Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying (part 2 of 5) New Titans #60
Last issue: Batman’s slow slide into mindless brutality was arrested by Alfred’s salient observations regarding the Dark Knight’s inability to cope with Jason’s death. As a result, he finally figured out Two-Face was back. Meanwhile, a mystery stalker who seemed to know the identities of Batman and Nightwing determined that Dick Grayson was returning to his home, the circus where he and his parents worked, because it was closing down.
We open at Titans Tower, where Kori wisely headed to after her mysterious visitor showed up and pretty much revealed that he knows entirely too much, and she went to Victor/Cyborg for help. We also find out the visitor was a kid, and that wasn’t just the six-foot-plus Kori towering over her visitor…Wait, that happened yesterday? Kori waited until morning to follow up on this? Some child knows where you live and was asking for Nightwing and it didn’t give you cause for concern? I guess Tamaranians need their beauty sleep, huh?
Moving on, Victor’s having trouble locating Nightwing, who has “retired”. Yeah, but we all know the three people who don’t retire are actors, pro wrestlers, and superheroes. Cyborg decides it’s time he let Batman know what’s up. I guess Vic was putting off the call because he’d have to explain why the info is twelve hours old. He calls stately Wayne Manor where Alfred answers and explains that Richard’s not there; he left after the “Zucco fiasco” which occurred in Batman #436-439, AKA Batman: Year Three [sigh]. I’m going to have to do more than just skim those issues just to satisfy my curiosity, aren’t I? And, as it turns out, this also played out in New Titans #59. So with the call to Dick’s old digs being a bust, Vic calls Donna/Wonder Girl/Troia, who’s with Jericho at Grayson’s apartment, where someone else shows up.
Wow, the difference in Speedy’s ’60s-esque costume and the ultra-busy ’80s styles is pretty jarring. And only the Flash can pull off the red tights/yellow boots motif. The only guy in bigger need of a makeover than Speedy was Aqualad.
Waitaminute. This is Dick’s apartment. Dick Grayson’s apartment. Nightwing’s alter ego. His secret identity. And three people in costume are rooting around in it for all the neighbors to possibly see. Does nobody on this team give a single damn about Nightwing and Batman’s secret identities?
Jericho spots a false wall which hides a safe. Speedy does a fair job of cracking it and they find a scrapbook with a few items missing. They figure Dick would never have done that, which means someone else was here, which means somebody knows Dick and Nightwing are one and the same. So…the kid (Tim. I know we all know it’s Tim) found info laying on Dick’s desk about the circus closing down, but that wasn’t good enough for him, so he found the false wall and cracked the safe, too? Tim’s quite the overachiever. So with that big reveal we cut to…
And now you just know Something Bad is going to go down here. No visit to the circus or carnival is ever simple. We’ve seen that over at Marvel with the Circus of Crime and that issue of Avengers where Taskmaster took over Hawkeye’s old carnival (Which I recapped on YouTube, by the way. Damn, those videos of mine were rough). Or Deadman’s origin, where he was shot and killed. Or anybody ever watch that episode of The Librarians? What about the freak show from The X-Files? And I never watched it, but I guarantee the boys from Supernatural had at least one circus/carnival adventure during their fifteen-year run. The places are mobile slaughterhouses, man.
Dick strolls through the circus and notes how things don’t seem right: the paint’s peeling, the beasts in their cages seem lethargic, and the circus workers don’t seem at all enthusiastic. Dick’s distracted by an elephant’s trunk on his shoulder—it’s Elinore, who actually remembers him. Dick notes the elephant smells terrible because nobody’s washed her, so he sets about doing it himself. I’ll say this for him: ten years as a youthful ward to a guy richer than sin hasn’t eroded Grayson’s work ethic.
While Dick scrubs down the pachyderm’s hide, he starts reminiscing about the old days, when he’s interrupted by some familiar faces.
It’s Jaques and Soose, two old hands who had left to join Circus DeVegas, which might be a reference to real world Circus Vargas. But when their old boss needed help, they came back to Haly’s. As they stroll through the grounds, an old clown staggers out and into Dick’s arms. It’s Harry, another old friend of Dick’s who sadly spends most of his days on the sauce now. Later, Dick sits down with Mr. Haly, who’s name is also Harry, and that’s a bad literary flub there; every character in a story should have a different name. Harry (the owner) explains that times have changed and circuses just don’t draw the crowds like they used to. He decided to sell, but the corporation who offered to buy wanted to put their logos on the sides of the elephants. Glad to see Harry has standards, I guess? So he turned down the offer and started cutbacks to stay afloat but there’ve been… accidents. Accidents that have cost Harry a fortune and knocked down the selling price. But Harry tells Dick not to think about it for now, and instead stick around for the show, to which Dick agrees. He wanders through the tents, ruminating on how things change, when he hears a scream. He runs to the sound—
—and finds Suspect #1, Harry the drunken clown. Judging by the jodhpurs, Wilhem works with animals. And judging by his name and blonde crewcut, I’m guessing he’s Captain Nazi.
