Friday, July 11, 2008

Dead Reckoning: Part Five (DC)
Detective Comics #781 When: June 2003
Why: Ed Brubaker How: Tommy Castillo

The Story So Far...
When a mysterious gunman makes an attempt on the life of retired police commissioner, Jim Gordon; it begins a race to unveil the identity of a killer who carries a Two-Face style coin marred on both sides, and a grudge against Gotham's heroes and villains.

When Penguin narrowly avoids a hanging death; Batman becomes involved in uncovering the legacy of a secret plot hatched by those deep within the fraternity of his oldest foes. A plot that inadvertently inducted an innocent citizen, Paul Sloan, into a new generation of criminally insane villains in Gotham City.

With the truth finally revealed, the last piece of Batman's puzzle lies with his greatest opponent! Travelling to Antarctica, Batman attempts to protect the life of the Joker, whilst learning the final chapter in the birth of Charlatan.

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessARTWORK: Doug MahnkeStrength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- After witnessing 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.

- It has been claimed that he was the victim of one very bad day, which ended with a fall into a vat of chemicals that bleached his skin, dyed his hair, and twisted his face into a permanent grin. The truth of his name and origins remain unknown, but as the Joker, he is one of the most feared killers in Gotham City.

Joker is known to have an aptitude for creating and working with toxins and other chemicals, favouring trademark concoctions that induce uncontrolled laughter, facial distortion, and often, death. Joker is also a proficient strategist, who is said to regularly reinvent his identity as a part of his vendetta against Batman.
The Joker, though not a skilled fighter, is shown to have an inhuman capacity for pain tolerance and recovery.

Additional: While Batman has one of the most impressive lists of nemesis, few characters reach the status of Joker as his arch-villain. Joker's rivalry with Batman has arguably produced the definitive vision of the classic comic book supervillain, defined by; false deaths, personal attacks (deaths), trap and baits, and a continuing relationship unlikely to be resolved.

Their familiarity is built on what must be one of the most visited confrontations in the genre. Despite this, only the atmospheric prose issue of Grant Morrison's Batman has been recorded in the Infinite Wars [Batman #663]. This will be built upon during the month of July, coninciding with the release of The Dark Knight.

History: Batman (1-0-0)
Math: Batman Ranking: Batman (#2)

What Went Down...
In the bilstering cold of the antarctic storm; Batman begins his interrogation of the Joker, lured into a confrontation with the clown prince of crime. He offers Batman the full story behind the mysterious Charlatan, in exchange for a fighting chance freed from his shackles. Batman has complied before Joker even knows it, removing his shackles after tackling him to the ground.

Joker reaches for a dumbell, whilst recounting the circumstances of actor Paul Sloan's recruitment into a plan to deceive Batman with a fake Harvey Dent.
Batman sidesteps Joker's attempt to use the weight as a weapon, using his momentum to vault the clown prince effortlessly through the air.

The villain continues his tale, revealing Sloan's zealous dedication to recreating the Two-Face persona, whilst also perusing larger weights in the frozen gym. He attacks once more, this time with a much larger weight, which Batman uses to pin Joker's throat with, giving him a moment to reflect on the past.

With the identity of a false Two-Face retroactively revealed, Batman is shocked to learn it was Joker who tipped him off to the violent heist! Joker bursts into hysterics over his sabotage of the villain team-up, revealing more of the mystery, while slipping a shiv from his sleeve.

Batman exerts little energy in again proving himself Joker's physical superior. An arm wrench makes disarming the killer easy, and a flag post provides a convenient pacifier for his murderous intent.

Finally the Joker's tale arrives at the fate of Paul Sloan, a man whose indulgance in his criminal persona garnered the attentions of the real Two-Face. Batman learns of the arduous torture Sloan suffered at Harvey Dent's hands, and the grosse mutilation that was dealt.

When Batman chastises his nemesis for involving "civilians," Joker declares the loss of such distinction, bursting into macabre laughter whilst making another lunging attack. His attempts to choke the dark knight are curbed with a characteristic speed, but this time the chalfaced killer lands on his feet!

