Thursday, June 27, 2013

There Is No Hope at Haley's Circus

Yesterday I took you on a guided excursion...please do not stray outside the tour!—of Gotham City's Crime Alley: you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. (On this planet.) And I took you through some of the history, legend, and comic book stories of Crime Alley, explaining its importance and significance to our bat-garbed crimefighter. But tonight we're going to walk on a slightly more...bizarre path, looking at a few, quite different (and very possibly non-canonical) adventures in Crime Alley, and we'll end up with the explanation of why not just Bruce Wayne, but also Dick Grayson, the first Robin, can never forget what night Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered. Y'all ready? Please do not dawdle at the back there!

Here's a more recent (and yet, probably wiped out by Flashpoint) story that help us understand how visceral Bruce Wayne's reaction to that event long ago can be. And hey, what the heck is Plastic Man doing robbing Bruce and date at gunpoint? Well, this is from a JLA story in which the Justice Leaguers were split into their separate secret and superhero identities (don't you hate it when that happens?!?), and Eel O'Brian is forced to shock playboy Bruce Wayne into accepting back his Batman nature by jump-starting him with the most traumatic moment in his life. Yahtzee!

Panels from JLA #53 (June 2001), script by Mark Waid, pencils by Bryan Hitch, inks by Paul Neary, colors by Laura Martin, letters by Ken Lopez

"To Kill a Legend," another iconic Crime Alley story, is actually one of DC's patented parallel-Earths tales. While it's published several later, it chronologically takes place one year before the events in "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley."

Splash page from "To Kill a Legend" in Detective Comics #500 (March 1981), script by Alan Brennert, pencils and inks by Dick Giordano, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Costanza

The elevator pitch: The Phantom Stranger and his swingin' '60s turtleneck turns up to alert our (Earth-1) Batman that, just as his parents were killed twenty years before and the Earth-2's Batman's parents were killed forty years ago, this time it's the Batman of Earth-...well, it's not Earth-3, because on eeeeevil Earth-3, young Bruce Wayne killed his parents. Or maybe Thomas Wayne killed heroic Joe Chill. I dunno. Is Earth-3 still in canon? Anyway, it's EarthCOUGHCOUGHCOUGH where our Batman has the chance to save his parents from a gun-related death and help that Bruce Wayne grow up with his parents.

There's some over-elaborate nonsense about how, since it's now twenty years later, the murder will take place five days earlier than on Earth-1 (because, y'know, leap years), which means that Batman doesn't have the extra time he expected: tonight, there is no hope in Crime Alley on the first day of Spring! Wow, bummer.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: Robin came there with him. Also: Batman goes berserker! He learned those moves from Wolverine.

Yay, Batman! And that Bruce Wayne grew up to be...well, we'll never know. But it's a really nice story. (sniffle)

But by far—at least as far as I've yet read—the weirdest and wackiest (and it isn't even written by Bob Haney!) non-Elseworlds tale of Crime Alley takes place in Superboy #182...yes, you read that right, in Superboy. Through a mixture of time travel, time television and time to burn, teenage Clark Kent befriends Bruce Wayne, who seems to already be a young teenager when his parents are killed. Of course, their acquaintance gets off to the usual great start:

Panels from "The Forging of Young Batman!" in Superboy (1959 series) #182 (February 1972), script by Leo Dorfman, pencils by Bob Brown, inks by Murphy Anderson

Now, as we all know, Thomas and Martha Wayne died on June 26 when they were killed by Joe Chill, right?

STORY, YOU CONFUSE ME! November 25? Zodiac Killer? Bruce Wayne investigating his parents murder the day after? (Didn't he want to hang around Wayne Manor for some delicious Thanksgiving turkey sammich leftovers?) What the Sam Scratch is going on here?!? Luckily, this Bruce is written with the same determined but reasoned need for justice and not simply vengeance...



