Comics Reviews: Batman 358, Detective 525, Brave & the Bold 197, Firestorm 11

Batman 358 coverBatman #358 – “Don’t Mess With Killer Croc” – Gerry Conway/Curt Swan/Rodin Rodriguez

This one starts with Killer Croc busting in on a meeting of the Tobacconists Club. Croc knows it’s a front for the crooked businessmen and politicians who pull the strings in Gotham and mentions the recent fall of Boss Thorne and gangster Tony Falco. Croc says he’s stepping into the power vacuum left at the top and they can either support him or get wiped out. (He makes quite the impression when he takes off his coat and hat, revealing his freakish reptilian appearance.) The high-rollers agree to hear him out. At the city morgue, Batman and Commissioner Gordon are examining the Squid’s corpse and reiterate the conclusion they came to last issue: Squid was killed by a bullet fired from a very powerful rifle, so if they can track down the weapon maybe they’ll find the killer. Batman quickly determines the rifle is a Mannlicher Mk VIII Cobra, which never went into production because it was too expensive. OneBatman grabs Specs of the three prototypes was destroyed, but the other two ended up in Gotham. Batman heads to a shooting range for criminals and pounds a few crooks before abducting the owner of the range, a gun supplier named Specs. Specs wakes up in the Batcave and almost shits himself; he confesses he kept one of the rifles and sold the other to Croc, who lives up at Hell’s Point. Batman knocks Specs out and says he’ll deliver him to the cops. Dick (Robin) Grayson asks about Croc and Batman says he’s heard rumours. He mentions the guy in the trenchcoat who saw him escaping from Squid (last issue) but didn’t let Squid’s men know. Batman can’t figure out his motives, but Dick is more interested in the possibility that the trenchcoat guy might be the same dude who’s been extorting protection money from the Sloan Circus. We get a flashback to Bruce and Dick talk about TrinaTrina Todd walking in on Bruce Wayne half-dressed in Batman’s costume. Dick tried to cover but Trina was too smart to fall for it, so Dick made her promise not to tell anyone. She confided in him about the extortion and now Dick’s wondering if Croc is behind it. Bruce warns him to be careful around Trina and the other circus people and Dick says he has to trust somebody. Bruce thinks to himself that trusting those closest to you can be a mistake, since Catwoman and Vicki Vale both burned him lately. At the Tobacconists Club, Croc is asked to prove himself by stealing a new computer from STAR Labs. Croc doesn’t like having to pass a test, but agrees to do it anyway. He sneaks into STAR Labs and pounds everyone, stealing the computer. Meanwhile, Batman goes up to Hell’s Point to ask the local gang about Croc. He’s forced to beat the shitCroc freaks and blows up his own place out of them before they’ll talk, but they finally tell him where Croc’s hideout is. Croc hands the computer over to the Tobacconists Club and warns them not to cross him. They’re wary about dealing with someone who’s basically a wild animal, but they figure he can either be tamed or destroyed. Croc returns to his hideout, an abandoned building in an empty neighbourhood. Batman is waiting for him and Croc goes nuts, screaming that Batman violated the sanctity of his home. Croc trashes the place and blows up the heater, lighting the place on fire. He takes off but Batman’s waiting outside for him. Croc shoots out Batman’s light and jumps into the river. We’ll see Batman’s pursuit of Croc right away, in my Detective comics review.

Noticeable Things:

  • While kicking ass in STAR Labs, Croc relates some of his origin. He was born with some condition that makes him look reptilian and ended up wrestling alligators in Florida to entertain the rubes. But he’s smarter than people give him credit for and ended up deciding to take control of his own career.

Detective 525 coverDetective #525 – “Confrontation” – Gerry Conway/Dan Jurgens/Dick Giordano

This one starts pretty soon after the above issue, with Batman searching the river for any sign of Killer Croc. He can’t find anything, and Robin suggests Croc might’ve drowned and been swept out to sea. Batman isn’t convinced, and wonders again why Croc didn’t rat him out to Squid. Commissioner Gordon says Croc was nuts, pointing out he fact that he destroyed his own home just because Batman “violated” it. As Batman climbs out of the river, we see Croc hiding in a nearby drainage tunnel. Later, Bruce Wayne shows up only slightly late for his date with Vicki Vale. Bruce is in a joyful mood and Vicki wonders why he’s acting even more flippant than usual. Bruce says Selina (Catwoman) Kyle’s recent freak-out, when she tried to get back with him and threatened Vicki, made him think that having someone so dependent on him wasn’t working. HeVicki gets mad at Bruce tells Vicki he prefers her company, since she’s not making any demands on him, they’re just having fun. But Vicki freaks and walks away, telling him she doesn’t want to just be friends with benefits, or whatever he seems to think they are. Meanwhile, Robin has gone to the Sloan Circus to watch the Todds do their aerialist routine, which reminds him of his own circus days. Bruce takes a walk down by the river and his subconscious reminds him of a tiny sound he heard earlier when searching for Killer Croc. He realizes Croc was hiding in the tunnel the whole time and wonders why he didn’t notice before. He can’t help wondering if part of him wanted Croc to escape. At the circus, Robin tells the Todds about Croc and asks for their help catching him if he tries to extort the circus again. They agree, although the only thing their Croc grabs Batmantwelve-year-old son (Jason) is interested in is what Wonder Girl’s really like. In the drainage tunnel, Batman finds Croc’s prints near a three-way intersection, but isn’t sure which way to follow. Croc rises up from the water and grabs him, but Batman manages to punch him before being drowned. Croc slips up on top of some pipes and strikes again, almost choking Batman before letting go and disappearing. Batman realizes Croc is toying with him and wonders why he’s so nervous, so unsure of himself. He knows Croc is stronger, but he’s a better fighter so why is he so worried? Batman reflects on how he’s been feeling frustrated and angry in general lately, but isn’t sure why. He can’t help wondering if his subconscious might betray him again and let Croc go.Batman escapes Croc jumps him again and says he used to respect Batman, but now he thinks he’s just a loser like everyone else. Batman knocks them through a grill and dives into the river. Croc pulls himself back up and gives Batman a look of contempt before disappearing into the tunnel. Batman knows Croc thinks he wimped out, running away rather than fighting … and part of Batman wonders if that might actually be true. He crawls out of the river in a park and vows to get Croc next time, no matter what.

Brave & Bold 197 coverBrave & the Bold #197 – “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” – Alan Brennert/Joe Staton/George Freeman

This is a tale of the Earth-2 Batman, who was actually dead at this point. This story takes place a couple years ago, when he was still alive, and is taken from a chapter in Bruce Wayne’s diary where he reflects on how Selina (Catwoman) Kyle became his wife. The story starts in 1955, after the disappearance/retirement of the Justice Society left Batman, Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman as pretty much the only active heroes on Earth-2. Commissioner Gordon gets a package and lights the Bat-signal, then freaks out as he sees Batman riddled with bullets uponScarecrow crashes the wedding his approach to the station. Turns out Batman’s fine; Gordon’s hallucination was caused by gas from the package, which was sent by Jonathan (Scarecrow) Crane, who was just paroled from prison. Apparently the gas causes a person to see heir worst fears come true. Later, Bruce Wayne attends the fancy wedding of his ex-girlfriend, Linda Page. She reminds him of what he might have had, and he reflects on how much he hates playing the shallow playboy to cover for his Batman identity. He wonders what’ll happen when the few friends who know his secret—Dick Grayson, Kathy Kane, Alfred—move on and he’s left alone. Scarecrow attacks the wedding (since Linda is known to be a friend of Batman) and causes different fears to manifest as spiders, snakes, and worms. Bruce, Dick, and Kathy all change to their costumed Batman's friends fade awayidentities and Batman gets a face full of fear gas, causing him to see Robin, Batwoman, and even Linda fade away before his eyes. He vows to make Scarecrow pay for taking away his friends (or force him to return them), even as they try to convince him they’re right there. But the fear gas has made Batman unable to see, hear, or even touch them. Scarecrow overhears Robin and Batwoman talking about Batman’s fear of being alone and speculates that everyone important in his life will vanish until it drives him crazy. Scarecrow’s prediction comes true, as Batman looks for allies but finds Gordon’s office, Wayne Manor, and even Clark Kent’s house empty … or at least, he perceives them as empty. Batman finally decides to try an enemy for help instead of an ally; Selina Kyle suffered amnesia after anCatwoman subdues the lion accident and after her Catwoman career came to an end, she eventually turned herself in to serve her time. Batman asks her for help and she’s reluctant at first, but understands the feeling of the world closing in and leaving you empty, so she agrees to help. They check Gotham University (since Crane used to teach there) and are attacked by a lion. Catwoman subdues it and gets pissed off when she sees Scarecrow was using electric shocks to control it. They head into the University and Batman wonders if he can trust Catwoman … or himself, since the mutual attraction they always felt has resurfaced. Scarecrow uses several exhibits to attack them, trying to evoke fear, but they fight their way through. Batman gets burned and Catwoman treats his Scarecrow's fear gas takes effectwound, asking why he keeps doing this. He tells her about his parents and says he won’t lose Robin and the others like he did them. Catwoman suggests that Robin’s disappearance could just be an illusion but Batman insists it’s real, which makes Catwoman think he’s not thinking clearly. Scarecrow seeds fear pockets all over campus with specific fears attached to them. As Batman and Catwoman make their way across the quad, they become afraid of heights, darkness, and open spaces and end up hiding in one of the buildings. Catwoman lets it slip that her whole amnesia thing was bullshit. She admits she became a thief to get back at her abusive ex-husband and ended up liking it. But eventually she felt trapped by that life, so she made up the amnesia story to get a lighter sentence when she turned herself in. Batman reflects that they both became what they wereSelina talks about her past out of anger and both ended up feeling trapped by it, but Selina got out … while Batman is still trapped. Catwoman suggests there might be a way out for him and they start hugging, but Batman’s fear comes back and he goes to look for Scarecrow again. Catwoman tries to convince him it’s all in his mind, but he’s too far gone to listen. He sees Scarecrow up in a bell tower, but it turns out to be an actual scarecrow, and it’s seeded with fear gas that makes him afraid of cats, while it makes Catwoman afraid of bats. Catwoman says Batman’s spent his whole life pushing people away because Batman decides to trust someonehe’s afraid of losing anyone like he lost his parents. She says catching Scarecrow or solving a puzzle can’t help him defeat his own fears. Catwoman starts to fade away in front of Batman’s eyes, so she takes off her mask to remove his fear and urges him to do the same. He hesitates, but finally takes off his cowl, revealing his identity to her and banishing his fear of letting anyone in. (The Earth-1 Batman could probably benefit from this approach too.) They smooch and later end up getting married. As Bruce finishes his diary entry (over 20 years later), he reflects on Selina’s recent death and hopes he’s living up to her example.

