Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Batman and the Outsiders #8

As I said in my last post, writer Mike W. Barr loves himself a good Batman Christmas story.  When he finally got his crack at being the regular writer on a Batman comic, Batman and the Outsiders, he quickly made the Christmas tale an annual tradition.  
The first BATO holiday story appeared in the eighth issue and guest starred the Phantom Stranger.  Batman is investigating the connection between the kidnapping of an infant and an old man found in a catatonic state whose fingerprints were at the crime scene.  The Dark Knight has a thought, but is about to dismiss it as being too far out when the Stranger appears out of nowhere and tells Batman to follow his instincts.  Doing so, Batman checks the missing kids fingerprints and discovers that the old man and the child are one and the same.  Next, the same mysterious sudden aging affects an entire nursery school class.  Batman deduces that the phenomenon will strike next at Gotham Childrens' Hospital and has the Outsiders there on Christmas morning, ready for when trouble strikes. 
And strike it does, as a newborn baby suddenly starts threatening the doctor who delivers him, then transforms into the Phantom Stranger's old enemy Tannarak.  The Stranger, of course, appears to battle him, as do Batman and the Outsiders.
Ok, so what was going on was that body had been destroyed in his last fight with the Stranger, and Tannarak had been stealing life energy from children, causing the sudden aging, until he had enough to allow him to possess and transform a newborn baby.
Anyway, to keep the Outsiders busy while he and the Stranger fight, Tannarak makes all the babies in the maternity ward attack the heroes.  For a Christmas story, and, for that matter, for Batman and the Outsiders, this is a really bizarre story, filled with odd and disturbing imagery such as the floating baby with glowing red eyes who turns into Tannarak, and the Outsiders being attacked by a horde of killer babies.
Holidays are a time of reunions and this issue represents a reunion of both writer Barr and artist Jim Aparo with the Phantom Stranger.  The Stranger's own book had been one of Aparo's first assignments at DC Comics, and when the Stranger guest starred in The Brave and the Bold #98, editor Murray Boltinoff asked Aparo to draw that issue. Not long after that, Aparo became the regular artist on B&B, a job he held until the book's cancellation.  That led to his becoming co-creator and artist on BATO, and going on to be thought of as one of the premier all-time Batman artists.
Barr had written the Stranger's most recent solo series, which appeared in the back of Saga of the Swamp Thing. In fact, the previous battle between the Stranger and Tannarak that I referenced earlier occurred in Swamp Thing #5.
This is one of those "Christmas" stories that really has little to do with the holiday other than the time it takes places. In fact,  given the  supernatural nature of the guest star and the bizarre imagery I noted earlier,  this might really have been more suitable for a Halloween issue.

1 comment:

  1. I've always seen BATO as a natural progression from The Brave and the Bold. Both featured Batman in a team-up situation and both featured the artwork of Jim Aparo.

    You're right about Mike Barr. Between his works in B&B, BATO, and The Outsiders solo series (volumes 1 and 2) he wrote a whole lotta Christmas stories. I believe BATO numbers 19 and 31 were also Christmas stories.

    Until your next post, Happy Holidays, Ray!