Thursday, June 14, 2012

80-Page Thursdays: Detective Comics #598!

Today's a book I had at the time, and probably still have; but I found all three issues for ninety-nine cents each and bought them to read all at once: from 1989, Detective Comics #598, "Blind Justice, part 1 of 3" Written by Sam Hamm, pencils by Denys Cowan, inks by Malcolm Jones III. Billed as "the 50th anniversary adventure," this issue and #600 would be 80-pages (well, the GCD says #600 is 84, but...) yet #599 was normal sized.

Hamm is best known for writing the screenplay to the 1989 Batman movie, and was invited to write for the comic. At the time I might not have recognized Cowan's work, but he would draw almost the entire run of the Question--in fact, that was running at the same time. I wanted to say I was a little disappointed when this came out, since Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle were already on fire early in their Detective run, but then looking it up Breyfogle was out the last few issues, since #594. They would reteam for a ton of issues, starting with #601, a three-parter with the Demon that I love to death, but compared to "Blind Justice" is so light-hearted it could be a Harvey comic. So, yeah, I find "Blind Justice" a bit dark...

Bruce is having nightmares, par for the course, except now he sees the laughing fiend that ruined his life: a gun-toting Batman. Willfully shrugging it off, Bats answers the signal, and joins Commissioner Gordon at the morgue to check out Gotham's last atrocity: a security guard, more-or-less liquified by an unknown weapon. While they investigate the crime scene, a young woman arrives in town in search of her long-lost brother, not realizing he was one of the homeless men discussing tinfoil hats that she passed on the way in...
The late Roy Brocksmith would've been perfect for Riordan: look him up, you'll know him when you see him.
As Bruce puts off Waynetech business to focus on his investigation; Jeannie, the young woman, visits Waynetech herself, since her brother had worked there. Waiting for a personnel manager, she instead finds Riordan, the director of research, who tells her there must have been a mistake, since they have no record of a Roy Kane.

That night, as Batman works a tip about a drug shipment, he catches a break: the Bonecrusher hits the dealers, armed with sonic pulse weapons. Although huge, he doesn't appear to be much of a fighter, and while his weapons are devastating, they're also fragile, and break during the fight. Somewhat nonchalantly, Bonecrusher lets himself fall into power lines rather than be captured; leaving Bats and Gordon with questions, but case closed. Meanwhile, Roy's friend T-Bone and another homeless man realize they're having the same dream of being gassed, while Roy had a dream about fighting Batman.

Jeannie tries to hire a private detective at a family-finding agency, but is running out of money; so the detective takes her to one of their funders: Bruce Wayne. Taking her on a tour of Waynetech, in the medical R&D department, Dr. Harbinger recognizes a photo of Roy, and points out Roy accidentally hit Bruce with a frisbee at the company picnic. Sheepishly, Wayne realizes he's seen him--Batman usually has a better eye for that. (Unseen, a sweating Riordan makes a call to superior...) Jeannie, charitably, is just happy to have a lead. Bruce offers to take her to the opera that night, but as they discuss Harbinger (suffering with a degenerative nerve disease) the Bat-Signal lights up, and Bruce ditches Jeannie curbside.

Bonecrusher, somehow, is back in action; hijacking a truck of nuclear material and getting past a SWAT team with his sonic weapons. But, as Batman fights him, in a homeless shelter across town, Roy freaks out, seemingly acting out the Bonecrusher role in the battle. This time, Bonecrusher blows himself up with a tanker truck; but the cops bring in Roy, who had repeated Bonecrusher's final line: "I am the scheme."

In jail, Roy doesn't even know his own name, but is terrified of Batman. Calming down for questioning, Roy thinks he has memories that aren't his. Bats arranges with Gordon to have Roy released, where Bruce Wayne takes him and Jeannie in as guests, reuniting them. While they are overjoyed, Roy's medical exam reveals a surgical scar, where a biochip was implanted. They are experimental, but some preliminary work as been done, at Waynetech. Some unpleasant pieces of the puzzle are coming together for Bruce...

Roy can't remember anything about his time at Waynetech, except the word 'Sunday.' Using his backdoor access to the system, Bruce investigates, but is blocked and an alarm is sent to Riordan, who makes another call. That night, Roy seizes up, again acting as Bonecrusher, as a third one attacks Wayne Manor. Wayne knows too much, but a simple biochip implant will take care of that. Great plan, except Bonecrusher is shot from behind by Alfred--tranked out, but he self-destructs before he can be unmasked.

Now Roy remembers at least the name of the project he worked on at Waynetech: not Sunday, but Sabbat, and an acronym at that for "remote-controlled killers." Batman goes to Waynetech, where Riordan is having the project moved, and Harbinger has barricaded himself in his lab. Batman finds Harbinger's assistant crying over his body, and takes a moment to read his notes: of course, kindly ol' Doc Harbinger was also Bonecrusher. Multiple Bonecrushers, using the biochips to project his consciousness into their bodies; and using sonic weapons provided by his secret backers, Riordan and "the Cartel."

Although some volunteers were used, several homeless men were gassed and forcibly implanted with the chips. When Roy protested, he was made part of the experiment as well, his memory wiped. The Cartel plans to take the Sabbat project to a secret location, probably leaving Harbinger out to dry, so he plans to permanently transfer to a new body...and make the Cartel "pay for their betrayal."

The next day, Wayne confronts Riordan (and, seemingly lets a lot of the biochip material get shipped off somewhere) but the formerly snivelling toad now seems to be in the driver's seat. There are plenty of fake documents showing Wayne's approval of Project: Sabbat, and Riordan chattily explains the Cartel has their fingers in any number of companies, pushing hi-tech, low-profile, shady research. (Although it's left open to interpretation, there's almost certainly some level of government involvement...) This issue predates that movie, but Riordan should've been played by the late Roy Brocksmith, of Total Recall--you'd recognize him if you saw him, and he played a snivelling toad-bastard well.

Moreover, the Cartel did their homework on Bruce Wayne. What did he do after his parents died? Where did he go? "No doubt you have an explanation. We have one too. It's a corker." Fully knowing he's boned, Bruce refuses to back down. At Wayne Manor, where Alfred, Roy, and Jeannie have been questioned; Bruce is taken into a communist! That's a pretty good, if super-dated cliffhanger; but I think the agents just use "commie" as an epithet. "Foreign agent" might've been more accurate, but isn't insulting enough.

We'll probably look at the rest of "Blind Justice" some other time--even the anemic, normal sized issue--but I like this one the best. This may have been Hamm's first comic script, but I don't think it shows, save perhaps a willingness to get right in there and break off bits of the status quo: for years, Waynetech or Wayne Industries or whatever was a bland, corporate thing; a slab of drywall scenery. Hamm plants a snake in that garden, but that goes a long way to making it seem more real. In the same vein, his Batman is more fallible: he didn't recognize Roy, and his benign neglect of his business may have left the door open for the Cartel. So, you could maybe draw a line from here, to the uber-prepared, somewhat paranoid Batman often seen today; but that depends on what you take away from this one; as we'll see later.

No comments: