This one starts out with a charity antiques auction. The auction is an all-cash affair, which just seems like an invitation for trouble to me. Batman thinks so too and watches as the cash is transferred to the bank’s night depository. It seems like everything’s fine, except for a car passing by the bank very slowly. The bank wall suddenly explodes and a well-equipped (and well-coordinated) team of thieves goes into action. Batman jumps in and pounds them all before the cops show up. Gordon congratulates Batman but the cops find an innocent bystander named Judson Price who was hit by a stray bullet. Batman feels like crap about it and goes home to brood. Next day, Gordon calls Batman and tells him they’ve found something astonishing. We get a bunch of exposition about a shadowy kingpin who controls much of the crime in Gotham. He protects himself from being knocked off by rival crime bosses by having a bunch of people secretly implanted with neural transmitters that will cause them to retaliate if anyone kills him. These so-called “Wire-Head Killers” don’t know they have the implants in their skulls, and nobody else knows who they are. Gordon and Batman aren’t sure the rumours are even true, but if they are, and if the “wire-heads” are ever activated, it would mean a bloodbath for Gotham. But the rumours also say the wire-head implants are in the shape of a platinum ankh … and Judson Price was found to have a platinum ankh in his skull during his autopsy. Batman and Gordon are afraid this unknown crime boss might have people inside the police department, so they pretend not to care about the ankh and Batman says he’s taking a break. The next day, a garishly dressed weirdo come into police HQ and says his name is Akeldama. He tells Gordon and the other cops that he can kill people from a distance with the power of his mind and make it look like natural causes. They think he’s a nutcase, but he concentrates, then tells them they’ll find a dead guy on a certain street corner. Gordon checks and there is a dead body there, an apparent heart attack. Needless to say, that freaks the cops out, but Akeldama is already gone. They spend a few days looking for him, but without any luck. Gordon and a bunch of other cops are out golfing when Akeldama shows up again and uses his mind power to kill a caddy right in front of them. Akeldama takes off and the dead caddy looks like another heart attack. Gordon tells everyone to keep Akeldama’s participation quiet so Gotham doesn’t panic. In the woods nearby, Akeldama is surrounded by masked thugs who grab him and take him back to their hideout. They tell Akeldama they want him to use his power to kill a certain guy and make it look natural. He does and they go to check, leaving him alone. Naturally, Akeldama is Batman in disguise and he uses a couple of mild plastic explosives to lure the guards into the room where he pounds them. He heads for the target’s townhouse, knowing he must be the mysterious crime boss. Obviously Akeldama’s kidnappers are underlings trying to bump off the big boss man without triggering the wire-head contingency. The head kidnapper (who turns out to be a mob boss named Luke Brant) goes to the townhouse of Malcolm Millbrook, retired real estate developer. But he’s shocked to find Millbrook still alive. When Millbrook gives him shit and slaps him down, Brant loses his shit and pulls out a gun, ready to kill Millbrook, wire-heads or not. Batman shows up in time to stop him, but Brant pulls a back-up piece and kills Millbrook. Batman pounds Brant and when Millbrook’s wife comes in, Batman says he’s the one who shot her husband, hoping that will avoid the wire-heads being brought into play.
- This is one of those stories where we’re supposed to believe that there’s some character (like a crime boss) who we’ve never heard of before—and who’ll never be mentioned again—that’s been around all along. It always seems artificial to me.
- If the whole wire-head thing was so secret, and maybe not even true, how did rumours about the platinum ankh implants get out?
This one starts with Batman confronting a couple of crooks breaking into an Aquarium (!). He pounds them, but goes a little overboard, taking out his frustrations about Silver St. Cloud dumping him (which happened two issues ago) on the robbers. When the cops show up, Batman is wailing on one of the guys and it seems like he might not stop … but he does. Even the cops notice how uptight he is. At the Gotham branch of STAR Labs, we see a big cloaked dude stealing some electronic doohickey. A security guard tries to stop him and shoots the doohickey, which pisses the thief off. He grabs the guard but only ties him up, saying he’s lucky “the fever is not on me” or he’d really be in shit. The thief starts to leave, but is suddenly consumed by pain (the fever, I guess) and returns to the tied-up guard. He lets his cloak slip and his face looks like … I dunno, like a pile of shit that went through a blender. He takes off his glove and grabs the guard, saying he’s sorry but he has no choice. The guard screams in agony. At home, Batman kvetches to Alfred about his double life and how it fucked things up with Silver. He goes on a rant and blames his parents for fucking him up, the realizes what he’s saying and feels like a tool. He contemplates quitting being Batman, just as Alfred points out the Bat-Signal. Batman meets Gordon at STAR Labs and sees what’s left of the security guard, a puddle of protoplasm. Gordon says there have been other killings like this, mainly of homeless vagrants (one of which we saw a couple issues back), but this time the killer left a message scrawled in blood on the wall: Forgive Me. At an abandoned wax museum, we see the killer having dinner with a good-looking woman named Helena. He recounts his origin to her: his name is Preston Payne, born with acromegaly and treated like shit by everyone, turned into a bookworm and got a job at STAR Labs, where his colleagues also treated him like shit. He tried to get plastic surgery, but was told it was impossible, so he went to see Matt (Clayface II) Hagen in prison to learn how he manipulated the molecules of his body. Hagen wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell him, but gave him a blood sample which Payne used to make a serum that he hoped would let him manipulate his own features to get rid of his ugliness. The serum worked and he made himself purty, but on a date with a beautiful woman his face started running like melting candle wax and she freaked out. He grabbed her and the burning pain inside him transferred to her, melting her into a puddle of protoplasm. Payne built an exoskeleton suit to contain his unstable body, but found he had to periodically release the fever that burned inside him. He started by killing vagrants, but his killing of the security guard last night has him feeling guilty as hell. He finishes his story and we find out “Helena” is a wax mannequin that he’s fallen in love with. Later, Clayface goes to another STAR Labs facility to steal a copy of the device the security guard shot. Batman is waiting for him, having deduced what he was after, and they fight. Clayface’s exoskeleton makes him much stronger than Batman and he pounds the Caped Crusader. He’s ready to leave with his prize, but the fever strikes him and he pulls off his glove and prepares to turn Batman into a pile of goo.