So, Bruce Wayne goes through the story pretty much being a jerk, until Superboy discovers that no, the Zodiac Killer wasn't responsible. At which point Bruce "Executioner" Wayne continues being a jerk. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen! grumble grumble grumble Crisis couldn't come fast enough grumble grumble grumble

Still, I don't think that's quite a disturbing as the Brave and the Bold tale which lets us know that Bruce keeps his parents' ashes. In the disused Wayne summer house.

Panels from "The Man Who Murdered the Past!" in The Brave and the Bold #99 (December 1971-January 1972), script by Bob Haney, pencils by Bob Brown, inks by Nick Cardy

AND HE'S MIXED THEM TOGETHER IN THE SAME URN oh this one is written by Bob Haney okay I can deal with that.

To finish with, and a little more seriously, I promised you a look at Dick Grayson's impression of June 26th. Yep, Batman's first partner is very aware of the significance of that date.

Panels from Batman: Gotham Adventures #60 (May 2003), script by Scott Peterson and Tim Levins, pencils by Tim Levins, inks by Terry Beatty, colors by Lee Loughridge, letters by Albert De Guzman

And why is that?


Panels from Nightwing (1995 limited series) #1 (September 1995), script by Dennis O'Neil, pencils by Greg Land, inks by Mike Sellers, colors by Cathi Bertrand, letters by John Costanza

Geez, poor Dick. That's kind of like having your birthday the day after Christmas. Everybody gets around and does something special for the big day, and the day after, you're left high and dry hoping somebody will pay attention to you. On the other hand, it's a darn good thing that Haley's Circus didn't arrive in Gotham City one day earlier all those years ago, because then Batman would have been otherwise occupied and wouldn't have been at the circus where Dick's parents went splat. Sorry, not trying to be insensitive, Dick...I just don't think there's a technical non-circus term for what they did.

So, on this night, please remember Thomas and Martha John and Mary Grayson and their tragic death years ago. At the same time, please try not to just think of June 27th as "Day After Batman's Parents Died [Observed]." Tomorrow, we may well find out it's the day Jason Todd died, or Barbara Gordon was shot, or Alfred accidentally dropped that roast he'd been slaving over the stove for hours. Late June is not a good time for the Bat-Family.

On the other hand, over with the super half of the World's Finest Team, according to the 1976 Super DC Calendar, June 29 is the day that Krypto the Super-Dog landed on Earth! So that's a good day, right?

Panels from "The Super-Dog from Krypton!" in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), script by Otto Binder, pencils by Curt Swan, inks by Sy Barry

Wow! A super-dog! What a keen new friend for young Clark Kent. Every (super)boy needs a (super)dog, and I bet he'll treat Krypto much better than Superman later treated another arrival from his home planet, Supergirl.

Panel from of "The Supergirl from Krypton!" in Action Comics #252 (May 1959), script by Otto Binder, pencils and inks by Al Plastino

Eek. How cold is that? Ice cold. But I'm sure Superboy will treat Krypto much better than Superman treated Supergirl.



Andrew Leal said...

Yikes, 1995 Nightwing was sure macho, from the physique and the mullet to the scruff and impressive forearm hair.

Also, awww, poor Krypto, chained up out in the wastelands and brushed with BARBED WIRE. Geeze, I don't care if he's Kryptonian, that's nuts.

Blam said...

I'm not sure why Superboy couldn't tell Bruce that his parents died when Krypton exploded. Oh, well... At least it's not the rest of the story otherwise makes sense.

Much as I love Alan Brennert's parallel-Earth Batman stories, "To Kill a Legend" included, I've never understood why he didn't fudge the constantly-in-flux Earth-One timeline more to keep the Earth-Two Batman's parents from having been killed only 40 years ago — that would be 1941, a couple of years after Batman debuted, with his and the JSA's (and later the All-Star Squadron's) existence during World War II a bedrock part of continuity.

Perhaps the loveliest touch in that story, by the way, is what did end up happening to Earth-Whatever's young Bruce Wayne, at least what we infer from the end of the story. I've also always been amazed that somebody like James Robinson or Grant Morrison didn't dredge up the Batman of that world during one of the multiverse's (or multiverses') post-Crisis reappearances.