New Titans #61 (1989)

New Titans #61 (December, 1989)
“A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter Four: Going Home!”
Co-Plotter/Writer – Marv Wolfman
Co-Plotter/Layouts – George Perez
Penciller – Tom Grummett
Embellisher – Bob McLeod
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor – Jonathan Peterson
Editor – Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $1.75

Welcome to the… ahem, penultimate chapter of A Lonely Place of Dying.  It’s weird the things you notice about a cover when you really pay attention.

I don’t really hide the fact that the pictures I include here are a result of… well, snapping them with my iPhone (aah, that explains the crookedness!).  The covers often prove to be a challenge… because, it seems like I can either get the title straight… or the UPC box in the bottom corner straight… but very rarely both.  When taking this picture, however, I noticed that it was devoid of a UPC box!  What’s more, it’s also missing the Comics Code Authority Stamp!  Not that this is a hyper-violent or sexually suggestive book… but, another example of the differences between newsstand comics and direct-market only books… and another nugget I’m going to have to remember to comment on when Reggie and I finally get around to that Direct Market episode of Weird Comics History!

We open… in the Batcave, and it’s a bit of a stutter-step from the ending of the last chapter.  It seemed like we closed with Dick in the Nightwing duds and Alfred kinda hinting that Tim might be the next Robin.  Here, we have Dick in the Nightwing duds, sure… but instead of Tim standing there shocked, he’s literally chasing him down holding… Jason Todd’s Robin costume!  Like, he pulled it out of the trophy case and everything!  Not that he wants to wear it, mind, he wants Dick to wear it!  Dick gets pretty ticked off, and tells Tim to back off… he says that the Robin persona died with Jason Todd.

We shift over to Titans Tower, where Raven receives a call from… someone looking for Nightwing.  When they’re told he’s not in, the caller hits her with a high-pitched squeal… thinking that will stop the Titans from tracing the call.  Turns out the *squeeeeee* was moot, as the Titans were sorta waiting for a call like this and were able to drop a relay on the line before he hangs up.

The Titans believe this might be the same creepy kid who dropped in on Starfire a night or two back, and head out to follow the trace.  They arrive at a dirt road… and it looks as though whoever placed the call shimmied up a pole and plugged into the phone lines.  Well, that was pretty smart!

Back at the Tower, the remaining Titans are analyzing that squeal… and it turns out that there’s a coded message hidden in there!  Jericho gets to the bottom of it, and hands it off to Raven to deliver to it’s rightful recipient… Nightwing!

And so, Raven ports to Gotham City where she finds Nightwing atop GCPD Headquarters chatting with Commissioner Gordon under the glow of an unanswered Bat-Signal.  She hands him a tiny data-disc, and suggests he pop it into his wrist-computer.  While he checks it out, she offers some Titanic assistance.  Dick thanks her just the same, however, says this is between he and Batman.

We pop back to Wayne Manor, and observe a weird little scene.  Tim just won’t shut up… he just keeps picking Alfred’s brain about Dick and Bruce’s relationship… to which, Alfred flat-out tells him he’s asking too many personal questions.  Tim’s really coming across obnoxious here… between this and Danny Chase, maybe that’s just how Marv Wolfman sees all kids!

We catch up with Dick, who is considering all the information he’d just received via data-disc… and it’s basically all the Batman scenes from the last three chapters.  He puts the pieces together and deduces that Two-Face’s clues are leading he (and Batman) to a… four-themed location (we’ll just call it two-squared)!

Nightwing arrives and meets up with Batman.  It’s a pretty contentious reunion… in which Batman comes within inches of telling Nightwing that he needs him… but stops before actually saying it.  He points to their target building across the way, and tells Dick to cover the rear while he goes in the front.  Dick objects, thinking that might not be the best idea… since Two-Face is expecting him.  Batman informs him that when they’re working together, he’s not the leader of the Titans… and won’t be giving the orders.  Dannnnng!

The dynamic duo heads inside… Nightwing checks the perimeter, and notes that the only exit routes are a coal chute and a tiny basement window.  He enters through the window.  Batman, crashing through a front window… finds, something preeeeetty strange.

