Monday, August 12, 2019

BATMAN #307 & #308

Writer: Len Wein | Artists: John Calnan & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

As mentioned a couple weeks back, from this point forward, we'll be seeing a lot of Len Wein. He wrote BATMAN for nearly two years, covering issues 307 through 327. His run begins inauspiciously, though, with "Dark Messenger of Mercy". It seems (as glimpsed briefly in Wein's framing sequence to DETECTIVE COMICS #477), someone is wandering around, murdering Gotham City's vagrants and leaving gold coins to cover their closed eyes. Batman of course gets involved, visits Commissioner Gordon, meets a homeless community living beneath Gotham, and ultimately brings the killer to justice.

Wein throws in a twist and has Batman use some legitimate detective work to solve the case, so those are a couple of pluses in this tale's favor -- but overall, it's just kind of boring. It feels like a sub-par done-in-one from the early part of the seventies; something Denny O'Neil or Frank Robbins would've produced with the help of Bob Brown or Irv Novick. In fact, the only thing that helps this issue to not feel like such a one-off is Wein's introduction of a sub-plot. Specifically, Bruce Wayne learns in the story's opening pages that reclusive billionaire Gregorian Falstaff has bought Gotham's Ambassador Hotel and moved himself into the upper floors. The Falstaff plot will sporadically carry on (and on, and on) for the entirety of Wein's run, and not even be resolved until his successor, Marv Wolfman, takes over writing chores on BATMAN!

Bruce learns about Falstaff from his newly introduced right-hand man, a Wayne Foundation executive named Lucius Fox. Fox, here in his very first appearance, will prove to be Wein's most enduring contribution to Batman's mythos, appearing in several movie and TV spinoffs beginning somewhere around the early nineties with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. He was, of course, famously portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy in the mid-00s.

Unfortunately, that's about all there is to say about this one, aside from a little character bit that I love. During the conversation between Bruce and Lucius, we see the sun setting outside the Wayne Foundation building. At the precise instant the sunset finishes, Bruce spins around in his chair, snaps upright, and tells Lucius that they're done for the day. Minutes later, he's changed into Batman and begun his nightly patrol. I love this idea that Bruce Wayne basically just sort of sits there, waiting eagerly for the sun to go down so he can leap into action.

Next up, Wein pits Batman against Mister Freeze in a story that rings surprisingly close to the modern day interpretation of the villain. Freeze was famously reinvented by BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES in 1992, and that's the version everyone knows today: the tragic scientist who can only exist in sub-zero temperatures due to an accident while attempting to save the life of his beloved dying wife.

This Freeze isn't quite there, but he's almost the reverse of the modern version. In Wein's story, Freeze is working with a woman named Hildy. He loves her and she wants to be immortal, so -- believing she loves him back -- Freeze attempts to duplicate the process that transformed him so that she can exist in the same sort of living suspended animation.

But part of the plot involves testing his process on unsuspecting businessmen in search of immortality, and taking all their worldly belongings as payment in the process. However, Freeze can't quite perfect the technique, which means all his subjects are changed into brainless ice zombies (who he creatively calls his "Cold Pack") rather than immortals. Of course Batman tracks Freeze down and brings him to justice in the end.

The story, while not exactly a masterpiece, is far more enjoyable than the prior installment. Even in this Bronze Age incarnation, Mister Freeze proves to be a relatively sympathetic villain. His love for Hildy is genuine, as is his rage when he learns that she's only using him to get what she wants.

There are sub-plots in this installment as well. No mention of Gregorian Falstaff, but we do get a visit from Selina Kyle, who claims she has left her past as Catwoman behind and who wants to invest in the Wayne Foundation. She and Bruce make a date to discuss this business relationship further -- and Bruce compares Selina to Silver St. Cloud, noting that no women have ever been as involved in his life as the two of them. (And I feel like his "wife", Talia, might have something to say about that!)

We also meet Lucius Fox's daughter, Tiffany, who heads up Wayne Foundation's "Ghetto Rehabilitation" project. Nothing comes of the meeting here, but it seems unlikely Wein would introduce her with so specific a role unless he planned to follow up.

The final sub-plot is actually setup for the next issue, as a hulking figure dies in an experiment at STAR Labs. He's buried on the final page, and then his hand bursts forth from the dirt after everyone has left the area. Which can only mean that...

Next week, Batman fights Blockbuster (and then the Gentleman Ghost)!

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