Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The End" Week: Batman Confidential #54!


We mentioned an earlier part of this one before, but it qualifies for "The End" week, so here it is: Batman Confidential #54, "Super Powers, conclusion: The Power of Six" Written by Marc Guggenheim, pencils, inks, and some colors by Jerry Bingham. (Other colors by David Baron.)

In 2007, Batman Confidential replaced Legends of the Dark Knight after 214 issues. (Probably based on the indica, the GCD splits it, starting #37 it's "Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight.") I've read a lot of the latter, but almost none of the former; although I had been interested in the Kevin Maguire Batgirl/Catwoman issues and the return of the Wrath. Sam Kieth did a few issues as well, and Tom Mandrake had "Batman vs. the Undead," which if I found it for a buck an issue like I did this one, I'd totally read. (And since writing this, I have found a couple of those...)

This issue, and all of "Super Powers," has two narrative threads: one following young, pre-Batman Bruce in China training with super-powered martial artists the Zhuguan; the other a rookie Batman tracking an alien vampire from an early Justice League case. In China, Bruce takes the Zhugan's secret power-bestowing elixir and a totem for his costume. His codename? Hei An Wushuh, meaning "dark night." Since now, Bruce can disappear in the night. Together, the Zhugan plan to finally bring down brutal local warlord Huairen.

(Meanwhile, Batman is in over his head fighting the alien vampires, who aren't really either. They're artificially-evolved humans and a bit full of themselves, but the one the JLA fought has made more.)

In a very medieval battle, one of the Zhugan rains arrows down on Huairen and his men, before their leader Guanxi faces him one-on-one. Even with arrows sticking out of him, Huairen seemingly snaps Guanxi's neck, although he's then a bit surprised to realize all his men are dead. And that's not really surprised they're dead, but surprised since it seems poor tactics: he can get new men, but the Zhugan can't replace Guanxi; even with the healing powers of Ri, the female member of the team. Ri explains this was just to get Huairen out in the open...so Bruce can backstab him through the heart.

(The 'alien vampire' tells Batman he's not afraid of his act, and that soon humanity will be evolved to the point that Batman is like an ape to them. But not Batman, he's going to be beaten to death by the horde...)

Ri's healing powers do save Guanxi, then Bruce wants her to save Huairen. Guanxi tells Bruce that she's too tired from saving him; and Bruce realizes that was the plan all along. Using CPR, he resuscitates Huairen, even as Guanxi berates Bruce: "The afterlife is the only secure jail...the blood of his next victims will be on your hands." Pfft, that'll never come up again...

Bruce stalks off angrily, disappointed that strength in numbers isn't working out. Also, he's having painful withdrawals. At first he seemed to think he was so angry it was actually causing him pain, but it's something else. Ri offers him more of their power-elixir, which is really a modified form of opium. He sees that as another betrayal, mostly because, gasp! Drugs!

(Under a monkey-pile of 'vampires,' Bats buys himself some time with sonics, before the cavalry rides in: the Justice League. Aquaman explains J'onn put a tracer on him last time. The head 'vampire' says all they wanted was to become more, not unlike the JLA themselves. But Batman has learned this lesson with the Zhughan: you can't force change on people, or hide its consequences.)

Ri tries to convince Bruce to stay, that some foes no one man can defeat. But Bruce has learned he can only trust himself. He doesn't know if that will change, but in the end, he hopes it will, as he answers his JLA communicator.

While not unenjoyable, there are a couple problems with this issue. First (and least) the continuity is a little dicey; not only with the JLA, but if Bats had a bad experience with opium super powers, he would probably be more wary of juicing Venom later. The "Hero goes to the mysterious East to learn mystic skills" was a hoary old plot back when the Shadow did it, and I'm also not sure why this is set up like a period kung-fu movie: if this story is set within, oh, the last fifty years or so, you'd really expect the bad guy's men to have at least a few AK-47's. But worse, although Batman won't kill Huairen, he doesn't seem to have a problem with all of Huairen's men (and horses!) being peppered with arrows. It would be like letting Green Lantern murder the Joker's henchmen, but insisting the Joker go to Arkham...

Once more thing, since this issue was on my desk for a while: the cover of Batman Confidential #54, is not great, but Huairen's costume is...what is that? I thought he was bare-chested but had shoulder pads, and some kind of nipple-ring suspenders set up there. Add the little pixie booties, and I don't know if that outfit screams Chinese warlord to me.

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

This seems like a good read overall, just as long as you don't focus too much on continuity, which of course where the big two are concerned, only count when they want it to. Good stuff goo!