Friday, February 22, 2008

... And Red All Over. (DC)
Detective Comics #796 When: September 2004 Why: Andersen Gabrych How: Pete Woods

The Story so far...
When Jack Drake discovers his sons secret identity as Robin; the boy wonder is forced to reluctantly retire the mantle in order to prevent his father exposing all involved with Batman's troupe of crime-fighters.

Stepping into the void is Robin's on-again/off-again girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, who is better known to the Gotham underworld as the vigilante, Spoiler.
In the tradition of the industrious Tim Drake; Spoiler dons a makeshift Robin costume and infiltrates the stronhold of the Batcave, successfully compelling Bruce Wayne to accept her as his newest sidekick.

So begins the ill-fated career of the fourth Robin, and first girl wonder!
Stephanie is included in Batman's patrol routes, but as he will soon find, the new Robin bares some striking resemblences to a former ward. A solo career has bred a stubborn Stephanie Brown, and as Batman will soon come to realise, her inexperience may prove deadly...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Brian BollandARTWORK: ???Strength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Zsasz 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Robin 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- After the death of his parents; wealthy industrialist, Victor Zsasz, finds himself in a downward spiral of depression and gambling. Gradually he whittles away at inhereted and self-made fortunes in casinos around the globe, eventually finding himself quite literally on the brink of suicide after taking heavy losses in a casino showdown with Oswald Cobblepot in Gotham City.

Accosted on a bridge by a knife wielding homeless man, Zsasz is wrenched from his despair by a realisation that no man truly lives life in a world that no longer matters. He turns the tables on the vagrant, killing him with his own knife as a gift of liberation. It is the first in his self-mutiliating tally, and the beginning of Zsasz' life as a serial killer intent on 'freeing' people from self-made prisons.

- When the costumed criminal Cluemaster is released from his most recent stay in incarcertain, his daughter, Stephanie Brown, is soon disappointed to learn her father's claims of rehabilitation have been a fallacy. In truth, the Cluemaster merely overcame a prediliction for leaving clues, and resumes his criminal career without reprieve, or so he thinks.

Disappointed by her father's actions, Stephanie becomes the ultimate foil to the Cluemaster, replacing his obsession with her own mission to become the ultimate Spoiler. Her career begins leaving clues to lead to her father's capture, but soon continues after her first mission saw a team-up with Bat-sidekick, Robin, with whom Stephanie came to develop a personal relationship.

- When he witnessed the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world. He is also extremely proficient in general urban warfare.

The Math: Batman/Robin Ranking: Batman (#2)

What Went Down...
Routine patrol becomes a murder investigation when Batman is fed GCPD intel gathered by Oracle, his stationary technical ally. Batman's fears become self-evident when a lesson in detective work uncovers a second blood sample outside the train car murder scene. An on the spot DNA analysis matches the sample against known criminals, leading the dynamic duo to Victor Zsasz, a murderer whose serial killings defy conventional pattern.

Having already relented to allow his new sidekick a presence during his investigation, Batman orders Stephanie Brown to retreat when they discover Zsasz is not only maintaining a presence at the scene, but likely watching them.
Robin's retreat is interrupted when Zsasz snatches her, unseen by Batman, who uncharacteristically falls for audible misdirection.

Dragged to a candlelit service room deep within the labyrinth of subway tunnels; the girl wonder gains a new appreciation for the aggitating combination of an aluminum/fibreglass weave in her specialized costume. It protects her from Zsasz' blade as he attempts to slit her throat, allowing a vital opportunity.

With her life in danger, Robin foregos grace, instead biting at the hand smothering her mouth. The young crime-fighter defiantly spits Zsasz' own blood in his face, but suffers a lightning quick backhand for her troubles.

The blow sends her falling backward, and with a burst of dust Robin collides with a nearby wall, only to be knocked unconscious and at the mercy of the killer.

Zsasz' satisfcation is his undoing as Batman emerges from the gloom, tackling the knifeman in order to prevent yet another killing blow. The two nemesis' tumble to the ground, but it's Zsasz who recovers first, nailing Batman with an elbow that sprays blood from his mouth.