- One of the thieves at the Aquarium kinda looks like Len Wein to me, but I’m not sure who the other one might be.
- Marshall Rogers art is still great; his Clayface is perfect.
- I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for Payne (and he has had a shitty life), but he also killed a bunch of homeless guys and referred to them as “lost souls who would not be missed”, so he’s not exactly an innocent victim of circumstance.
- Again, I know the “falling in love with a mannequin” thing is meant to be sweet and tragic, but I can’t help wondering … does he bang her?
This one starts with Batman chasing down a drug dealer and threatening to hold him underwater unless he gives up the name of his supplier. So, just a typical weekday for the Caped Crusader. The dealer spills the name of a guy who runs a rip-off travel business and Batman checks it out. The place is cleaned out, but Bats finds a carbon with the name “Alhambra” on it and some accounts that Batman figures are fronts for moving dope around. He looks all over town but can’t find anything else, so he decides to concentrate on the name Alhambra. With Alfred’s help, he finds there was a ship named Alhambra that went down off Cape Fear during the War, leaving only one survivor, Boats Dugan. Batman tracks him down at a home for retired sailors and Boats says the Alhambra sinking was weird. There was a stowaway who left just before the ship sank (with some mysterious cargo) and Boats figures whatever was going on, the captain must’ve been in on it … but he went down with the Alhambra. Batman goes to check out the wreck and look for the ship’s log, which should still be in the safe. Batman finds the wreck, uses some squid ink to fight off a hammerhead shark, and gets jumped by frogmen armed with spear-guns. Batman pounds his attackers and realizes the drug cartel must’ve sent them to follow him, which means he’s on the right track. He investigates the Alhambra and finds chemicals still leaking from the wreck. Apparently, the Alhambra was carrying munitions to Europe when it sank. The frogmen come looking for him, so he tries to hide in the gloom, holding his breath so his pursuers can’t follow his trail of bubbles. But a giant grouper fish starts slamming into him and he barely gets out of the way as one of the frogmen shoots the huge fish with his spear-gun. Batman tries hiding in a cave, but gets swarmed by dozens of small octopi. The frogmen find him and are about to skewer him when a shock wave knocks them off-balance. Aquaman swims in and starts pounding the frogmen. Batman is happy to see his old friend, but soon changes his mind when Aquaman drags him to the surface in a full-nelson and tells him to stay the hell away from the wreck of the Alhambra. Batman tries to explain, but Aquaman won’t listen and gets his wife Mera to encase Batman in a bubble of “hard water”. The thugs have taken over Batman’s boat and start shooting, so Aquaman beats the shit out of them. Batman’s “hard water” shell bursts as he hits the rocky shore and he rests inside the nearby lighthouse. Aquaman encounters more frogmen below and starts wailing on them, so Batman uses the distraction to slip past and get inside the Alhambra. Batman finds the safe and heads for the surface, worried that the leaking chemicals have become combustible and might explode. Aquaman jumps him again, but when Mera is endangered by the shifting wreck, he lets Batman go and returns to rescue her. Batman gets back to his boat, but Aquaman shows up and jumps him again, screaming that Batman can’t have the safe. The Alhambra blows up, throwing Batman’s boat toward the shore where he and Aquaman continue fighting. On dry land, Batman gets the upper hand and decks Aquaman. He says he knows why Aquaman doesn’t want the safe opened, but he has to see if there’s a connection to the current drug kingpin of Gotham. Aquaman finally stops fighting and Batman opens the safe and reads the log. He assures Aquaman that his father (who was the keeper of the lighthouse) wasn’t responsible for the Alhambra sinking; it was the stowaway, who stole some drugs (which he used to start the drug network currently plaguing Gotham) and scuttled the ship as he made his getaway. Aquaman and Batman make peace and Batman reads the name of Gotham’s big drug kingpin and almost shits a brick. Why? We’ll have to wait until next issue to find out.
- The Alhambra is said to be 200 feet down, so when Aquaman drags Batman back to the surface in a few seconds, wouldn’t Batman get a bad case of the bends?
- I’m not sure why the leaking chemicals suddenly became explosive after almost forty years.
- So, this whole thing was just because Aquaman thought his father might’ve fucked up and let a ship sink while he was on lighthouse duty? Why didn’t Aquaman read the log book himself to find out for sure? Or if he was scared of what it might contain, why didn’t he destroy the ship years ago?I also have no idea how Batman figured out that Aquaman’s father was the lighthouse keeper during the war. It almost seems like something’s missing, but it’s probably just one of Haney’s famous leaps in logic.