Batman #596 (December, 2001)
“City on Fire”
Writer – Ed Brubaker
Pencils – Scott McDaniel
Inks – Aaron Sowd
Colors – Roberta Tewes
Separations – WildStorm FX
Letters – John Costanza
Associate Editor – Michael Wright
Editor – Bob Schreck
Cover Price: $2.25
Okay, we’ve got a strange one today… not necessarily Christmas themed, per say… but features a homicidal Santa Claus! Er, make that Santa Klaus.
So, the Joker did that whole prison riot thing at The Slab which led to plenty of baddies escaping into the world. From there, he’d do the same thing over at Arkham Asylum… so, now there are a bunch more not-safe-for-the-streets types prowling Gotham City. One of whom is a fella they call Santa Klaus. He dresses up like Santa, ya see… he also speaks with a thick German accent. This guy really seems to think he’s Santa Claus, and takes the “Naughty List” deadly serious… which is probably the reason he was locked up in Arkham.
As Klaus deals with a motorist’s carbon footprint, Batman is across town fighting his way through a burning building. He’s following the voice of, what he believes to be, a trapped civilian. What it turns out being is a corpse with a tape-player strapped to its chest.
So yeah, whole thing was a trap! Batman grabs the body, and bursts out a nearby window before the place goes boom.
Shortly, Batman is chatted up by Detective Montoya… and another guy, maybe Crispus Allen… though, I thought it was a little while until he showed up. Either way, it ain’t Bullock. Batman reveals that the body belonged to a fella named Yuri Kalanikov, a lieutenant in the Odessa Mob, and the third of their number to fall in the past couple weeks. Batman is certain that Lew Moxon is behind this.
We shift scenes to Moxon associate, Mr. Zeiss. At least I think he was still Moxon’s associate/bodyguard at this point. Either way, he’s informed that Batman survived the bomb… and he’s not surprised, after all… it is Batman. He gazes out the window using a pair of binoculars, and we learn the next step in his plan. He’s planning on killing another Odessa Mobster, Gregor Popavich when he goes out to dinner with his young daughter. Zeiss confirms this with his Russian hostage, Dmitri.
We rejoin Santa Klaus as the Batmobile roars past him. He considers punishing him for speeding, but decides to take a nap in a dumpster instead.
Some time passes, and a bunch of nogoodniks happen across the dumpster dweller, and decide to push him down a hill and into traffic! This doesn’t end up well for anyone.
We pop back over to Batman, who is in position for Zeiss’s assassination attempt on Popavich. Zeiss is also in position, and has taken a few extra measures to ensure this all goes down according to plan. He has a sniper… and a bomb!
No sooner do Popavich and his young daughter emerge from their ride, does Zeiss leap into action. Batman follows suit.
Before Batman can nab the baddie, Zeiss grabs Popavich’s daughter by the scruff of her neck and threatens to kill her if anybody moves. Zeiss turns to Batman and informs him that, no matter what his next move is… somebody is going to die. Either he’ll break the girl’s neck… or his sniper will take out Popavich.
Popavich pleads with Zeiss to kill him and let his daughter go, but before we can see how this would’ve played out, Santa Klaus has come to town!
The distraction is enough so that Batman can dive over to the girl and get her to safety.
The sniper finally takes his shot, and winds up winging Santa in the shoulder. Now, it’s down to just Batman and Zeiss.
Or, it would be… if not for that bomb Zeiss had planted as a back-up.
In the explosion, our man Zeiss manages to get away. Moments later, the GCPD arrive on the scene, and when Popavich is asked for a statement, he claims that his “eyes were closed” the entire time. Whatta jackass.
We wrap up with Santa Klaus being loaded into an ambulance where he tells the EMTs that they’ve both been “güt boys”.
Ya know, I hate using this small forum as a way to complain about current comics and the culture around them… buuuuuut, issues like this make me miss when we could get a Batman book that just told a good story, and wasn’t trying to be (and being ridiculously lauded as) an “instant classic”. Though in fairness, I suppose if “retweets” were a thing back in ye old 2001, this one probably would’ve been hailed as such too.
What we have here is a pretty seamless way to tie into the Joker’s Last Laugh crossover event, while keeping Batman’s story moving forward. Sometimes tie-ins result in a book’s narrative being derailed for a time… here, however… it’s not much of a hindrance at all! We get a page of Jokery exposition to open the issue, and from there we’re off to the races! Really well done!
It is a bit of a breezy issue, a quick read… but, it’s from the 21st Century, so I’m not really expecting more than a few good scenes. Scott McDaniel’s art is really nice… though, for whatever reason, I prefer him on Nightwing. I’ll say he’s a better fit here than on the Superman books though!
Overall… like I said above, not a Christmas issue… per say. So, if you’re in a holly jolly mood, this one might not scratch that itch. Though, if you’re just looking for a good (if brief) story, this might be right up your alley. This issue is available digitally.