The Dark Knight is slow to recover, but he turns Zsasz' own momentum against him with a kick that prevents the villains' attempts to recover his blade.

The punt gives Zsasz a moments pause as he doubles over on all fours, likely suffering at the very least, a broken rib or two. The killer's infamous focus, fixated on the young Robin, suddenly shifts, redirecting toward the Dark Knight.

Zsasz is on his feet in a split-second, and despite the Batman's best effort to curb his attack, Zsasz connects with a wild clash at Batman's face. The move leaves thin scratch marks on the exposed part of Bruce Wayne's face, but also leaves Zsasz open to a retaliatory kidney punch.

Zsasz appears unaffected, retaliating with his own rapidfire exchange of a flexible back kick, followed with a stiff left, that again leaves an airborne trail of Batman's blood.

Batman responds with his own combo to enter the fight, but Zsasz easily evades the leading right, and blocks with a trap. Showing incredible speed and a savant-like penchant for fighting, Zsasz embarasses Batman, using the trap to dislocate the soulder with a focused uppercut.

With a broken wing and a tonne of pressure, thoughts of lethal one-armed attacks creep into the Batman's inner monologues. Suffering a stiff right, Batman maintains a focus to stop Zsasz without stooping to his level. He can do it, too.

Batman makes a play, using his good arm to catch Zsasz and pull him in for a devestating headbutt. The blow breaks the killer's nose, and is probably complimented by the under structure of the Batman's cowl.

Zsasz recoils, but his reaction is joyous provocation, with no sign of grimace.
He lunges at Batman with a straight shot, pounding his fist into Batman's chest with enough force to push the fight to the ground. There, at mat level, he wraps his hands around Batman's throat, slamming his head into the ground while doing his best to choke the life out of him.

Batman begins to fade, making pathetic attempts to free the killer's grip with his one good hand. Even as he feels himself losing the fight, Batman thinks only of protecting Stephanie Brown...

... It seems, however, that Batman has underestimated his new protégé.
A black leather glove reaches over Zsasz' head, snatching at his broken nose. The move finally forces the madman to acknowledge his pain as his body curls away from the Batman, who gasps for breath.

Robin snaps back at the nose, and leaps over her assailant with the acrobatic intentions of retrieving the stray knife. She challenges Zsasz to take it from her, but just as he motions to do so, a rising Batman ends his charge with a tap to the neck -- the pressure point blow drops Zsasz like a sack of potatoes.

Batman pops his shoulder back into place to avoid complications of swelling.
When Robin comes to his aid, she comes face-to-face with the stern paternity that comes with the role of girl wonder. Her actions have been met with disapproval, and the beginning of the end for Stephanie Brown has begun.

ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessThe Hammer...
This was to have been the first entry of another packed February week, but as it would happen, I'm finishing this Monday post Sunday after bumping it back to the standard Friday Fight Night (not to be confused with the meme we unfortunately missed this week, Friday Night Fights).
To those few regular readers, apologies and thanks for your patience in the delivery of this, a victory for Batman and Robin!

There are a lot of issues surrounding this issue, not the least being the on-going debate of Stephanie Brown's right to a memorial case in the Bat-cave. It was the events of a recent issue of Batman, detailing a near-death series of hallucinations penned by Grant Morrison, that initially prompted me to dive into the longboxes to find a previous adventure. While writing the summary, however, I was somewhat ambushed by another pressing matter concerning, of all things, violence in comic books.

Not too long ago a controversial debate broke out concerning the treatment of the Marvel heroine, Tigra, who in the pages of New Avengers, was brutalized by the villain-on-the-rise, The Hood. One need only look to the comments section of our own take on that particular issue to see some points raised concerning violence in mainstream comics, and whether or not there are implications to placing this kind of scene in comics potentially in the young readers domain.

