Friday, July 20, 2007

Broken City: Part Two (DC comics)
Batman #621 When: January 2004
Why: Brian Azzarello How: Eduardo Risso

The story so far...
A murder in Gotham City has left a child orphaned, something the Dark Knight Detective can relate to. As the Batman, Bruce Wayne, son of the murdered Wayne family, uses his inherited fortune to stalk the streets of his city preying on those that would prey on the innocent.

This murder has connected with him, and so the Batman lends his aid, albeit through the filter of Detective Crispus Allen, a GCPD detective whose opinion of the Dark Knight is at least high enough to prevent it interfering in their work.

With the only witness, the son, reduced to a catatonic mess, the Batman decides to abandon a night of grilling steaks, and seek out a more receptive meat.
Somewhere in the dark city sits a man with an appetite of a different kind, and he's about to get a visit from someone most unexpected.

Previous Form:
Batman (#2): Has toppled foes such as; Hyena, Two-Face, Amazo, The Joker & Superman.
Killer Croc (#126): Survived an inconclusive encounter with Wolverine.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Killer Croc 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

So, in preparing for this month's updates, I found myself collecting issues with the intentions of finding a particular sort of character; a character that somehow represented the pure fighting spirit that the Infinite Wars represent.
Two such characters seemed to present themselves for no reason in particular and they were Batroc the Leaper and -- Killer Croc!

Killer Croc has the distinction of being one of the most physical and far-out villains in Batman's core rogues gallery, as well as having one of the silliest sounding names. I'm rating him somewhere in the vicinity of Killer Moth and Ratcatcher, not quite in the leagues of the dread Crazy-Quilt.

Physically Killer Croc represents one of the strongest brute forces the Batman regularly comes into conflict with. His strength levels have ranged everywhere from competent bruiser, to hulking super-human, sometimes influenced by further mutation brought on by the intervention of others, such as Hush.

Ultimately Batman makes fairly light work of Killer Croc.
His martial arts expertise and superior speed and agility usually give him the necessary edge to out maneuver Killer Croc long enough to put him down with finesse and skill unfamiliar to the crocodilian brute.

The key to victory for Killer Croc is simple: Find someone more motivated to get to Batman, and occupy the strong-man part of a more complex and strategic plan than Croc could ever hope for. In the absence of a mastermind, it's down to surprise and trying to overwhelm the Dark Knight with pure strength.

The Math: Batman (Meta Class)
The Pick: Batman

What went down...
Taking in a pole show at the local club, Killer Croc catches the mutual eye of a perform that suggests they get a private room in the interests of her securing the guarantee of the wad of cash in his grubby mitts.

Agreeing, Croc doesn't resist being strapped to his chair with leather cuffs, taking it in as part of the show, oblivious to the two squinted eyes that gleam out of the darkness into the mirrored walls. "Beat it", the eyes order.

Batman steps into the dimly lit room and looms over the restrained Croc.
"Hmm. Not what I was expectin', but what the hell... Take it off."

The Batman pays Croc's hilarious quip tribute with an unrestrained slap to the chops that makes a mess of the impressive row of chompers the crook is sporting. He coughs up blood, and gets mad.

All Croc's jumping and snarling earns him is a pole-swinging kick to the gut. Still strapped to the chair, Croc falls back into the mirrored walls of the private room. He dares Batman to remove the restraints for a "fair" fight.

Batman turns down his request and moves to interrogation.
When Croc isn't receptive, he asks if he has a lawyer. Croc tells him he has one on retainer. Bats retorts with fist clenched - "Your dentist, too?"

Batman asks again and this time he gets the answers he seeks. Croc doesn't know where the man he's looking for, Angel Lupo, is, but he has enough info to point him in the right direction: Little Tokyo, as it were. As croc pulls a broken tooth from his bloodied mouth, the Batman leaves to follow the lead. It need not escelate this time.

The hammer...
The winner of this bout and still DC champ, Batman!

Some people like to say Batman cheats, but as he mentions during this fight where Killer Croc is restrained, he doesn't really. He plays by the rules, and it's that fact that really solidifies one of the most distinct and enjoyable things about the "grim and gritty" Batman.

Bruce Wayne's super "powers" are his cunning, guile, determination and wealth. By most of our standards those are pretty fantastic powers, but in the world of superheroes he remains but a man, and he elevates himself by bending his morals in ways the other heroes do not.

Villains hold an inherent advantage over the hero because they're willing to go to far more extreme lengths to achieve their goals. Batman draws the line at lethal force, maintaining his heroic core, but still willingly meets the villains on their own terms, and in terms of getting results that has almost made him one of the most admirable and maybe relatable heroes in comics.

For quite some time now I've been itching to talk about these comics on the site, because as peculiar a declaration as it may be, Broken City might just be one of my all-time favourite Batman stories ever! Ever, as opposed to all the other periods left out by "all-time"...

It's my birthday tomorrow and I'm feeling vaguely nostalgic, so let's take a timewarp for the unintiated: It's 2003, and it's a pretty good time for Batman!

In 2003 Detective Comics is at it's most recent best, and Jim Lee has been seduced back to comics for a year-long storyarc by the man behind similarly lengthed successes like The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. I, of course, refer to Jeph Loeb, and the Batman storyarc -- Hush.

Love or hate Hush, the star power involved in it's creation and the mystery faced by Batman ensured DC had a much-needed number one seller on their hands. About the only question bigger than "Who is Hush?" was regarding the next step in the Batman flagship title's future.

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso are the creative team behind the Vertigo title, 100 Bullets, and suffice to say that while they may not be Lee & Loeb, they had their own unique buzz as the next named creative team on Batman.

Unfortunately for some, the shock to the system was harsh and unexpected.
I was among the number taken aback by the approach seen in the follow-up to Hush. This was far from the tights and capes that traditionally garner the pages of the Batman title. Almost ironically, as a reader enjoying the urban greys of Detective Comics, I was immediately a little put off by the bright, flashy colour palette of Broken City.

This is a story that actually probably would've felt much more at home in Detective. As a subtle, but heavy urban drama, it slid much better into the Detective model of Batman stories, than the larger-than-life superheroics typical of the title it featured in.

When you get past the pinks and oranges, and the fact that Batman often appears brighter than some backgrounds, you start to realise that this a far darker tale than it appears. When you read beyond the Batman's smile, you realise the undertones are much more adult and sinister than you'd expect.

I don't know if I could boil down the facets that makes this one of my favourite Batman stories. Visually it's powerful and distinct, and thematically it intelligentlly deals with the on-going working parts of Gotham's underbelly, while paying careful attention to the finely crafted storyarc of Angel Lupo.

There are definite cues from Frank Miller's work on the title, but as heavy handed as some of those are, they're well balanced by the fact that this story very much stands on it's own. It is tangentially respectful, as opposed to being derivative of Miller's work, unlike something along the lines of Bendis' Daredevil.

As I said, it's surprisingly adult. The violence is complimented with a volley of entendres and double-speak that would likely go over the heads of children who might have read Hush, but probably shouldn't be in their hands just to be safe.

It does suffer the almost obligatory inclusion of Batman's origin, but to it's credit it, the inclusion is interesting, and vaguely unique. It's also to be argued that as a creature of obssession and motivation, it's perfectly reasonable to see the origin as often as we do, but I'm starting to spin arguments above and beyond.

A great story that I hope to revist some time in the future!

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 7

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