Friday, April 21, 2006

"All they do is watch us kill: Part 1"
Batman #648 When: February 2006
Why: Judd Winick How: Doug Mahnke

The story so far...
When the survivors of the Crisis on Infinite Earths trapped themselves in their own non-space, they could not have imagined the vast influence they would still have.

As Superboy of Earth-Prime pounded furiously at the walls of his protective prison; unbridled rage shifted reality to a place where Jason Todd should never have died.

Thus, the prodigal son, retaining the injuries sustained at the hands of the Joker, desperately freed himself from his grave, and staggered back into the world.
With the intervention of Ra's and Talia Al Ghul, Jason Todd was eventually able to recover his memories, and rediscover a Gotham that had moved on without him, and a Batman who had not avenged him.

Tale of the tape...
It should be no secret that this will Winick/Mahnke period will forever be remembered as one of my favourite Batman runs ever. Mahnke's pencils have been beautifully complimented by superb inkers and colourists [like Tom Nguyen and Alex Sinclair], and they in turn have beautifully presented Judd Winick's on-going Gotham.

I'm sure some credit also has to go to the editorial staff, who probably had some influence in this direction for the Dark Knight. As fantastic as it would be, I find it hard to believe Judd Winick would arrive at a style like this, let alone be allowed to. This really has been the most real Gotham I've read in a long time.

If you've been tuning in to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths for the past few months, you'll have already seen Red Hood in action, reclutantly teaming up with Batman aginst the Society.

Intelligence: 4 (Tactician)
Speed: 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: 4 (Athlete)
Agility: 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: 5 (Martial Artist)

Red Hood's abilities are fairly straight forward, derived from the Batman's own training, and therefore relatively similar. What his intelligence as a tactician does not aptly display is his newfound cut throat approach.
This is a Batman style vigilante who will gladly kill if the time is right, and Black Mask would quite logically be on his list as the current crimelord of Gotham.

Red Hood really has a wide array of options to defeat Black Mask.
He's already been shown to be apt with explosives, and even used a rocket launcher to blow up Black Mask's office from an adjacent building. The guy has ruthless aggression, and still doesn't like crime.

If Jason Todd has a weakness, it's that, for the time being, he seems to be satisfied with controlling crime, as well as extinguishing it.

Intelligence: 4 (Tactician)
Fighting Ability: 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Black Mask is no monkey's uncle, but he's as human as the Red Hood, but without the training and fantastic skills.

In fact, he's arguably a far less potent threat than any of the other Gotham rogues. Essentially he's just a thug with a disfigurement, who managed to take advantage of a situation [see; War Games], and rise to the point where he could employ a greater force.

His only chances against Red Hood are his gritty street ethics, his army of criminals, and the enemies Red Hood has made per capita. The potential for intervention by other gangs, or super criminals is certainly high. Particularly after Red Hood killed the Society strong-man, Captain Nazi.

On paper? This is Red Hood's fight. However, with so many external variables percolating in the bowels of Gotham City, this fight is a lot more open than it should be.

What went down...
Quite surprisingly, Black Mask enters a meeting with his top generals, only to ice each one of them with a machine gun. Part of the business, I'm sure, but trying to cut a deal with your vigilante opponent, probably isn't.

Having killed his men, Black Mask realises it's become apparent that Red Hood's word may be less than binding, so he decides to finally do what no hired croney has been able to - take out the Red Hood.

He furiously smashes a chair over the Hood's helmet, and whips a pistol out, but the skilled Todd is able to leap into a kick to the face at close quarters.

Black Mask fires off a shot, but Red Hood is able to lock his arm up, ensuring his aim is pointed away from his body. Red Hood disarms his opponent and slaps him across the face with the pistol in one fluid motion.
Red Hood returns the favour, and the two exchange blows until the superior fighter gains the advantage, and tosses Black Mask to the street through the bar's front windoiw.

With the conviction of a madman, Mask dives back through the window, and hurls himself at the vigilante. His furious attack comes with a lecture of street strength. The Black Mask points to himself and asks the armored Red Hood what he feels when he punches him. Skin and flesh. Flesh he's not afraid to lose.

Red Hood fights back, using a knife to press his point, but Black Mask gets hold of a poolcue and smashes it across the armored mid-section of the Red Hood, taking the wind out of him long enough to stab the broken half into his back.

Feeling the pain, Red Hood slaps a small explosive on Black Mask's back that bursts into flames. The crimeboss whips his coat off, and calls him a little girl for his tactics.
Hood doesn't care if it means winning. He slices at the back of Black Mask's neck, but the spilling of blood only makes Mask crazier.

The two grapple with the knife between them, and Black Mask teaches the young man a lesson about life and survival in Gotham.

They wrestle over the knife, but as the Batman finally arrives on the scene, it's too late. Black Mask has the knife, and he's going to use it.

It cuts deep.

Through body armor.
Through flesh.

The hammer...
Honestly, I'd have to say never in Oprah and Tina Turner's wildest dreams did I ever expect to see Black Mask attain victory in a fist fight. Especially not with a crazed, trained up lunatic like Jason Todd - which leads me to a disappointing revelation.

In the following issue [Batman #649] we have the disappointing fortune of learning that the man that lay bleeding next to the pool table was not Jason Todd. He was a lackey imposter, with a helmet that allowed Jason Todd to transmit through a speaker.

Opening tale of the tape, I mentioned how fantastic a run this has been.
That single moment has to be about the only blemish on an otherwise all-star effort by Mahnke and Winick. A fakeout of that proportion is very hard to swallow in any context, let alone a story that's been so superb because of it's grounded, street level honesty.

That said, the developments in the following issue do not spoil this one.
We've been talking about a lot of fights, and with DC versus Marvel's entries a consistent complaint of mine has been the lack of storytelling within the fights.
This was a good example of an issue largely dedicate to fisticuffs, but used it to tell a compelling tale.

The Fight: 6 The Issue: 5.5

Additional stats: Black Mask - Kill (Thug, Red Hood imposter)

NEXT: African goddess Storm vesus Amazonian princess Wonder Woman

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