This issue of Detective, I would probably have to say, marks one of the most violent scenes I've reviewed in two years of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.
Unlike the Tigra issue of New Avengers, Detective bares no recommendations of an age cap, and features the far wider recognised branding of Batman. Issues like this are anything but uncommon, yet, one has to feel you don't really hear much about these kinds of comics, even from the people objecting on a base level to Tigra's manhandling.

I don't think anyone has accused the feminist movement in comics of being particularly mindful of gender equality, but I suppose that's inevitable of any movement motivated by a singular cause. Remarks about men's recoil from feminist brow beating starts to take some weight when you think about the potential effect these arguments have on the creative process. A process potentially hindered when it comes to extreme violence against female characters, and the more intrusive points raised than the gender opposite.

A popular theme for adding weight to the negative response to Tigra's beating was the subtext of a sexual assault. If one really wanted to look hard enough, you could find the same sort of subtext in this very fight, particularly a homoerotic exchange as Zsasz leans over the floored body of Batman, with the specifics of their bodies obscured, and retorts "Oh, yes," with a smirk as Batman squeezes out a "no" from his collapsing larynx.

I don't personally regard either scene as including sexual subtexts as a motivated part of the fight, but for those that do, I question the merits of these arguments for their one-sided relevance. The issue completes the gender reversal as Stephanie Brown comes to Batman's rescue, and if you happen to have specific hang-ups about agism, this makes for a double-reversal of standards, refuting the infamous tradition of 'the boy hostage,' but I digress [into silliness].

I particularly enjoy this issue.
If you're an avid Infinite Wars reader, you'll have seen vague references to a great period of Detective Comics, and this issue immediately preceeds the end of the dream run. I proudly include this issue, complete with Stephanie Brown, as one of those fantastic issues. For my tastes in Batman, it has everything!

Contributing greatly to the severity of the violence is the artwork.
It became evident recently that I typically overlook artwork when discussing and reviewing comics, but this has to be acknowledged. Pete Wood's pencils are just a little inconsistent in this issue, but vaguely mirror the contributions of other artists that maintain clean, simple lines, but include more photo-realistic detail than comaprable 'animated series' style artists. Wood's work, in some panels, veers a little more over-the-top, occasionally undermining the seriousness of the tone, but that's a minor quarrel.

Colourist, Jason Wright, and inker, Nathan Massengill, are vital to the presentation. Without rummaging through my back issues, I can't say how long they were involved with Detective, but their work bares similarity to all the great artists that contibuted to this stellar period in the title.

It's the balance between realism and fiction that slathers pages with a grey classic to my vision of Gotham, and blacks that make up the uncompromising shadow of this city of corruption. It's these that supply literally, and figuratively, the tone of a Gotham city that is mature and jaded, evoking a 'musk' that I've previously attributed to it's citizens [such as Martian Manhunter].

I found myself really enjoying the visual presentation of 'Zsasz vision,' which not only paints a muted image of the scene, but depicts Zsasz' view of the world by highlighting his chosen victims with bursts of painted colour. These qualities all go lengths to typify what I desire from the title that specifically distanced itself from the other Bat-books, doing so with a mature and urban driven asthetic. In particular contrast, these issues, to the superhero adventures of Batman, such as the more colourful villain-driven arc, Hush.

Though important to the violence of this particular issue, this all gets away from the subject matter of equality, and whether or not we need to be concerned.
Part of me really wants to say there isn't an issue here. I look back to similar issues I read as a younger child, and recognise that though they were scary, they were depicted with a very vivid message of 'good versus evil.' As someone liberally minded, but fairly staunch in basic morals, I feel these kinds of tales were vital to instilling that uncompromising sense of right and wrong.

On the basis of it's ratings, Marvel recommends the Tigra issue for readers no younger than nine. If that benchmark was ever debatable, I think it's become less so in a modern age when children are becoming more savvy, and are introduced to a lot of these crimes through headlines and reports that make vague allusions. To the latter, I almost think it's beneficial that these comics use the violence to explain and denounce it, but as should always be the case, discretion and judgment needs to be exercised on an individual basis.

