Thursday, June 26, 2014

There Is No Hope in Crime Alley, Night 26

Each June for the past few years (2012, 2013) we've commemorated one of the most retold, one of the most iconic scenes in comic books: the shooting of Thomas and Martha Wayne Gotham's City's Park Row (and in an assortment of Elseworlds)...the dark back street later known as Crime Alley. It's a scene so seminal that it even appears in the pilot for Fox's new Gotham television series this fall.

Clip from the trailer for Gotham, premiering on Fox

Again and again and again I've shown you throughout June(s) the murder of the Waynes, which, despite leading to one of the greatest heroes of all literature, reminds us of this universal truth: there is no hope in Crime Alley.

Panels from Detective Comics #574 (May 1987), script by Mike W. Barr, pencils by Alan Davis, inks by Paul Neary, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Richard Starkings

One more time for this June, here's the paradigm-setting death sequence — this time, from one of my favorite Batman comics. Detective #574.

What's different in this telling from many others, is the appearance of a Batman supporting character. She's on the scene immediately following the murder of the Waynes: Dr. Leslie Thompkins, whose introduction in 'Tec #457 (I spotlighted this ish last year on June 26) established her comforting Bruce. Here she is again, an angel in the night.

The addition of Leslie as being present the night of the shooting is perhaps the last major new addition to the Batman's origin night following the retcon (in Batman: Year One, I think) that Alfred Pennyworth was in the Wayne's employ during that period rather than joining Bruce and Dick after they'd already become the Caped Crusaders. Barr and Davis fill in her background further in this issue. Note the no-longer-Zagat's-rated "Chez Gotham" restaurant in the first panel of this story, above. The building has been renovated and repurposed, thanks to the contributions of billionaire Bruce Wayne, to the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic, from which Dr. Leslie Thompkins practices medicine for the lower-class citizens of Gotham's inner city.

A clinic into which Batman bursts, on a cold dark rainy night not unlike the one his parents died, with the near lifeless body of Robin.

Since this Boy Wonder is Robin II aka Jason Todd, modern-day readers encountering this tale for the very first time and out of context might jump to the conclusion that this story is the controversial and infamous Death of Robin. SPOILER ALERT: It isn't. Oh, and also SPOILER ALERT: Jason Todd eventually dies. But not in this issue. The full-page panel in Batman #428 that depicts the actual death is even reminiscent of the cover of 'Tec #574.

Left: cover of Detective Comics #574 (May 1987); pencils by Alan Davis, inks by Paul Neary, colors by Anthony Tollin
Right: page from Batman #428 (Late December 1988); script by Jim Starlin, pencils by Jim Aparo, inks by Mike DeCarlo, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Costanza
(Click picture to Robin-blows-up-real-good-size)

Speaking of dead Robins: 'Tec #574 also fills in an aspect of Leslie's personality that would become vital, if considerably over the top, in the much later saga of the death of Robin IV (Stephanie Brown): her frequent grumpy quarrels with Bruce over his methods... well as her role as Bruce's foster mother during his childhood. I'm not certain whether this relationship has survived Flashpoint into the New 52, but I've always wanted to see more stories of Bruce's childhood with Leslie as his adult figure along with Alfred. At the very least she might teach him that reading Sherlock Holmes is fun, not homework.

It's scenes like this that are why I've chosen to devote the final night of There Is No Hope in Crime Alley once again to Leslie Thompkins.

Thanks to scenes like this, as far as I'm concerned, Leslie Thompkins is as vital and essential a part of the Batman mythology as Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, or Fatman.

Splash panel from "Batman Meets Fatman" in Batman #113 (February 1958), script by Bill Finger, pencils by Sheldon Moldoff, inks by Charles Paris

And she deserves every acclaim she gets. Leslie is the reason that there is...hope in Crime Alley.

1 comment:

Blam said...

I loved Barr & Davis' too-short-lived stint on Detective with a laughing Jason Todd as Robin, soon retconned away when we got his revised origin. And I loved the introduction to the mythos of Leslie Thompkins' expanded role, even though I loved the original "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley" story (whose power stems in large part from her having been a random caring bystander without continuing ties to young Bruce Wayne's life).

What I didn't love was Jason Todd coming back, but that's a whole other story. Oh, SPOILER ALERT: Jason Todd got better after he died. No, wait, I have grossly misspoken… He didn't get better. He just came back.

As much as I love Jim Aparo in his prime, by the way, I don't much care for his later work as inked by Mike DeCarlo, and the Davis/Neary cover to 'Tec #574 is way better than that page from Batman #428. That aside, I suspect they both might have been paying homage to the classic "Robin Dies at Dawn" from Batman #156, but you've doubtless, um, covered that here before.