Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dreams, Hoaxes and Imaginary Stories: The Strange Deaths of the Batman

(Ok, so I did say in my first post on this blog that there might be some weeks when I didn't have much to say, and, as it turns out, there've been approximately nine weeks recently when I really haven't felt like posting here.  But I am, for the moment, back.  So, without further apology or explanation, let us  proceed.)
As, I suppose, a companion piece of sorts to Grant Morrison's Batman: R.I.P storyline, DC recently put out a neat little trade paperback called The Strange Deaths of the Batman featuring stories from  the mid-60's through 2001 in which the Caped Crusader apparently dies.  And, yes, as the title of this post intimates, one of these tales is, in fact, a dream, there are a couple of imaginary stories, and there's even one that could be called a hoax.
The "hoax" comprises the volume's longest tale, a four part mini-series within a series entitled "Where Were You On the Night Batman Was Killed?", written by David V. Reed and drawn by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell, that originally saw print in 1977 as Batman #'s 291 through 294.  The image which graces the books cover was originally the cover of #291.
With the Batman missing and rumors of his demise running rampant through the underworld, a "trial" is convened to determine which of several villains claiming to have done the fateful deed is the true culprit.  Ra's Al Ghul acts as judge, and Two-Face, naturally, as he was once DA Harvey Dent, assumes the role of prosecutor to hear the testimony of Catwoman, the Riddler, the Joker, and even Superman's arch-foe Lex Luthor.   A six member jury consisting of the Mad Hatter, the Spook, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Signalman and Mr. Freeze is empaneled to determine the veracity of each claim.  
The highlight of the collection, however, is an Atom/Batman pairing from The Brave and the Bold #115 entitled "The  Corpse That Wouldn't Die!" which may be the most bizarre that script Bob Haney ever turned in for that title. And if you've ever read Haney's B&B, you know that's really saying something.  
The Batman is left brain dead by a severe electric shock suffered while attempting to rescue a kidnapped heiress and the Atom shrinks down and literally gets inside the Dark Knight's head, running around his brain causing the Batman's body to be able to move enough to see his last case through to its end.  And since this is not an imaginary story, I don't suppose it's not really all that much of a "spoiler" to say that Bats miraculously recovers at the end of the story.
Throw in some fine work by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Cary Bates, Curt Swan, Gerry Conway, Chuck Dixon and others and you've got a pretty decent, if a bit off beat, collection of Batman stories. However, it occurred to me that there's one story that ought to be part of this volume that is missing.  
After all, shouldn't a collection of stories in which Batman seemingly dies include the one story in which the Batman--or a Batman, at least--actually dies, and is not a dream, hoax or imaginary story.  

I'm speaking of the three part pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths tale from Adventure Comics #461-463 in which the Batman of Earth-2 is murdered by a vengeance seeking criminal who has unexpectedly gained supernatural powers.  Of course, this story has recently been represented in the second Justice Society of America trade paperback which reprints the late 70's JSA series that began in the revived All-Star Comics and continued in Adventure after All-Star was re-cancelled, and that book is still available, and the back issues shouldn't set you back too much if you want to go that route.  Nonetheless, that story really does belong in The Strange Deaths of the Batman. 


  1. Ray,

    Another comic came to mind as I was reading your article: The Many Deaths of Batman by John Byrne and Jim Aparo. The story was a three-parter about a serial killer who was knocking off various people who had given Bruce Wayne the training he needed to become Batman. The killer dresses his victims in Bat-costumes, so when the first victim is discovered, everyone in Gotham City thinks the real Batman is dead.

    DC reprinted the whole story in paperback, but the first issue of that story (Batman #433) sounds like one that would have fit into this collection beautifully.

    The issue is a silent one, depending entirely on Jim Aparo's pencils to tell the story. The story begins with Jim Gordon finding Batman's dead body pinned to a wall in an alleyway. The story then moves from a trip to the hospital, to reacton shots from various inmates at Arkham Asylum when they get the news that Batman is dead. It's all wordless, and all rendered flawlessly by Aparo.

    The twist at the end of the issue is when the morgue attendant unmasks the body and the face of the corpse is definately not that of Bruce Wayne. Everyone in the city is shocked and in mourning, but the readers know something is amiss. The story brings back speech bubbles for parts 2 and 3, but that first issue was something really special and almost stands on its own.

    Given your fondness for Aparo's rendition of Batman, I'd highly recommned your chckign this one out.

    - Jonathon Riddle

  2. I have read The Many Deaths of the Batman.
    Aparo was a great visual storyteller and thus a master of the wordless story. Another example that comes to mind is "The Singling" from the first issue (#111--they picked up the old numbering) of DC's short-lived revival of Mystery In Space