I own a few issues of Legends of the Dark Knight I’d been thinking of writing about ( I may squeeze them into the next post) but I really wanted to write about Matt Wagner’s two Year One tales, Batman and the Mad Monk and Batman and the Monster Men. These two focus on Batman’s first encounters with the supernatural, which I suppose put them towards the end of Year One. Alas, I could not get my hands on copies of these stories so they will have to wait until another day. In their place I read two other Wagner Bat stories that, while not quite Year One, are set early in Batman’s career and Wagner does them in the same Year One-esque style as Faces.
First, there is Trinity. Set a few years into Batman’s crime fighting shenanigans (we know this thanks to short appearances by a rather young Dick Grayson, the first Robin) the story focuses on Batman and Superman’s first encounter with Wonder Woman. At this point in time, Batman and Superman are chummy, knowing each other’s secret identities, though I wouldn’t say they are best buds, as proven by Batman’s almost Lex Luthor level of distrust in Super-powered beings. Batman’s a bit of a git to both Supes and Wonder Woman on multiple occasions.
The plot that holds it all together isn’t the most complex or stimulating, with Ras Al Ghul stealing some nukes with the intention of being naughty and as a result bringing DC’s three biggest icons together for the first time. Mostly with this book, it’s the little things: the character beats that stand out, for instance, rather than the overall storyline.
A particular favourite of mine is the first meeting of Superman and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman approaches Superman after a man fitting his description detonated one of the stolen nuclear weapons in the vicinity of her home. The culprit was in fact Superman’s warped clone, Bizarro. Rather than the usual fisticuffs, Wonder Woman and Superman have a nice chat. This may come as a surprise as about 95% of all superhero team-ups start with an epic, easily avoidable fight that takes up half the comic, before our two heroes realize that the crimes they are accusing each other of (primarily with their fists) have in fact been carried out by their own arch enemies, who have teamed up for tenuous reasons. So it’s nice that Wagner doesn’t do this…until Batman and Wonder Woman meet and almost come to blows, but this makes sense, story and character wise. Wonder Woman is less than impressed by the gentleman in the scary costume beating up a suspect.
After Trinity I read the First Batman/Grendel crossover that Wagner did, also in the same style as his Year One work. Grendel is Wagner’s own creation, a costumed criminal who all but runs New York’s criminal underworld and, as a result, is a little bored so he heads to Gotham for a new challenge.
Wagner’s art is lovely and the story takes its time – again, as with Trinity, it doesn’t rush into fight after fight. Wagner also focuses as much on Bruce Wayne and Hunter Rose, Batman and Grendel’s non-costumed identities as much as their costumed activities. The secondary focus of the book is two other characters, Rae and Hillie, who Grendel torments and manipulates as part of his scheme. These characters are fully fleshed out, rather than simple plot devices and give us both the superhero side of things as well as their lives in Gotham. We also get to see how the leads affect the lives of Rae and Hillie – a side of these stories we don’t often see.
Overall, my major issue with the story was that, after being so slowed-paced, Grendel’s plan and the pay-off are a bit of a let down but, as I have never read any other Grendel comics, this may be in character. The ending also feels rather rushed, with a lot happening in the last few pages but I feel this may have been the point with Wagner deliberately avoiding spending page after page on the big, expected punch-up at the end.
A couple of little things I picked up in this story. Wagner makes it clear in Bruce Wayne’s internal monologue that Wayne’s public persona is a character he plays, something most recent Bat-writers do. But what caught my attention is a line where he refers to ‘The Bat’ in a similar way. I like the idea that Wagner’s Batman is neither Bruce Wayne or the costumed Batman, but the detective, operating out of the Batcave – a man dedicated to fighting the crime that took his family.
Finally, as I have mentioned before, driving around in the extremely unsubtle Batmobile annoys me. Now, Wagner still has Batman in the Batmobile at one point, but he does show Batman going down to the Batcave’s garage where he has a selection of vehicles at his disposal, including a truck and a taxi. I like the idea of Batman driving around in a taxi if the job requires it. Just pity the Gothamite who jumps in the back hoping to go downtown…