Noticeable Things:

  • Linda Page was a girlfriend of Bruce Wayne’s who first appeared in Batman #5 (way back in 1941) and showed up a few times after that. She recounts a conversation she had with Bruce in Batman 32, which came out in 1945, ten years before this story is set. In those early Batmans, Linda is shown to have red hair, but she’s blonde in this story.
  • At Gotham U. there’s a sign on a building that says “Bilfinger Hall”.

Firestorm 11 coverFirestorm #11 – “Waking Darkness” – Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rodin Rodriguez

This one starts with Firestorm asleep on the Statue of Liberty and having a crazy nightmare about all the stuff that’s happened lately, especially his encounter with Hyena. The dream causes his molecular density to change and he phases into the Statue’s head, freaking out a janitor who thinks Firestorm is showing off. Firestorm takes off and Ronnie admits to Professor Stein that their search for Hyena has him exhausted. (Apparently it’s been a couple days since their run-in with Hyena last issue.) At Stein’s apartment, they split into Ronnie and the Professor and Ronnie heads off to school. Stein wants to tell him something about Stein’s ex, Clarissa, who Ronnie met last issue. Ronnie avoids the conversation and doesn’t mention that Clarissa featured in his nightmareClarissa and Ronnie talk too. On the way to school, Clarissa offers him a ride. She tells him she and Stein broke up because Stein neglected her for his work, but she still loves him and wants to get back together. She asks if Ronnie will talk to Stein for her and he says he’ll try. At school, Ronnie wishes he had someone to talk to about his Firestorm side, but he doesn’t dare tell his father, and he can’t talk to Stein about it since he’s part of it. He wonders if he could talk to Lorraine Reilly, who seemed to take a shine to him. The only problem is, Lorraine only knows him as Firestorm, not Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie’s friend Jackson notices Ronnie looks out of it, not just tired but sick. Ronnie admits he has been feeling weird and has a bit of a fever. They’re interrupted by Ronnie’s girlfriend Doreen showing off her new look, which she says was inspired by Summer examined by Shithe girl Ronnie was ogling at the airport last issue. (Doreen says her look is “punk”, but it looks pretty tame to me; definitely more New Wave than punk.) Later, Doreen’s sister Summer is examined by the doctor (Jivan Shi) who came from Arizona with her last issue. He says her exhaustion is from fighting to keep her Hyena persona buried and her sleepwalking can be controlled with a larger dose of sedatives. Shi complains again about having to do a residency because his foreign qualifications aren’t good enough in the United States. Doreen thinks Shi is bottling up a lot of repressed anger and could explode any time. Meanwhile, Stein tries to change his boss’s mind about letting him go from Concordance Research, but he doesn’t get anywhere. Ronnie triggers the Firestorm matrix and Stein immediately notices how screwed up they feel. Ronnie mentions his fever and the wound in his neck and Stein realizes Hyena’s attack must’ve done more damage than they thought. They head for the hospital where Dr. Shi works and SteinHyena attacks remembers Hyena popping up there last issue. He wonders if Shi could be the Hyena they fought and they get confirmation when Hyena bursts out of Shi’s office and pounds Firestorm. Hyena takes off, talking about sowing terror wherever he goes. Firestorm wakes up strapped to a hospital bed and partially transformed into a Hyena. The doctors say his powers have delayed the change, but he’s definitely becoming a Hyena like the others. Summer tells Firestorm that the Hyena condition isn’t medical, it’s spiritual … it’s a curse of some kind. She tells him how her time at the clinic in Arizona was driving her crazy, trying to resist the change into Hyena. When she met Shi, she fell for him—or became dependent on him—but she eventually changed again and infected him with the Hyena curse too. As Hyena-Summer knocked off the roofshe’s telling the story, she changes into Hyena and takes off to look for Shi. Firestorm hears the cops talking about Shi being on the World Trade Center, so he phases out of his restraints and heads over there. Ronnie reflects on how Shi was supposedly a really nice guy, but as Hyena he’s vicious; Ronnie figures the transformation must affect the person’s mind and stein wonders how it’ll affect their shared consciousness. At the Trade Center, Firestorm goes after Hyena (that’s Shi, for those keeping score), who’s pretty much all animal now. Summer shows up and attacks both of them and Firestorm instinctively blasts her, knocking her off the roof and sending her plunging toward the street.

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