PREVIOUSLY: Batman was busy brooding his way through a steak out, and was joined by Nightwing, aka Dick Grayson the first Robin, who rightly thought that his best friend could use some emotional caregiving. Meanwhile the current criminal kingpin in Gotham has a thorn in his side in the form of the mysterious Red Hood, who has been interfering with his operation. To combat this nuisance, Black Mask has taken on the services of unstable Arkham frequent flyer, Mister Freeze. Batman and Nightwing's mission takes them to Gotham Harbor where Black Mask's men are expecting a pretty large delivery. The freighter delivering it blows up and our heroes spot the incendiary, Red Hood, who leads them deftly on a chase across the rooftops of Gotham until they find themselves inside a warehouse. There, they are confronted with Black Mask's absconded delivery: A.M.A.Z.O., a homicidal android with the powers of seven members of the Justice League.
Which brings us to the top of this issue. This issue's cover rectifies all my complaints with issue #636. The image depicted actually reflects what happens in the issue. Again, the proportions are off, however this time it is quite clearly an intentional choice to emphasize the physical threat posed by our issue's obstacle. The obvious nature of playing with the proportions creates a heightened realism that both plays into the fantastic nature of DC superhero comics but contrasts with the pulpy realism of a Batman detective story. Overall, this cover feels incredibly dynamic and quite possibly the best so far in this run of Batman.
We open with a preamble in villain HQ. We won't see much of Black Mask this issue, but he basically book-ends this chapter in the story. In this overall story arc, he'll prove to be our tritagonist. However, in the first leg of the story, there really isn't all that much room for him since it is devoted to really showcasing how Red Hood is three steps ahead of everybody. And while it is admirable to attempt to keep all your important characters threaded throughout the entire narrative it is a bit of a problem that this first scene with him is a slight variation of what we saw in his appearance last issue. In case you didn't read that particular installment, it basically fell into the category of "wacky hijinks." Except this time the same basic bullet points are hit with Black Mask's latest hire in the room with him instead of down the hall.
Black Mask is sitting across a desk from Mister Freeze, flanked by his superego with a pulse, David Li some nameless craggy-faced mafioso. Spoilers: do not get attached. This scene really reads as an human resources or employee rights compliance manager's worst nightmare. Mask is playing it as cool as a cucumber, trying to play the role of the understanding authority figure in the hopes of keeping a modicum of control over Freeze, but Victor is clearly not on the same wave length. He's that guy who has read the manual inside and out, wants to do his job, and is pretty intolerant of the bullshit of workplace pleasantries.
This "Mr. Nice Boss" attitude adopts really rings true, not only to the readers who recently saw him essentially torture one of the Bat-Family nearly to the brink of death, but also to Freeze who really doesn't like being talked down to and has already gone through at least two of Black Mask's tech guys while they were constructing his cryo-suit because of perceived slights.
|I think, "ghaaaah!!!!" sums up my reaction nicely.|
For his efforts, he is promptly and surprisingly unexpectedly turned into a mobcicle, courtesy of Freeze's brand spanking new mafia-issue cryo-gun. Because Freeze is a True Neutral gamer who gives absolutely 0 fucks (or 32 fuck Fahrenheit).
Now, as horrifying a way to go as being frozen to death in the span of a heartbeat, the art takes it one step further by lingering on this sight of our brand new human ice sculpture long enough for the guy's face to crack into a dozen pieces and fall to the ground. I'm not sure if it's come up in the blog thus far, but I really don't do well with body horror. It makes me squirm in my seat and makes me eagerly wish to be elsewhere.
So, as much as these Black Mask/Mister Freeze scenes feel like a big, blinking arrow pointed at the back burner of your stove, it does a neat little bit of character work establishing our villains' different temperaments and objectives.
Speaking of objectives. now that the sense of symmetry behind Black Mask's has been ruined, Li finally remembers to mention why he's in this scene. Apparently, Amazon's tracking number never confirmed the delivery on that giant killer robot-sized package they ordered, and I suppose opening a live chat to request a re-delivery still was a pain in the neck way back in 2005. Well, good thing they just acquired the services of an unfeeling, unstable, easily instigated cryomancer...
The bulk of the remainder of the issue depicts Batman and Nightwing's struggle against Amazo. I'm going to forego a play by play of the fight, because it really defeats the purpose of a visual medium. Instead, I am aching to talk about what this kind of fight scene represents.
The first thing that becomes apparent when reading these pages is that instead of the sticking with Batman's internal monologue, as it was last issue, this time we are in Nightwing's head. Were this an ensemble title, switching between the various POV's of our characters would feel absolutely normal, but this feels like an odd choice to be proverbially guided through a solo title by someone other than the eponymous hero.