Given the strength of personal opinion, it can be difficult to seperate the lines between protecting young readers, and fostering a creative environment that might otherwise be compromised by excessively sensitive readers.
I certainly wouldn't want to stop this kind of comic. I enjoy it, and building on the fundamental basis of Batman as a force against crime, I think this severity only enhances the purpose of this character. Batman needs this kind of reality to explicitly describe what it is that he's opposing, and as I've said in the past, I think it would be crass and naive to attempt to deny the existence of certain crimes, just because they are repulsive.

Death is a big part of maintaining the threat of this world, and while I could probably dwell on points concerning violence and the lax arguments and opinions of other sources, I might just use that as a segue to move to the final subject.

As is evident here, I can be pretty critical of the feminist argument in comics.
I suppose you could say I have the luxury of being under the radar, because despite having hundreds of folks passing through every day, I'm very rarely called to task on anything. With that in mind, I try to remain self-aware, and it's a point like the contested Stephanie Brown subject that helps me feel comfortable with the thought that I am presenting a well considered point of view.

It's a subject that's been floating around the feminist blogs for a long time, and for many, the appearance of such a tribute, in future echoes and hallucinations in Grant Morrison's Batman #673, have been cause for personal triumph.
As much as I want to barrel down on the same side as the feminists, I have to pause to express empathy, and draw some creative deductions, because on the whole, there's a subtext to the issue that's far broader than feminism.

Stephanie Brown should have a memorial.
There really aren't any two ways about it, and I want to make that clear.
To the best of my knowledge there's never been any printed requisite for earning such a case. In fact, a fond memory of Tim Drake's rise to the mantle were scenes featuring not only the memorial to the deceased Robin, but also a case containing the abandoned suit of the very much alive, Dick Grayson.

In keeping with this very period of Detective Comics, of which I'm very fond, we have to note a particular creative shift. As Batman darkened and became more serious over the past twenty years, the mythology of the character was reshaped and whittled to increasing degree. Popular oversized Batcave stalwarts like the penny, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Joker card were all moved off the page, along with a great many other trinkets, often including the Grayson suit case.

As Batman became a more modern and minimalized exercise, the Batcave was one of the most effected elements of the fantastic, and that has continued to be the case. Where brightly coloured mementos once stood, there continues to be only darkness, storage space, and design utilitarian in design both on, and off, the page. No room is afforded for any memorial not baring specific resonance to the stories and emotional journeys of the Dark Knight -- something carried from character driven pathos, through to the unlikely return of a corrupted Jason Todd.

As someone very fond of this creative logic, complete with it's narrow sighted flaws, I can't totally begrudge DC editorial for the lack of Stephanie Brown memorabilia. That said, of all the trinkets in the Batcave, the costume cases seem like the most likely to exist, even if pushed to a side room as some stories have shown them. With that in mind, there seem to be very few logical arguments to deny Stephanie Brown such a case.

Short-lived and disastrous as Brown's career as Robin was, one might consider that her trials only make for a stronger case of inclusion. The Batman's penchant for responsibility has often been described as the motivation for the omnipresence of the Todd memorial, and it's place as a reminder of Batman's greatest failure. Even if Todd had remained dead, there's no way Batman's character would obsolve himself of responsibility for Brown's death, no matter how self-orchestrated it may have been.

War Games, in my opinion, was the immediate destruction of Detective Comics. It was at that point I stopped buying the title, and feel it never fully recovered from that intrusion, never the less, I feel I remain uncompromised on the subject of Stephanie Brown. Her career as Robin was unimpressive, but it was, and should therefore be acknowledged. Batman does not make omissions or exceptions, it simply isn't in his nature. A memorial case is just logical.

The Fight: 7 The Issue: 6

Carrie Kelly fan? Missed out on Stephanie Brown's tenure as Robin, and want to catch-up? This issue, along with many other precursors to the War Games crossover, are collected in a convenient DC tradepaper back! By using Amazon purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths -- so go forth, and purchase! While I sleep!

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