Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying (part 1 of 5) Batman #440
So Tim Drake, AKA Robin, Red Robin, Drake, and now Robin again, has been in the news recently for coming out as
gay bisexual. Is it shameless pandering? A desperate attempt to garner publicity? A sign that the editors at DC have completely run out of ideas for the Robin that became suddenly redundant when Damien Wayne was created? You decide. One thing I did find amusing in terms of coincidence is how Marvel’s Iceman, Bobby Drake, also had his orientation, ah, re-oriented. What other Drakes will follow suit?
The news did make me a bit nostalgic and had me cast my mind back some thirty [!] years, when DC comics had killed off Jason Todd and found themselves with the unenviable task of replacing him. Well, maybe not so unenviable. It seemed very few people liked Todd in either incarnation, either as the blonde-haired clone of Dick Grayson, or the angry young punk penned by Jim Starlin. But here’s the thing there’s nothing wrong with having a character who can be a bit of a jerk. Wolverine started out being rough around the edges and in time evolved into a more well-rounded character. If anything, maybe they went too far with him and I think maybe now he’s a little too likeable. But even at his most abrasive, Wolverine brought an element of cool to the table. Jason? No cool to be had.
So for some reason—be it legal, in that there must always be a Robin to protect the copyright/trademark, or those in editorial felt that there must always be a Robin with a Batman—Tim Drake came into being. I was considering taking a look at Tim’s first appearance, which was in Batman: Year Three, but that’s one of the least memorable stories I could delve into. Instead, I decided to jump to Tim’s second appearance, which was the five-part story A Lonely Place of Dying. Our story opens up on a dam, with Batman fighting what looks like the lead singer from Slipknot.
We’ve got an all-star lineup here, with Marv Wolfman and George Perez on deck with words, and the immortal Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo with pictures. Perez’s front cover was also pretty sweet. The bad guy’s name is “the Ravager”, and I get that by keeping his outfit two-toned it makes the colorist’s job easier, but while gold goes good with blue it just makes him look, well, fashionably questionable. Personally, if I were a knife-wielding maniac, silver would have been my choice.
The narrator tells us that two weeks ago, the Ravager killed two cops, following them home and shooting them while they slept; no word if they were sharing a bed. Two weeks earlier, he killed Danny and Dawn, a brother and sister rock act. If this is supposed to be riff on Donny and Marie Osmond, then “rock” is quite a stretch. Batman was led to this dam and the damned Ravager by a series of “obvious” clues. So… what was the Ravager doing on the dam in the first place? Was he planning on stabbing it? Well, apparently he’s a nut, so maybe.
Batman’s hurt, but he steps up and beats the Ravager and the man takes a dive into the churning water below. Batman apparently is expecting to meet him again. Spoilers: He never does. I am so, so heartbroken over this. As Batman drives off in his Batmobile, someone takes pictures of our Caped Crusader.
We don’t see the person’s face, only their hands as they put away their camera. The person thinks, “So much for Bruce Wayne. Now I can start on Dick Grayson”. And then they ride off on their bike. Okay, I know you the reader can figure out this is Tim Drake, but at the time this was legit mysterious. Did I think this could somehow be Jason Todd? I mean, he was pretty thoroughly dead but even then, death seemed to be becoming a joke in comics. I honestly can’t recall who I suspected at the time. Meanwhile, we cut to a brownstone in the city where a man sits alone with his thoughts… and a radio that talks to him.
Who is this mysterious person? Is someone talking to him through the old timey radio, or is he just hearing voices? Which of Batman’s looney rogues gallery is this? Right away I thought it was the Joker, and then realized it couldn’t be: this guy’s chin is too, well, normal, and the Joker’s is not.
At least it’s like that when the Aparo Man illustrates the Clown Prince of Crime. The voice goads the man into admitting he’s going to kill Batman and that’ll be easy, because they’ll have the Caped Crusader’s itinerary. One way or another, Batman will die.
And speaking of Batman, he manages to drive home where Alfred sits up waiting for him.
In a nice touch, we see the clock says 2:24, then later 4:47, then Bruce finally passes out at 5:18. Alfred leaves his unconscious charge and goes off to look at some old newspaper clippings and photos. In another nice touch, there’s a photo that has Batman swooping in almost exactly like when Dick Grayson’s parents were killed just a few issues earlier in Batman: Year Three.
This has to be them paying homage to an old issue somewhere. I went back to Detective Comics #38, Robin’s first appearance and origin, but no dice. However, we do see Robin employing a slingshot, and it’s the sort ancient armies used. Damn, in the right hands, that weapon’s lethal. We should’ve seen all the Robins using one of those all the time. For some reason, there’s a picture of Batman fighting the Ravager, which I guess implies the two squared off before and somehow Ravager got away. Man, Batman must be slipping if this D-lister got the better of him. Alfred notes how Bruce has been acting differently from before.
These jokes would be less easy if the writers would just call him Richard. In yet another of a long line of nice touches (because we’re dealing with storytellers who love their craft), you can see the difference between the Robins in their hairstyles:
Dick Richard in the back, Jason in front. Alfred sees in other more recent articles how Bruce just doesn’t seem to care anymore, and he wants the old Batman back.
