Batman #434 (1989)

Batman #434 (June, 1989)
“The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter Two: How Many Times Can a Batman Die?”
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

Let’s check in with Part Two of The Many Deaths of the Batman to see if the words have caught up with the art!  That is to say… will there be any words?  Let’s find out!

We open with Batman chasing a caped baddie across rooftops in Paris.  The chase leads them to a pier and ends with them both falling into the drink.  This segues pretty seamlessly to a scene in Gotham City wherein the GCPD are fishing a “Batman” out of the river.

This time around, Gordon’s got no time to mess about… he unmasks the body just as soon as they get him on a gurney.  He’s surprised to see that this Batman is, in actuality, Mark Jenner… a legendary stock car racer whose career was cut short when he was paralyzed in a wreck some years back.  The Assistant Coroner suggests that being paralyzed would be the perfect “cover story” for a guy who is really Batman but the Commish ain’t buying it… after all, this is the fourth dead Batman to turn up in the last twelve hours.

We join Gordon some hours later at his office.  He’s poring over photos of the dead Batmen, who include Jenner, a demolitions expert named Stone, a chemist named Kingsley, and a bodybuilder named LaSalle.  He is interrupted by the unnamed Coroner, who has some deets from the Jenner autopsy.  The water they found in his lungs was tap water… suggesting that while he did drown, it wasn’t in the river.

We shift scenes to a trendy gym called the Swet Shop (misspelling intentional?).  One Peter Allison swaggers in, he’s a world-class gymnast and is here to put on a bit of a show for proprietor Hank Jones.  He heads into the dressing room, and emerges… dressed like Batman.  Jones is a bit surprised… though Allison is adamant that Jones sent him a letter with an offer of twenty-thousand dollars to perform in a Batman costume.  Just as he begins… he is shot through the heart with a crossbow!

It’s not long before the GCPD swarm the gym and begin questioning poor Mr. Jones.  Turns out a third party had sent letter to both he and the late Mr. Allison to arrange the demonstration and make it seem as though both men were the interested party.  We see that the assassin left his crossbow behind and escaped through a vent in a storage room.  Gordon suggests that whoever “pulled the trigger” must have been quite the skilled marksman.  Talk about timing, Hank informs the Commish that Olympic Crossbow champion Raphael DiGiorda just landed in Gotham City this very morning!

Back in France, Batman deposits the caped crim to the cops.  It’s here that he gets an eyeful of the front page news… Batman, Mort!  Seems like this is new information to him!

Back in Gotham, Gordon and the Coroner are making a beeline to Mr. DiGiorda’s… I dunno, Hotel?  Along the way, the Coroner mentions that she still believes Jenner to be the “real” Batman, using his paralysis as a cover.  She just won’t let that go.  I mean, it’s a decent enough theory… but when one of the very few folks on the planet to sorta-kinda know Batman tells ya you’re barking up the wrong tree… it’s probably best to drop it.  Anyhoo… they barge their way into DiGiorda’s pad, and wouldn’tcha know it, he’s dressed like Batman!

They go about their questioning… walking the line between accusing him of wrongdoing and warning him that he might be in danger.  He informs them that he’d received the costume from… Bruce Wayne (record skip sound here).  The Coroner comes up with another kooky theory… perhaps the bored playboy Mr. Wayne is the killer… and his ultimate bounty is the real-deal Batman!  Gordon quickly poo-poos that idea.  While they argue, they don’t notice DiGiorda dying behind them.  He’s been poisoned!

Next stop, Wayne Manor.  The Commish and the Coroner arrive and share the story of the past 24 hours.  He thinks on it a bit before asking Alfred if any packages had arrived.  Turns out there just so happens to be a box from Acme Costumes in the mail.  Wanna guess what’s inside it?  Yup.

As he pulls the Bat-togs outta the box, the utility belt clunks to the floor.  An officer picks it up, and latches the buckle… which is pretty dumb.  The officers and Bruce are pleased to see that such an act did not trigger an explosion.  What it did trigger, however, was an acidic reaction in the costume itself.  Meaning… if Bruce were wearing it, he’d be little more than a puddle at this point!

While Bruce and Gordon try to figure out their next move, we wrap up by visiting with a… heavy-set gentleman dressed as Batman entering a bedroom to be with a, er… “city gal”.  Turns out he’s just the next Batman to die!

A very solid chapter.

I was pleased to see that this issue was not without dialogue.  This was definitely a Jim Gordon story, and it was a damn good one.  While much of the “detective work” was predicated on convenience, it was still entertaining to watch him work his way through the clues.

The story itself, having to do with notable names receiving letters and packages from a “mystery mailer” feels like something out of the Silver Age.  Not a bad thing, to be sure.  I appreciate that this feels like an updated take on a story of old… seems right up Byrne’s alley.  It’s a shame his stay on Batman was so short.  I think he could’ve done some amazing things with the character.

Aparo’s art continues to be top-notch… the multitude of balloons and captions proved not to be a hindrance.  Speaking of art, the cover by Byrne is pretty wicked too.  We’ve seen covers featuring heroes in “the drawers” before, but this one is super cool.  Not only does it look great, it fits the story perfectly!

Interesting thing I realized after finishing up the first chapter yesterday… it’s an issue of Batman… about Batman, that didn’t feature a single panel of the Batman!  In reading this second chapter, I thought it interesting that the actual “Batman” scenes… that is to say, the ones occurring in France, were… silent!  I gotta wonder if these bits were originally intended for the silent issue… and pushed out for some reason.  Might just be thinking too hard… but that’s kinda what I do.

Overall, lotta fun with this one.  The Many Deaths of the Batman is a great story, and I would certainly recommend it.  I’m surprised it hasn’t shown up (at least to my knowledge) in collected edition.  Perhaps that’s due to Byrne’s stint being so short.  I’m sure had we written a few more issues, he would’ve gotten a trade paperback.  Anyhoo, this one is available digitally.

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