Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 8, 2016


Batman:  Second Chances by Max Allan Collins, Jim Starlin, & Jo Duffy (2015)

I'll let others argue whether a book published last year could be considered forgotten.  Published by DC Comics, Batman:  Second Chances collects a dozen stories from 1986 and 1987 -- eleven from Batman #402-403 and Batman # 408-416 and one from Batman Annual #11.  Max Allan Collins wrote eight of the stories, Jim Starlin three, and Jo Duffy one.  (Duffy, received no credit on the book's cover or spine; instead Jim Aparo, who drew three of the stories, is credited.)

Understand that this does not appear to be a major release from DC comics.  No hardcover edition, no coated paper, no 8 1/2 x 11" dimensions, and (evidently) no major publicity paush.  Instead we have a paperbound edition, 6 1/2 x 10 1/4", with regular uncoated comic book stock paper.  Collins himself did not know of the book's release until after the fact -- something I find strange because this is his collection, or would have been had there not been a kerfluffle between DC and Collins.

There will be some spoilers in the next few paragraphs.  My apologies.

We start off with two tales from issues #402 and 403.  Tommy Carna, the youngest cop to make detective on the Gotham City Police Department had been fired after he went off the rails following a car bombing that killed his wife and child.  Upset at the number of criminals who got off due to legal technicalities, he begins tto picture himself as a vigilante.  Not just any vigilante, mind you, but Batman himself, Tommy Carna's childhood hero.  Donning a Batman costume, Carna prowls Gotham at night and begins killing criminals.  Batman stops him.  Carna goes to Arkham Asylum.  Carna, still believing he's Batman escapes and stumbles onto a secret entrance to the Batcave, steals the Batmobile, and goes after the gangster who had ordered the bombing that killed his family.  This is a well-written and strong arc by Collins that explores how character affects motivation in a there-but-for the-grace-of-God manner.

However...and here I get confused...Robin appears in this arc, and Robin is Jason Todd.  All well and good, because I knew Jason Todd took Robin's place Dick Grayson moved on to become Nightwing.  But in the next story (from five issues later) in Batman:  Second Chances, Robin is still Dick Grayson.

Now we enter a four story arc.  In a battle with the Joker, Robin (Dick Grayson) is shot and a news helicopter gets footage of Batman carrying Robin's body away from the scene, leaading the press to wonder is Robin has been killed.  He hasn't, but the incident has a profound effect on Batman.  He decides it is time for Robin to call it quits, a decision that Robin doesn't like.  As P. G. Wodehouse said in a different context, his huff drove up and he departed in it.  Batman goes it alone.  But then, while patrolling Crime Alley -- the very location where Bruce Wayne's parents were killed years before -- he finds a kid stripping the tires of the Batmobile.  The kid, nervy and streetwise, is Jason Todd.  Jason's father is long-gone and presumed dead, his mother passed away several month's before, and the streets made a better home for Jason than a foster home.  The one supposed bright spot in Crime Alley is Ma Gunn's Home for Boys, a place that appears to have a positive effect on the displaced youth of the area.  Batman, concerned for Jason, places him in Ma Gunn's care.  Sadly, Batman does not realize that Ma's first name is Fay, or that names (such as Fay Gunn) carry a lot of weight in Comicbookland.  Yep, this Fagin is using the Home for Boys as a criminal training ground.  With Jason's help, Batman takes down the gang, and (in an uncharactertistic move for him) Batman actually clocks a lady -- if Fay Gunn can be considered a lady.  In the end, Batman and Jason ride into the sunset in the Batmobile and Batman calls Jason "Robin."

Continuing the arc, Batman is immersing Jason in training for his role as Robin.  Jason, being a nervy street kid, is impatient.  He makes a major mistake by letting his emotions get sontrol of him after he discovered that Two-Face was responsible for his father's murder.  All ends well. The new Robin learns a valuable lesson and Two-Face is suitably captured.  Another well-written and nuanced Collins arc.

Now we turn to the kerfluffle story where Collins introduces Camilla Cameo, the Mime, a criminal who abhors noise and packs an electrified punch.  During a line-up scene, the artist, completely went against Collins script, perverting the scene and negating Collins' intent.  It's unclear to me whether the decision was one by the artist, by the editor, or by someone else in the DC labyrinth.

The next story, by Jo Duffy, is about an attempted robbery at the Metropoplitan Museum of Gotham and involves an ancient Japanese exhibit.

The next three stories are written by Jim Starlin.  The first fits into an arc started in that month's Millenium comic book and then continues in the following Millenium and Detective issues.  Robots and aliens, oh my!  Doesn't make much sense inluding itin this book, IMHO.

The next two stories bring back Dick Grayson as Nightwing, resolving the issues Dick had with Batman and allowing Jason to become more comfortable with his new role.  Not only do we learn a little bit more about those two, but we get a deeper insight into Batman's psychology.

The final story, a throwaway by Collins from Batman Annual, is a love story between the Penquin and Dovina Partridge.

All in all, Batman:  Second Chances is a darned good read.

Now for the bad part.

DC evidently couldn't decide on an artist to use for this run.  Starlin himself drew the first story, and was then followed in rapid order by Denys B. Cowan, Chris Warner, Ross Andrau & Dick Giordano, Dave Cockrum (for three issues), Kieron Dwyer & Mike DeCarlo, Jim Aparo (for three stories), and -- for the final story -- Norn Breyfogle.  All theese artisits give the book a schizophrenic appearance.  In one story the ears on Batman's mask are large enough to be laughable (making me wonder why the Caped Crusader wasn't called Antelopeman in this story).  Batman's cape is sometimes long enough to be trippable, or at least to be caught in the wheels of the Batcycle.  Jason Todd in his Robin costume at times comes up to Batman's waist, offering a grotesque picture of an eleven-yeaar-old fully-formed midget.  Ptah!

Read this one for the writing.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I take it the art screwing with the story in the one case wasn't the nub of the Collins/DC hopes Collins won't miss DC income if that hasn't been resolved.