Still, reading the two issues back-to-back, there is a sense that Batman and Nightwing's internal monologue's complement each other. Last issue expressed a melancholy nostalgia, longing for the simpler days back when Dick was Robin and his constant companion. In contrast, Nightwing's narration implies both a sense of unceasing wonder at as well as a keen understanding of Batman. Nightwing has forged his own path and become quite a different hero and leader than Bruce, but his internal monologue all but states that he grew into the man he is today because even under Batman's fairly rigid supervision, he did allow space for him to be his own person.
In fact, I think Batman has lasted as long as he has because of it. If Batman hadn't allowed for Dick-as-Robin to be a buoyant quipster took the edge off Batman, allowed him to appear more as the more disciplined adult to Dick's boisterous child instead of the very alienating Batman who lives on a steady diet of brooding, tactics, and a thirst for justice. Batman molded Robin/Nightwing into one of the most socially/emotionally connected heroes in the DCU simply by allowing for Dick's personality to shine through, while Robin/Nightwing tempered Batman into the more... "friendly" isn't the right word, um... cooperative and morally accountable man who would end up not only the crux of his own local network of crime fighters, but also the master strategist of various iterations of the Justice League. Even in modern stories, when they team up together in the hands of a good writer, they still mostly only ever seem to bolster each other's strengths, and rarely ever diminish one another.
|Batman's a badass, lest we forget...|
It's kind of like watching the X-Men rip a sentinel to shreds. It's a great way to demonstrate how utterly effective combatants our heroes can be while side-stepping the general taboo against heroes killing. And yes, Batman is that good. He throws a bunch of flash-bang grenades right in Amazo's face just so that he'll be too distracted to notice the exploding batarang Batman lodged in his leg. Which detonates and destroying all but the cybernetic framework of his leg.
|Admit it, you feel ill just looking at that.|
Of course being a R.O.D.O.K. [Robotic Obstruction Designed Only For Killing], all this does is slow him down. That's when it comes time for Batman to call in the the big gun. That's actually an odd yet apt word choice because Batman famously doesn't fight with guns. With the tap of a key fob, the Batmobile hones in on their location and reaches their destination. I'm sure it's using the same technology that UBER is beta testing. Now, of all the numerous toys built into the Batmobile, you'd think there would be EMP guns (actually according to the wiki, there's one of those on the utility belt, but I guess they needed the fight to last the length of the issue), flame throwers, or some other specific weapon designed specifically to target artificial threats (I imagine he has to take out a lot of gun turrets). Instead, do you want to know what we get? A torpedo bay mounted with four torpedoes pops out from the roof of the Batmobile. I told you he was bringing out the big guns. Torpedoes: they're the difference between a smart car and the ultimate BFG.
|KIT never seemed the same after joining the NRA.|
And yes, it's excessive, but boy is it satisfying for Batman to actually have a good time instead of standing around moping like he'd been doing in the first two issues of this story. We don't see the body, but he doesn't come back up for another round, which usually means in ongoing editorially driven narratives that he'll be back... eventually. But for now though, they have the ultimate question of who was that delivery, including a large cache of super villain weapons and a killer robot, meant for.
However, I can't help but view this less as a battle against a villain than as an obstacle du jour to be overcome. Amazo basically comes across as simply being the wind up murder toy this issue needs to occupy its heroes for the length of the issue. He doesn't have any clear objective other than, "destroy, destroy!" I'm not saying that a arch villain shouldn't utilize catspaws and underlings to carry out their aims, but Amazo is such a tabula rasa within the context of the story who doesn't even seem like he was a deliberate choice, but just an all purpose bad guy who popped out of the random villain generator. Our heroes could have been hitting a weeble for 22 pages, for all the impact Amazo has on the narrative.
Elsewhere, Black Mask is on the line with his supplier, presumably trying to get a refund or replacement for his order. However, the Amazon Customer Service Rep is being less than helpful. Granted, it's hard to justify re-crediting a buyer when the merchandise in questions has been stolen and/or destroyed, but it isn't as though Black Mask was culpable. Surely they had the tracking number, undoubtedly. They should know that he is not liable for the loss.
|Supply and demand's a bitch, ain't it?|
As I stated earlier, this isn't exactly a plot intensive installment in the story. If you pick up this issue hoping for heavy character work or a story that keeps you guessing, this isn't going to satisfy you. However, if you were looking for an issue that is a one big, fun extended fight scene that shows off just why Batman is a force to be reckoned with, this is exactly what you've been looking for.
Next week, we'll be checking in with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur again. It's getting really hairy in that book. Thanks in no small part to the number of cave men in the story.