Batman #440 (1989)

Batman #440 (October, 1989)
“A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter One: Suspects”
Co-Plotter/Writer – Marv Wolfman
Co-Plotter – George Perez
Penciller – Jim Aparo
Inker – Mike DeCarlo
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor – Dan Raspler
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00

A little birdie (named twitter) told me that in upcoming issues of Detective Comics we’re going to be revisiting a very… lonely place.  I figure that’s just the motivation I need to reread the classic Batman story that inspired it… at least the title, anyway.

This is another one that I haven’t read in… yikes, twenty years?  It’s also the story that I kept conflating with A Death in the Family early on in my fandom.  Just seems like like an odd name for a story arc… I dunno.

Anyhoo… Batman’s been acting erratic ever since the death of Jason Todd… Nightwing’s on sabbatical from the Titans… there’re some, er, subtly-themed murders occurring… and there’s a shutterbug on the loose.  Annnnnnd, go!

We open with Batman embroiled in combat with the Ravager… no, not that one… nope, not that one either, and he seems to be having a tough time of it.  They’re fighting at a dam, and Batman’s internal monologue runs down the baddie’s rap sheet… two weeks earlier he killed a pair of twins, and over the past two weeks he’d killed two policemen.  An anonymous tip to the GCPD led our man to the dam for the confrontation… which ends with Ravager falling into the foamy rapids below.  We get the impression that Batman is working hurt… because, he tells us as much.  What he doesn’t know is that the entire brouhaha is being observed, and that voyeur is snappin’ some pics.  What’s more, this person appears to know Batman’s secret identity.  He’s had enough of Bruce, and now he wants to talk to… Dick!  Hmm… 

We shift scenes to a darkened apartment.  Inside a shadowy man listens to the radio… when suddenly, the voice emanating from the speakers starts talking less about the news of the day… and begins to directly address the listener.  The voice is telling him to do some pretty bad things… but the man claims that he doesn’t want to live that way anymore.  And so, the voice persists… finally winning the man over, to the point where he says he will kill Batman!

Speaking of whom, we pop over to Wayne Manor where a bruised and beaten Bat shambles in.  Alfred helps him to bed… and lemme tell ya, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a pleasant night.  Alfred tends to him as he shakes, seizes, and aches… noting that it’s been this way ever since Jason Todd’s death.

Elsewhere, we rejoin our unknown shutterbug as he looks at his Batman shrine (of sorts).  Along with his photos, he has a collection of newspaper clippings.  There happens to be one special photo of Dick Grayson in particular… that we last saw during Batman: Year Three.  Hmm…

Back at Wayne Manor, morning has broken.  Bruce appears to be in better spirits… buuuut, I’ve got a feeling that’s about to change.  Alfred confronts him about how lax he has been in his crime-fighting of late.  He recalls that over the past two weeks, Batman has been shot twice and stabbed twice… by rank amateur villains who would usually be like a “night off” for him.  He reminds him of the words he once spoke to Dick Grayson, “We’re not brutalizers.  We’ve got to think with our heads, not with our fists.”  Wise words that it would seem he’d forgotten falling Jason’s death.  Rather than argue or become belligerent, Bruce silently waits for Alfred to leave, before going to suit up.

We next head to a theatre, where mob boss Gerry Skye (that’s Guiseppe Scalatto, if you’re nasty) is taking in a show with his family.  He is approached by… a shadowy radio enthusiast.  He pitches him a plan… Gerry’s got two guys giving him trouble, and our man has an idea that will take them both off the table… plus, Batman too!  He says it’ll go down two-morrow at two-a.m. at the Zwei Brothers Warehouse.

The fella then heads home to report his good deed to the radio.  Unfortunately for him, the radio doesn’t seem to feel like chatting.  Well, not directly at him anyway, it’s still fine about covering the news of the day.  The shadowy man proceeds to beat the hell out of the squawk box.

We rejoin our would-be Ansel Adams, as he tries to hunt down Dick Grayson.  His search has led him to Titans Tower… and he watches as every Titans leaves the island… well, almost every Titan.  Nightwing is nowhere to be seen.  He next heads to a place where he can peek into Starfire’s penthouse apartment… hmm… using his binoculars, he can see that she’s carrying what looks like a TV dinner on a tray.  He decides that if his Titan-hunt is going to be successful, he’s going to have to make contact.

