Monday, June 30, 2008

Look, I'm not Calendar Man, but June 30 has to be either Yak Shaving Day or the Feast of Maximum Occupancy.

Long-term readers of this site probably know this isn't one of those behind the scenes kind of news outlets: for example, while I know Chuck Dixon is no longer with DC Comics, I haven't the slightest on the how or why of that. But Dixon wrote Batman for a long time, moreover, he wrote the best Calendar Man I've ever read. Admittedly, I've read like three; but still, that's a tough villain to have to work with.
Dixon opens with a 60's style Calendar Man getting his big score foiled by Batman and Robin, with period-appropriate art by Joe Staton. Sadly, it's probably the high point of the Calendar Man's career, and things go pretty south for Julian Day from there. Although his lawyer does a good job of selling it, Day is found guilty on all charges, his third offense. This may have been before three strikes laws, but he gets the maximum sentence, which wouldn't make him eligible for parole until after January 1, 2000. For someone completely fixated on the calendar, that wasn't really working for him.

Before that, though, Day gets two lucky breaks...that aren't lucky for him at all. First, he's freed by Bane, circa Knightfall. Although Julian wisely bails out on Gotham, he's picked up by Power Girl, who seems about as concerned as if she was picking up her dry cleaning. Thrown into Blackgate Prison, Day is freed again during the Bat-Quake, but is left starving and helpless in No Man's Land until he's arrested again. This time he gets Arkham.

His treatment would be cruel and unusual in a prison, but in Arkham it's innovative therapy: to break Day of his fixation on calendars, he's put in a cell with no outside light, no clocks, random periods of light and darkness. He's kept without any knowledge of days, months, or years...until March 2000, missing the millennium. Still, that gets him parole, since he was rather a bit on the catatonic side for that, which is what passes for good behavior in Arkham.

Although he had planned a whole Times Square blowup before, with the millennium gone, Day is at first so surprised to be released that he thinks it is another "shrink's trick." But, he's so grateful to have days and nights and the simple joy of marking days off on a calendar, that he seems harmless. Then Batman pokes the bear. He sounds like Judge Dredd here, on recidivism, and probably gives this speech to just about everyone who gets out of Arkham or Blackgate. He might have wanted to save it this time, since it just sets Calendar Man off. (How many villains do you think would be quits if Batman didn't get in their faces?) Day decides he may have missed January 1, 2000; but there are other calendars, and he sets off to have his vengeance on those days.

Day gets a more current costume, a rocket launcher with EMP-generating shells, and a new gang; before setting off on a new five day spree. But not five consecutive days: Calendar Man sends Commissioner Gordon a note with his five days of terror, picked from ancient and obscure calendars. Tim Drake appears a couple times in the story as Batman's legman, to track down the dates.

Calendar Man is pretty successful at first, and seems to be having a lot of fun: shooting down a jet in Y2K homage, kidnapping a pile of models at a calendar shoot, booby-trapping his old apartment for the cops. Fed up, Batman turns up the pressure on the rest of Gotham's underworld, letting them know that he'll be all over them until they find Calendar Man. I have to ask: it's not like Batman was giving the mobsters and crooks a pass before, right? I mean, Bats roughs them up and lets them know more is coming, but even if they deliver Day giftwrapped to Batman, he's not going to be any less harsh on those criminals. There is a brief moment where a boss asks the advice of an old-school criminal, Matches Malone, a longtime secret identity of Batman; who advises "flush the psycho."

So they do: the criminals track down Calendar Man (one of his men broke radio silence to make a bet) and gun down his crew. Batman stops the mob from murdering Day (although, doesn't that leave the lives of the crew on Batman's hands?) then chases down Calendar Man. Bill Sienkiewicz art. Can't go wrong with that.

In the end, Day's found guilty of a mountain of charges from racketeering to discharge of a radioactive weapon within city limits...and two hundred and ten counts of homicide. His lawyer advises if the judge doesn't go for the death penalty, he wouldn't be eligible for parole for eight years. Day starts making plans for December 23, 2012. The day the world ends according to the Aztec calendar, for you non-X-Files fans.

I'll have to look for it, but I think Dixon wrote a similar story with the secret origin of the Riddler. (One of the annuals, I believe.) He can write a good story of a bad guy who is just a wee bit insane, villains who take obsessive-compulsive disorders into their crime gimmicks. I found this one in the quarter bins, but if you want a nice Batman story with good art that doesn't make you read forty other books, take a look for the Batman Eighty Page Giant (July 2000). Written by Chuck Dixon, art by Joe Staton, Manuel Gutierrez and Bud Larosa, Mike Deodato and David Roach, Graham Nolan and Mark Pennington, Louis Small Jr. and Caesar, Dale Eaglesham and John Floyd, and Bill Sienkiewicz.


SallyP said...

This DOES sound good.

CalvinPitt said...

Yeah, maybe Batman could have shown up and said "Looks like you've got a good life going here. I'm glad. Keep up the good work."

Though if Batman said that to me, I'd be afraid he was threatening to break my kneecaps or something. But surely there's some way Bats could encourage his foes to stay the straight and narrow.