Wednesday, June 06, 2007

They aren't called 'Batarangs' because he wants you to have one...

A while ago, I was making fun of DC phasing out Batman: Gotham Knights. Well, they did the same for the longer-running Legends of the Dark Knight as well. The book had run it's course, though: what was originally intended as a showcase book, featuring work from creators like Grant Morrison, Matt Wagner, Howard Chaykin, Mike Mignola, and others; came limping along for the finish line with newer, untested writers and artists.

There's a place for new creators, or at least there used to be: fill-ins, annuals, back-up features. Now they get to finish old series that are being put out to pasture, like this, the second-to-last issue: Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #213, "Otaku" Written by Matt Wayne, art by Steven Cummings.

The story opens with a montage of Batman action, as an unseen narrator explains how they only "deal in the rarest pieces. High quality artifacts, left behind at the scene." The scene shifts to a showroom of recovered Bat-items, including a cowl and cape. The seller names a price of ten million, but the nerdy-yet-crazy Otaku of the title says that's too much, which frightens the seller. You can tell he's frightened, because he sweats like a nervous Charlie Brown. At some points in the story, Cummings goes really cartoony. Not quite superdeformed style, but getting there.
'Roll out the red carpet'? Well, that's presumptuous.
The scene abruptly shifts to a Red, not enough crap on the walls. Still, shift to a really well-lit bar-restaurant. Looks nicer than most of the places I go, really. Per the captioning, Batman is there disguised as "the guy who won't shut up," which is clever; and is chatting up Fairchild of Gen 13 fame. What? It's a super-strong, over six foot redhead in a green outfit, what am I supposed to think? Batman explains she's Maureen Brenner, aka Aiko, superpowered muscle for the Tokyo mob, then stops her from wacking a loose-lipped mob wannabe.
'Paaang!' doesn't need any embellishment from me.
Another jarring scene change, and Batman and Commissioner Gordon are at the Bat-showroom, which is now stripped bare except for the seller's corpse. The medical examiner, who looks very cartoony again, points out skin cells with Thai/Yakuza tattoo ink, and also says the victim was killed with a batarang.

Back at the Batcave, Batman puts about ten minutes worth of detective work into this and comes up with a name of a hero-fetishist Yakuza. Jetting over to Tokyo, he investigates as Bruce Wayne, quickly proving that if you throw around enough cash, no fetish is out of reach. This is pretty much doing for cosplay what that CSI episode did for furries, isn't it?
His Bat-sense goes off when he gets to the superhero cosplay cafe, and he knows Hara, the Otaku, is there. Sure enough, Hara's wearing the stitched-together cowl, and his glasses over it, as "Justice Super-Cosplay Society" begins. Yay! Complete with little stuffed sidekick toys! Fun! And drugged-up sidekicks. Um...
Sorry, no shots of Bruce's rear in that costume...
Disguised as Green Lantern (in Kyle's newer costume, which I'm sure he'd appreciate) Bruce 'raises a stink' and socks Hara in the face. He then has to take a few shots from Aiko, until he can kill the lights, free the drugged girls, and change into Batman.
Mighty Giant!  If a girl wore that suspenders costume, it would be exploitative and crass...but still look better then it does on him.
Who would've thought a schoolgirl's uniform would be the better choice of outfits?

Aiko and Mighty Giant are apparently the all-purpose superpowered muscle that seems to show up a lot at DC these days, and they deliver a pretty stout slapping to Batman. Hara shows off his stolen Batarang, "Dipped in paralyzing venom," and asks Bats if he knows what "Jintai Hakuseijutsu" is. Bats knows, it's human taxidermy, and dryly notes, "It's true. Some guests got to keep their costumes." Not a bad line there.

Of course, things go south pretty quickly for Hara after that: the Batarang intended for Batman ends up in Mighty Giant's back, and Batman tasers down Aiko. From a standing start, Batman punches Hara (down what looks like a flight of stairs, only for him to land in the cosplay room) and notes Hara's Yakuza bosses should have their invitations and be there shortly: having a comic-reading otaku is one thing, but apparently there's no room for a "deviant" in the Japanese mob. No offense to Japan, but don't you have to do something beyond the pale to be considered an unacceptable pervert there? Or is it that being a deviant isn't the problem, being a loud and noticeable deviant is?

'You tell me, Alfred, I don't make you wear that uniform...'
Batman leaves, knowing Aiko heard him, and lets Aiko take care of Hara. Now that seemed a little out of character, for Batman to turn his back on a probable murder. Maybe he just hates fanboys. And the story closes with a little banter with Alfred and Bruce.

There are some ups and some downs to this story: for longtime Batman fans, the plot probably seems pretty close to the Batman: the Animated Series episode "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy." That one was based on "The Cape and Cowl Deathtrap!" Written by Elliot S! Maggin, art by Walt Simonson, in Detective Comics #450, reprinted in the Art of Walt Simonson.
Simonson doesn't draw as good of a smiling Batman as Alan Davis, but close.
But for me, the story seems a lot closer to the opening arc of John Ostrander and Doug Rice's Manhunter, the Mark Shaw version. Japan and the mask angle figure into that one quite a bit, although that's a four issue story with a little more meat to it. OK, that one's a personal favorite, so maybe not a fair comparison. And it's not fair for me to expect the writer or editor to have read every damn comic...

What I'm trying to remember, and I want to say this is from a fairly recent issue of Detective Comics, maybe even from "Face the Face," but aren't Batarangs tagged to give off a homing signal? Gah, I've been struggling to remember if I actually have this issue, or just read it or saw the preview or something; but Robin and Batman check out a display of Batarangs left all over Gotham--on rooftops, buried, embedded in walls, perps, etc. (I'm sure someone like Killer Croc or Bane probably has a couple lodged in them somewhere.)

Wherever this is from, it's a more recent development, and might be considered important. When Nightwing gave Batwoman a 'real' batarang in 52, I suspected it was a ploy for Batman to keep tabs on her; as it turned out, I guess it was Jason Todd taking a swing for the fences...Admittedly, passing yourself off as Nightwing because it gets more chicks than the 'Red Hood' makes sense, and is the only explanation I have for any of that.

Of course, they could just say the Otaku is what gave Batman the idea...

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