Batman #435 (1989)

Batman #435 (July, 1989)
“The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter Three: The Last Death of the Batman”
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 find out who’s been killin’ all these Batmen!

We open on the scene of a murder… no, they haven’t killed another Batman… this is something quite different.  A young lady by the name of Mary McGinnis was found dead in her apartment, and the Gotham City Police Department have arrived to investigate.  While one stuffs his face (I mean eating in front of a dead body is not only gross… it’s gotta be a social faux pas, right?) he sees that in her last moments, Ms. McGinnis tried scratching a certain symbol into the carpet.

Speaking of ol’ pointy-ears, we shift scenes to Wayne Manor where the man of the house is under strict surveillance.  The GCPD are not taking any chances with this prominent Gothamite’s life.  This is really such an interesting dilemma, and for the first time in awhile made me think that they hit Batman with a “gotcha”.  I mean, he’s the only one who can figure this out… and he’s being watched constantly for his own safety.  What’s more, he actually has an idea as to why the Batmen were killed… ya see, without each of those men, Batman (the real one) would never exist!

We join up with Commissioner Gordon as he gazes into his bulletin board… unable to draw any connection between the dead Batmen.  He’s interrupted by the unnamed Coroner, and she brings with her some odd information.  It turns out the Batman who blew up atop the Gotham Plaza Hotel (at the very end of Batman #433) was already dead at the time the bomb went off.  I’m not sure if I mentioned this during that discussion, but he was being propped up by a 2 x 4.  This was believed to be the body of demolitions expert Frederick Stone… however, there might just be more than meets the eye here.  Gordon suggests the baddie is playing “Leaf in the Forest”, which does little more than provide Byrne with an outlet to explain to us what “Leaf in the Forest” is… I bet he’d been holding onto that one for awhile.

We shift scenes to a suburban neighborhood in Park Ridge, just outside Gotham City.  A woman arrives to the home of her betrothed, however he’s not answering the door.  She lets herself in and heads to the basement where she finds… her fiance, putting something in a box.  Nothing ominous there, until we realize what he was packing was… a Batman costume!

Back at Wayne Manor, Master Bruce is scratching at the walls to get out.  He knows he’s the only hope of catching the killer… and, even comes to the conclusion that his secret identity might have to go to the wayside should it come to it.  Alfred’s all “I got dis” and heats up some lamb in the microwave… the smell of which captivates the guard detail, and removes them from their posts (inside the Manor).  I gotta say, lamb in the microwave… hope ya like chewing, officers… cuz I see a lot of it in your near future!

Bruce heads down to the Batcave to run some data.  He’s already deduced that none of the murder victims were Gotham natives… they’d all been summoned to the city, and so… it’s time to study some charters and manifests to see if any names stand out.  A half hour later, he’s already swinging through the city.  He arrives at the Sandberg Hotel where Aurelius Boch is checked in.  Ya see, Boch taught a young Bruce Wayne (under the name, Smith) the fine art of toxicology.  Among his belongings is a letter… signed Smith!  The police arrive with the bad news that Mr. Boch had been killed the day before.

Batman heads to the morgue to check in with Gordon and the still unnamed Coroner.  He explains to them that each murder is tied to the next victim… and everything had been thrown off when they got the Bruce Wayne tip, because he wasn’t meant to be the “next” victim.  He also suggests that the killer is trying to throw them off the scent in not dressing Boch in a Batman costume.  The Coroner isn’t convinced… but that seems to be her sole purpose here, to be skeptical and have the plot explained to her.  Batman confides in the pair that the murders are tied to him… as all the victims had a hand in training him.  He produces a list of likely future victims, and suggests the investigating party remain discreet as to not tip off the baddie that they’re on to him.

We jump ahead to Trade Winds Import and Export, Inc. where proprietor Mr. Shastri is about to receive a package from a “Mr. Jones”.  Jones confides in Shastri that he is the Batman… and he needs his help.  Ya see, Shastri is an expert on Ophidia… that’s snakes and the like to you and me.  Shastri’s all “not so fast”, because ya see… it’s he that is the real Batman!  He also calls out “Jones” as… Frederick Stone!  “Jones” freaks out and throws the contents of the package at “Shastri”… you’ll never guess, but it’s a Batman costume!  An electrified Batman costume to be specific.  Jones runs off proclaiming that neither Batman nor his foes will ever harm us… which causes a burnt and melty-faced “Shastri” to take pause.

