Monday, April 22, 2019

BATMAN #240 & #242

Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Editing: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga ramps up considerably in these latest installments from Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick. In our first tale, Batman is called by Commissioner Gordon to investigate the grisly murder of a scientist named Mason Sterling, who was found with his brain removed. The Caped Crusder's investigation brings him into contact with Talia, working on behalf of her father -- but when Talia "accidentally" erases the memory of Batman's only informant, he follows her to Ra's al Ghul's yacht to find Sterling's brain kept alive on life support as al Ghul interrogates it. Al Ghul and Talia escape, and the disembodied brain tricks Batman into killing it with a push of a button since it can't bear to continue living as it is.

This story, which on its surface feels like another one-off Batman vs. Ra's adventure, turns out to have more going for it by the final couple pages. It's here that Batman first witnesses the depths of al Ghul's depravity and madness. Our next story, printed three months later, picks up on that thread and begins the final act of O'Neil's Ra's al Ghul saga.

For the timeline inclined out there, it's a little over a year now since O'Neil introduced the League of Assassins in DETECTIVE COMICS 405 and 406, the November and December issues from 1970. Six months later, O'Neil debuted the mysterious Talia in May 1971's DETECTIVE 411, and Ra's al Ghul himself appeared the month after that in BATMAN 232 from June of that same year. Batman and Talia teamed up in September's BATMAN 235. Then Ra's and his daughter took another six months off until March of 1972 and "Vengeance for a Dead Man!"

Which brings us to June of 1972, another three months later, and what "Bruce Wayne--Rest in Peace!" describes in its final panel as "the beginning of the end." O'Neil is pulling out all the stops with this one, engaging Batman in a degree of serialization we haven't yet seen in these 1970s stories. Beginning here, the al Ghul saga will proceed on a monthly basis for four straight installments of continuing stories -- a move so unusual that an editorial note on the story's first page tells readers that the next few months' worth of tales all take place after the currently running adventures in DETECTIVE COMICS, THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, and other comics featuring Batman!

"In this place, there is a special silence... a waiting reverent silence, as though the cracked walls and hard concrete floor and marble slabs revere and mourn... for this is the Gotham City Morgue, at midnight!

Such is the brooding quiet that the whispered words of Police Commissioner Gordon and the Batman reverberate and echo, defiling the stillness --- a stillness which paradoxically cries out for... vengeance for a dead man!

The story opens with the newspaper announcement that Bruce Wayne has died in a plane accident. We learn that Batman staged the death in order to operate in secret against Ra's al Ghul. Following the events of "Vengeance for a Dead Man!", the Darknight Detective has decided Ra's is too dangerous to remain at large any longer and must be brought down. The entire story is concerned with Batman gathering a team to lead against Ra's. First he approaches a mobster named Matches Malone, then a Doctor Harris Blaine. Eventually a member of the League of Assassins tries to kill Batman, but the Caped Crusader saves his life, and thus Lo Ling is indebted to our hero and joins his cause as well. With his team assembled, Batman begins plotting his next move.

There's a mini-mystery weaved into the story along the way, as Malone pulls a gun on Batman when they first meet, a shot rings out, and a chef cries, "He's dead!" Yet later, both Batman and Malone appear in the same scene. Considering Matches Malone has been a well-known alter ego of Batman's for decades now, it's probably not a surprise that Malone wound up killing himself, so Batman has taken up his identity to further his agenda -- which is kind of a creepy thing for him to do, when you stop to think about it. It's sort of a hint of the modern day psychotic version of the character!

Anyway, the story does a nice job of building toward something, considering there's no real villain to be found. It's just a series of vignettes following Batman as he assembles his Impossible Missions Force, and the only glimpse of Ra's al Ghul is via a projector slide. Yet somehow, thanks to O'Neil's top-notch script and Novick's great artwork, this really does feel like the start of something big.

It also should be noted that, like the first two League of Assassins stories in DETECTIVE 405 and 406, this issue is inexplicably absent from all printings (to my knowledge) of BATMAN: TALES OF THE DEMON! And, while I noted in my review of those two prior issues that perhaps their omission isn't an unforgivable crime (though it is unfortunate), keeping this story out of TALES is absurd. As stated above, it's the opening part of a four-chapter arc (though the fourth installment is also absent from TALES, which isn't quite as offensive -- we'll discuss that when we get there). Without this installment, TALES goes from "Vengeance for a Dead Man!" to "The Lazarus Pit", a story that begins with Batman in the Matches Malone guise, hanging out with Blaine and Ling out of nowhere.

But we're not here to discuss the many and repeated failings of DC's collected editions department. Suffice it to say that, with a year-plus of build-up in the rear-view mirror, it's time for the dramatic conclusion of Denny O'Neil's Ra's al Ghul storyline -- next week!


  1. I most definitely enjoyed your review on issues 240 and 242 of "Batman."


  2. #240: I don’t like Batman getting blinded by that cigar box and then getting conked from behind. At least he wasn’t fooled by Talia’s supposed mix-up. Her ‘oops… wrong serum and, ha ha ha, this one ensures he won’t talk again’ is terribly unconvincing, maybe because O’Neil wanted readers to catch on in the moment.

    While #241 isn’t part of your series, FYI & FWIW its cover has a fairly iconic shot penciled by Adams and inked by Bernie Wrightson.

    #242: I really thought Batman assembling his team of civilians with special skills was cool when first reading this in that old tabloid reprint collection. The fact that their involvement doesn’t really amount to much didn’t cross my mind until later. I never had a copy of the trade paperback you mention but it’s definitely weird this issue was left out.

    1. Yeah, I suspect O'Neil intended Talia's act to be apparent to readers. At least, I hope so! It's too transparent not to be intentional.

      I don't deny Batman assembling his IMF is cool -- I just wish they contributed a bit more to the mission!