Later, he checks in on Bruce, who’s eating breakfast in bed and looking all chipper. He says his fever has passed and he doesn’t know what he would do without Alfred. Alfred wonders that as well and very politely reads Bruce the riot act, noting how in the past all he had to do was treat the odd muscle strain or pulled ligament—and this is in sharp contrast to how a ton of writers and artists have portrayed Bruce, illustrating a laundry lists of contusions, stabbings, gunshots, etc. Watch The Dark Knight and you’ll see what I mean; or the roadmap of scars shown on Batman’s back in The Three Jokers. It gets a little hard to believe the man is able to function by age 35 after a decade of horrific abuse like that. This Batman, the one Alfred is talking about, fought smarter, not harder. He even notes what he told young Master Grayson back in the day: “We’re not brutalizers. We’ve got to think with our heads, not our fists.” Bruce ain’t got nothin’ to say to that, and Alfred leaves him alone.
Bruce crawls out of bed and there’s this wonderful expression of sorrow on his face. He makes his way down to the Batcave and gets a fresh Bat-suit on while using an electric shaver, then drives out into the night while Alfred stands staring out the window. I love proper use of minimalist dialogue, where the writer steps back and lets the artist do the storytelling. I heard that was part of what killed the Claremont/Byrne partnership, that Chris could be so… wordy sometimes.
Elsewhere, a mobster named Giuseppe Scalatio, AKA Gerry Skye, “enjoys” an opera with the family. It’s then that our mystery radio listener slips into the booth and murmurs, “Payroll Activation”, which causes Gerry to leave his family to talk to the stranger in the hall outside. The mystery man concocts a scheme where they take out a pair of problems at the same time.
That laugh? That’s what’s called a “red herring” and would have been more effective had an artist other than Aparo illustrated this story. Or the dude’s face had been kept hidden more effectively. The mystery man makes it back to his lair where he rants at the radio, saying Batman will die on the 22nd.
Meanwhile, our other mysterious character is found outside of Titans Tower, watching the various team members leave. There’s Changeling and (sigh) Troia. Damn, Donna Troy’s convoluted origin would probably be enough for another five-part series, but I wouldn’t enjoy writing it and I don’t think you folks would enjoy reading it. Then Starfire leaves alone, which confuses Mystery Person, and finally Cyborg and Jericho depart. But… no Nightwing. Later, he peeps in on Starfire, who at this time was living with Dick, but she’s only got dinner for one. We see more of Mystery Person…
…and yeah, definitely male. And damn, that jacket’s exactly like the one Jason Todd wore in the first two parts of A Death In The Family. That’s no coincidence. Interesting note: A Death in the Family was told in Batman #426-429. This is Batman #440. This means they didn’t even wait a year before coming up with a replacement. That’s cold, man.
Next, we find Batman lurking outside of the Zwei Brothers warehouse. He got there at 11 PM and it’s now 2 AM. I can’t imagine sitting still for three hours, not unless there’s a Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino movie on in front of me. Some dudes finally show up and they discover they’re stealing…books? One crook explains to the other how the publisher gets a fat paycheck from the insurance company and then a cut from street corner sales. I can’t see how the publisher is going to collect on street corner sales, but whatever. One crook quips, “Who reads anymore?” and Batman quips back from the shadows, “You should.” One crook says that the boss was expecting Batman to show just like he did for the Ravager, and the bad guys open up with gunfire. Batman dives for cover and it’s then that Alfred’s words sink in, and he realizes he has to think with his head and not his fists. These idiots name dropped the Ravager; so the Ravager and these idjits are connected.
As Batman drops a tower of boxes full of books on the bad guys, then hijacks a forklift and drives it into another, it begins to all fall into place. Two weeks ago, two police men were shot. Two weeks earlier than that, there were two more victims. It’s 2 AM on the 22nd, the warehouse is on 22nd Street, and then the final clue clicks into place.
Batman stares at his fists and realizes he hasn’t been thinking at all, just reacting. If he had actually been thinking, then he would have realized something long ago.
Batman shows up at Commissioner Gordon’s officer via the open window, and asks what he knows about Two-Face. Gordon responds sarcastically, “You mean the man you broke out of jail and let escape from a Caribbean island? That Two-Face? What about him?” Damn, Jim, just give it to Bats with both barrel, why don’t you? Now I want to track down that story and get the full scoop.
Batman takes the hit and asks if there’s been any word on him, but there’s been nothing. Of course, Gordon looks away for just a second and Bats… is gone.
Meanwhile, Kory/Starfire answers her door in a robe with her hair up in a towel. You’d think she would wear sunglasses to hide the glowing green eyes since she supposedly shares an apartment with a guy with a secret identity. Regardless, it’s our Mystery Person who asks for Nightw—Dick, and Kory explains he left the Titans several weeks ago. The person dashes off without answering Kory’s question as to how he knew where she lived. He sneaks over to Dick’s old apartment and somehow gets inside. Up until now, this was the only thing that annoyed me; it would have made a lot more sense if Kory brought him here, concerned for Dick’s welfare. Our Mystery Person goes over the contents of Dick’s desktop and comes across a news clipping: Haly Circus, Dick’s old home, is closing. And now our Mystery Person realizes where Dick must have gone.
Next week: Part two, continued in the pages of New Titans #60.