Back at the Batcave, Batman licks his wounds… and considers his next move.  All records of Stone end at his “death”, so it would be difficult to make any of the killing stick… somehow.  I’m kinda not buying that, but whattayagonnado?  Anyhoo, Bruce continues thinking aloud… recalling how Ra’s al Ghul was able to suss out Batman’s true identity by tracing who was buying equipment.  If Ra’s could do that, he supposes Stone could as well.  If Batman were to, say, use a demolitions technique that only Stone would know… that may tip him off.

We pop back over to Stone… well, Jerry Sawyer that is.  He’s with his fiancee and ranting like a loon.  He fears that his being wrapped up in Batman’s beginnings makes them a target to Batman’s enemies… which, ya know… is probably a valid concern.  Bad guys don’t take kindly to folks who help Batman.  He comes clean to his soon-to-be bride, about his past as a demolition man.  Batman had recently used one of his exclusive techniques, which tipped him off to his part in the training.  She’s confused as he’s currently a florist… the most harmless profession under the Sun!  He storms off to “take care of” a “weed” in their “garden”… a man called Campbell.

As he exits, another enters… it’s Batman!  He tells fiancee Sally that it would be best if she’d left… otherwise, she might accidentally incriminate herself.  We rejoin Sawyer/Stone as he is about to visit Mr. Campbell.  Posing as room service, he barges his way into the hotel room… and tells the poor fella he’s about to die.  But first… we’re gonna need a bit of a wardrobe change.

Before Sawyer/Stone can run Campbell through with the ceremonial dagger he’d brought… Batman arrives!

He disarms the baddie and pushes him to the floor.  He then produces a photo of Mary McGinnis (betcha didn’t think that was leading anywhere!).  Turns out she was vital in luring Webber (who I’m assuming is the fat Batman who was killed in the final bit of Batman #434).  Sawyer realized that she could be a liability if left alive… soooo, he killed her.

Batman is able to trace Sawyer to the murder as when he’d investigated the crime scene (because she scratched that Bat-symbol in the carpet, if you recall) he found traces of a rare chemical fertilizer… the kind that is used in growing Andes Snow Orchids, a flower only sold by three Gotham florists.  Whoops.  Gordon and the GCPD enter the scene, and Batman turns Sawyer over to them.  For some reason he claims that they won’t be able to tie the Bat-murders to him… but McGinnis is all his.

Hmm… as much as I enjoyed this, I gotta say… the ending didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Let’s discuss my main problem.  Frederick Stone/Jerry Sawyer couldn’t be linked to the serial Bat-murders?  Huh?  Just because he faked his own death and changed his name… they can’t tie him to the murders?  I mean, there’s still DNA, dental records… all that jazz, so why not?  I mean, just because a fella changes his name that doesn’t mean he’s free and clear to just start a new life, right?  Mr. Stone wasn’t placed in witness protection or anything.

I’d figure we’ve got him dead to rights after he attempted to kill “Mr. Shastri”, right?  It wouldn’t be difficult at that point to get a search warrant at the very least… and maybe take a look at the guy’s basement “Batman killing” laboratory.  Also, was killing Batman his endgame?  Did he ever say one way or another, and I just missed it?  If not… and if he really just wanted a clean “safe” start… why not just fake his own death, and move away from Gotham?  Maybe I’m missing something.

I can almost understand his being worried that his part in training Batman.  I mean, this is the late 1980’s, and Bat-associates aren’t really having the best of times around now.  I know I wouldn’t want any part in it!  But again… why not just move far away from Gotham and go about your life as a harmless florist?  He wouldn’t even necessarily need to fake his own death at that point… just move away.  Staying in Gotham seems a bad idea for the regular civilian… much less this dude.

I suppose my main takeaway here is… why kill all of the other people involved in Batman’s training?  Just to make it look like a crime spree?  To make Stone just “one of” the victims… becoming lost in a sea of other dead dudes in Batman costumes?  I dunno… seems like an awful lot of work.

Overall, despite my complainy bits, I really dug this story… and feel like Byrne has a wonderful take on Batman.  I said it before but, it really would have been nice if Byrne had an extended run with the character around now.  I suppose a one-and-done story isn’t all bad… and beggars can’t be choosers.  I’d definitely recommend this, with the personal caveat that I didn’t find the ending terribly satisfying.  Available digitally.

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