He springs into an athletic kick, which Batman anticipates, and defends against with a driving elbow into the Joker's swinging knee. The surprisingly durable villain goes down hard, but goes down smiling. Batman takes his arm in a grapevine and asks a final question - a question that reveals Joker's true intentions to distract the dark knight from events unfolding in Gotham!

It is a brief triumph for the Joker, who quickly finds himself shackled once more.

ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessThe Hammer...
Despite playing directly into his opponent's plans, it's a fairly comprehensive victory for the Batman!

One would imagine this will be but the first of many, largely due to our focus on the Joker, whose combative relationship is not typically defined by the exchange of fists. I suppose this is somewhat topical for Infinite Wars readers, given the likelihood of an appearance by the clown prince of crime in the upcoming Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe.

The meagre fighting qualities of Batman villains has been something on my mind, as you might have seen in our previous entry, featuring Poison Ivy in battle with the more proficient, Catwoman [Batman #611]. While this certainly leads to aspertions of what is and isn't suitable for a comic book fighting game, that's not what I think this review highlights.

In passing, I've mentioned this period of Detective Comics with great fondness, and I suppose it's nice to finally put some images to the 'name.'
While this particular issue lacks the gritty hyper realism of others reviewed [ie; #796], it does highlight the key components that make Batman the thinking man's hero! Afterall, Batman is the premiere superhero detective, borne of the transition from cops and mysterymen [The Shadow, The Phantom, Dick Tracy...], to the post-Superman boom of American superhero comics!

Though not terribly complex; Dead Reckoning is a fine example of what I desire from a solid Batman story. It possess the necessary tropes of an accessible superhero story, featuring not one, but a small army of Batman's famous rogues, suitably emroiled in the mystery that is the arc of the story.
It's elements like this that appear to finally be infiltrating the mainstream depiction of the hero, as explored in the Nolan/Goyer script, The Dark Knight.

Particularly as chief antagonist in the film; the Joker's maniacal rampages arguably lend themselves to elements of the classic film thriller better than any other. Theories explored in Grant Morrison's various works endeavour to implicitly describe Joker's many different interpretations as part of a larger plot that compliments the fact that Batman is constantly a responsive foil to his crimes. This, in it's very basic structure, makes Joker the perfect cat-and-mouse antagonist of a feature thriller, and is something I think we can expect of their shifting roles in The Dark Knight.

Though probably not designed as such in his inception, Joker has become analagous to the potential madness in everyone, especially Batman.
In many ways he reflects Batman's image in a double-negative, right down to simple motiffs of: a penchant for bright colours, indulgence in more public theatrics, and of course, meticulously calculated chaos.

This is probably where you and I might deviate in our interpretation of the Joker. Like Batman, he is one of the most diversely displayed characters in popular fiction, and as such, many have their own version of an ideal Joker.

I suppose in the most general sense I have a problem with the contemporary use of words like 'random' and phrases like 'doesn't make sense.' These are vague attributes often grafted to the Joker, who, I feel, works best with a very specific core logic to any of his many operations. That's not to say there's a consistent methodology in his execution of crimes, but that the logics behind them are always there to be understood, and that the constant is the Joker himself.

I, personally, believe this to be true of the definitive Joker, and most Joker stories. I suppose it's inherent in writers to, even unwittingly, abide by a logicset that translates the language of idea, to story. Joker's story may be an ever-changing anthology, but it is, on any given day, at it's best when defined by a core set of rules, which is perhaps the irony of Joker's chaos theorum when pitted against the dark knight detective.

It is also, at least in practise, the reason Joker will always lose. If Batman's grand purpose is his dedication to the endless struggle against injustice -- Joker's is simply to be caught, and therefore constantly defined by Batman.
That, however, leads only to further discussion, and examples perhaps best left to later in the month!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 6

Fans of the animated series will appreciate Tommy Castillo's pencils and the cast of villains arranged to include Penguin, Riddler, Scarecrow, and Killer Moth! Unfortunately, it doesn't appear DC have collected the arc, so you'll have to rummage through the back issue bins to find this gem! Or, if you don't fancy the sound of hard work, why not check out one of the other Batman classics on sale in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe? Stories reviewed in the Secret Archives are arranged in the store, plus many others! Better still, by using purchase links provided, you help fund our grim and gritty war on passive exchanges! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

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