Batman calls Nightwing via wrist-communicator to try and talk through the situation.  Even this is pretty contentious.  Nightwing suggests they just call it a night, as they’re both exhausted… and this odd situation might be too much for them to mentally work through at this point.  Batman tells him he’s free to leave whenever he wants.  Yeesh.

After a few more moments of deduction… Batman solves the riddle.  Two-Face has literally turned the house upside down… meaning up is down… and the basement is actually… the second floor!  As he says this, Two-Face makes his presence known in the basement!

Two-Face flips his coin… and it comes up scarred.  And so, he triggers a bomb… which somehow causes Batman and Nightwing to get caught in the blast and resulting cave-in… but not him, even though he’s only standing a few feet away.  Oh well, we’ll allow it… he probably had it all planned out.

We wrap up back in the Batcave.  Nightwing tapped the homing signal on his wrist-comm before the walls came tumblin’ down.  Alfred traces it back to the corner of 4th and 4th.  Tim pleads with Alfred that they must do something… and the “camera” focuses in on… Jason’s Robin costume.

Okay, we’re kicking things into high-gear here… it feels like we are exactly where we need to be at this point.

We’ve got a little to unpack here… let’s start with Batman.  I really enjoy his keeping people at arm’s length… though, I’d imagine if I were reading this from month to month (or week to week with the multiple titles) at the time, it would’ve began to grate on me by this point.  I mean, there’s only so many times we can look at “wounded bird” Batman, trying to hide his insecurities.  I dig it because it’s a novelty… but drop me back in 1988, I think I’d have grown tired of the act by now.

Let’s stick with him for now though.  He refuses to outright tell Dick that he needs him.  This is a real indication of just how strained their relationship had become… and really illustrates why Bruce was so quick to bring Jason into the fold.  Last year we discussed one of my favorite single-issues of all-time, Batman #416, where Bruce pretty much conceded that to be the case.  Alfred posits here that while Batman was bringing in a new sidekick… Bruce was bringing in a new surrogate son (to replace Dick).  It’s pretty deep, and I do enjoy it… but again, I bet I’d be tired of it by now if I were reading back then.

Batman’s snippiness toward Nightwing was off-putting, but didn’t feel out of place.  I can appreciate that he… I dunno, begrudges him his success as a solo hero… and as a leader.  I mean, look at Dick… leader of the Titans, responsible for the lives of a handful of other heroes… meanwhile, Batman can’t keep one sidekick from being murdered.  I think Batman almost calling Nightwing “Robin” a few times was a bit… I dunno… forced?  I mean, by this point Dick has been Nightwing for a long time… and they two have worked together under this dynamic.  I dunno… I get what they’re going for, but it kinda misses the mark for me.

Let’s talk Tim!  Boy is he annoying.  From the first page, I was hoping somebody would sock’em in the face.  I gotta say, jumping from the end of last issue to the start of this one was rather jarring.  The shift in tone was so drastic… you’d almost think it was more than one guy writing this arc!  Batman #441 ended on an almost somber note… with Alfred hinting that Nightwing has some Robinesque plans for young Tim… here, Tim’s literally chasing Dick down demanding he return to his Robin persona… while Dick is adamant that Robin is, literally and figuratively, dead!  Just doesn’t add up for me.  It did tickle me a bit when Alfred told him to cool it with the personal questions though!

The Titans… oh yeah, this is their book, isn’t it?  Well, they play a bigger role this chapter than they did last time… so they’ve got that going for them.  Not a whole lot to say about them, however.  Just like last time, if I were solely a Titans fan/reader… I’d be pretty miffed reading this arc.  I would really want to see the scene of Batman shimmying up a telephone pole to contact them though!

Overall… if you’ve made it this far in A Lonely Place of Dying, it would be foolish to skip this chapter.  No circus nonsense to speak of and a true feeling of story progression.  Some interesting interpersonal conflict and solving impossible riddles occur, and, as with the other chapters… it’s well worth your time.  Tomorrow we’ll put this one to bed.

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