Day turns to night, and we join Batman at the Zwei Brothers Warehouse.  Those two troublemakers are in the midst of a… book heist?  Okay, there’s a crime right up my alley… but I’m not sure what good that would do a mob boss.  Batman makes his appearance… and one of the crumb-bums reveals that the boss told them Batman would show up.  In a pretty fun scene, Batman hops on a forklift… it’s funny how they almost always have the keys left in ’em (I really mean that, I’ve managed a few warehouses in my day) and beating them both down.  While riding, he is overcome with profundity.  Everything is suddenly been made clear.  Two weeks ago, twins were killed.  Over the next two weeks, two policemen shot and killed.  This event… occurring on the 22nd of the month… at the address 22 Second Street… concerning two geeks.  Oh yeah, and Zwei is German for two.  Dun dun dunnnnn…

If that was too subtle, I suppose I can just come out and say it… the shadowy fella listening to the (somehow repaired) radio is Two-Face!

Batman pops in on Commissioner Gordon to give him the hot tip… and Gordon’s all “I toldja so”… because, apparently Batman had broken Harvey Dent out of prison some time earlier (in a story I don’t recall).

We rejoin our paparazzo as he knocks on Starfire’s door.  He doesn’t introduce himself, but asks if he can see Nightwing (he almost refers to him as “Dick”).  He’s informed that Nightwing left the Titans some weeks back… which is all our man needed to hear.  He beats a hasty retreat while Starfire tries to get to the bottom of who he is.

We stick with him as we head to our ending.  He knows that Dick kept an apartment… which sorta begs the question, why didn’t he go there first… but whattayagonnado?  Inside he sees some newspaper clippings to the affect of “Haly’s Circus is closing down”.  He remembers that particular photo again… and now knows the next place his search will take him.

Really… really enjoyed this.  Like I mentioned in the preamble, early on in my DC fandom, I confused this story for A Death in the Family… which means, I read this thinking it was the death of Jason Todd.  When it turned out not to be… I couldn’t help but to be a bit disappointed.  That said, the first time I received this story… I didn’t much like it, simply because it wasn’t the story I was hoping for.

This time around, I have no such incorrect assumptions… and can enjoy it for the story it is, instead of disregarding it for the story it isn’t… or something.  What I’m trying to say is… this is the start of a great story, that deserved a better shake from the younger (and leaner) Chris.

Let’s break it down… and I suppose it’ll be silly of me not to include spoilers.  Ehh, ya know what… screw it, we’ll play along.  I *wonder* who that roving shutterbug is… that sure is suspect that he has that photo of Dick Grayson with that tot sitting on his knee from Haly’s Circus that we saw during Year Three!  What did they say that kid’s name was again?

Eh, that probably doesn’t mean anything.  Nothing to see here, folks!

The Two-Face reveal was pretty neat, in a Batman ’66 kinda way.  It’s like I can hear Bill Dozier’s voice narrating… It’s a Cat-astophe, Three Mittens have been stolen from Kat-hmandu! only, er, if he were talking about Two-Face, and what not.

I like the idea of Harv hearing voices from the radio.  It’s a classic symptom of psychosis/schizophrenia to believe things like the television or radio are addressing you directly… and I think it’s an interesting wrinkle in Two-Face’s current mental state.  I love how he lashed out at the radio for “ignoring him” after he performed the deed they “discussed”.  It’s this kind of malady that makes Two-Face a much scarier villain to me, than just the dude who bases his decisions on the flip of a coin.  There’s a true horrifying madness here, rather than a (relatively) simple adherence and obligation to “chance”.

Speaking of mental states… we’ve got Batman himself.  I’m glad to see this addressed in such a way.  Rather than having Batman “go off” on Alfred for daring to broach the subject, he silently sits in bed… looking at his bruised knuckles, allowing his faithful butler and friend the opportunity to speak.  I like how his actions and lack of caution are resulting in actual injury… it’s less like he’s distracted, and more as though his mission has a sharper focus on justice.

This isn’t like he “almost got shot”, or “almost didn’t save somebody”… this is him actually being shot (and stabbed) after actually not being able to save somebody.  In other stories, all it would take is a “near-miss” for a hero to be shocked back to “normal”… here, however… Batman being beaten and battered has become his new normal.  It’s a logical (temporary) next step in light of recent events… A Death in the Family, The Killing Joke… it’s just not been a good time for the Bat-Family.  Hell, we can even look back at the Starlin run and consider the possibility that the slasher series of murders is still weighing on him on top of everything else as well!

Overall, this is one I’d say Bat-fans really ought to check out.  If you’re excited about the upcoming A Lonely Place of Living, definitely check out the story they are/might be homaging.  At the very least, you’ll get a better appreciation of the homage covers they’re using.  Available in (an out-of-print… but probably not for long) trade paperback as well as digital.  I think we’ll stick with A Lonely Place of Dying this week… Titans Tomorrow!

Letters Page (including a “Does Batman Kill?” question):


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