and I just covered the “Gumped” Deadpool #11 for the Cosmic Treadmill Podcast. Give’r a listen if you’re interested.
At this point, Marvel Comics decided it would be a good idea to do an entire month of silent issues… the dread Nuff Said! initiative. That’s when novelty turned to… I dunno, whatever the opposite of novelty is… whatever it is, it certainly overstayed its welcome. That entire month was a chore… and, outside a few of them, felt like a big time rip-off. I still bought all of them… because I was/am an idiot… so, I suppose I was part of the problem!
Anyhoo… for the issue itself. You ever hear the theory that every problem that happened in Seinfeld could have been fixed with a single cell phone? That’s kinda where we’re at with this issue. This is definitely the kind of story that could not be told today without there being some mention of “cell towers being down” or something. All it would take is a single phone call… and the whole “reveal” would unravel.
Speaking of the reveal… I gotta wonder how Gordon knew that it was the wrong guy behind the mask. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage as I haven’t read this in… I dunno, fifteen years or so… and didn’t want to read ahead and ruin my reaction, but it’s interesting to consider that Gordon knows… because he’s almost have to, right?
Overall… this issue is like a master class in sequential storytelling. Aparo is able to make this entire silent story flow with only minor cheats (the newspaper does feature words, after all), and a single two-word line of dialogue. I can’t promise you’ll be satisfied with twenty-two (mostly) wordless pages… but, then again, there’s no way I advise anyone not to experience it either. It is available digitally… but priced at $1.99. Not sure I’d spend two bucks… but, then again, these days we comics enthusiasts spend far more for far less.