No, the other Captain Nazi:
Oh, wait, Wilhem’s got no facial scar. Sorry, false alarm. The [fill in the blank] tamer stalks out, dropping an interesting tidbit that his contact says that if Haly sells, he can walk. So Wilhelm could be a suspect too, making Haly more desperate to sell before things can get worse. And his confrontation with Harry could just be misdirection. Harry the Clown’s run out of booze but not self-pity, so he throws the empty bottle of rotgut away and almost hits a woman in the face, but Dick catches it in mid-air.
Later that night, the show begins. Patrons buy tickets and take their seats under the big top, and among them is our Mystery Kid, packing his camera and scanning the crowd and performers for Dick Grayson. The show kicks off and the audience is exposed to death-defying aerialists, the hilarity of clowns, and the awesome power of the strongman as he lifts a compact car and three women. Our pint-sized stalker still hasn’t seen Grayson and begins to despair, but then realizes he’s a master of disguise and could be anyone. Uh… he is? I know Batman’s got some skills in that department, but since when did Dick? And how would the kid know?
So the boy scans the circus folk, dismissing them one by one while Wilhelm does his big cat taming routine. And that’s when things get all Siegfried and Roy on him.
Wilhelm’s neck gets torn open and the gun-bearing roustabouts take aim, but panic and miss. It turns out Dick is one of the clowns and knows he needs to intervene. He kicks off his massive clown shoes and swings into action.
And here’s where we finally see the kid, and it’s pretty obvious it’s not Jason Todd, because he doesn’t have a petulant scowl on his face.
Dick gets the net on the big cat and the roustabouts stake it down, but it’s too late for Wilhelm: he’s dead. I guess he really wasn’t Captain Nazi. Darn it.
Later, Dick sits down with Harry the Owner, who says that Wilhelm’s death was the last straw. The insurance company is canceling their policy because the big cat was rabid. Uh, can’t you get the cat tested for that? He killed a person, so he’ll have to be put down anyway. Just saying; don’t kiss that sweet insurance money goodbye just yet. Dick leaves and knows something’s up, because this many accidents can’t be mere coincidence. But his ruminations are interrupted when some roustabouts hassle a kid rooting around in the trash for food, until Dick intervenes.
Caught offguard by his young stalker’s statement, he’s further taken aback when the kid says he needs to get back to Batman. But Dick recovers and refocuses on the kid’s supposition that Harry the Clown drugged the big cat. And it’s a decent case; the clown and Wilhelm had fought before. But the clown’s not a vicious person. According to Dick, anyway. Still, it’s a theory that’s got to be confirmed or dismissed. He tells the kid to stay put, because he’s got things to do.
Later on, Samson and Pedro pay Harry the Clown a visit. The accuse him of drugging the big cat and he says he might have done it, only he’d have been too drunk to remember. He shows the pair the booze flask and says Dick gave it to him, and it’s got his makeup all over it. But… maybe somebody else had been wearing his makeup? The clown tells them Dick said there are tests to prove that. But Pedro the midget says it being in the trash with the food would have ruined the chance for such tests. It’s then that the clown points out… he never said the flask was found in the trashed food. Only the killer would know that. Oops. Pedro siccs Samson on Harry, but it ain’t Harry!
Dick takes down Samson in short order and other circus performers and employees come flooding in. But Dick doesn’t have time for congratulations because Pedro’s done a runner! But once they’re outside…
I guess Pedro ain’t no Puck. Harry the Clown, sans makeup, thanks Dick for believing in him, but doesn’t understand why Grayson was so sure of his innocence. Dick explains Harry had thrown away the flask and Dick had disposed of it, meaning somebody else had to have found it and used it to frame the clown. Dick knew Pedro had seen him toss the flask, and a quick check of the little man’s employment history showed he used to work for the corporation that was trying to buy out the circus. From there it was QED.
Cut to the kid seeing Dick leave the owner’s trailer, and it seems like he’s rejoining the circus. But instead, he’s just become it’s co-owner. Hmm, that does make me wonder how solvent Grayson is. I mean, I could see Batman parlaying Dick’s parent’s insurance money and investing it. Over ten years, I’m guessing he must be pretty well-heeled. So the kid approaches Dick and gives him an envelope with some telling pics.
Okay, now how the hell was the kid able to get pictures of the fight from up above Batman and the Ravager, then somehow scramble down to the ground ahead of Batman to get pics of him driving away? And how is Dick able to determine just from the pics that Two-Face is back? I’m calling shenanigans here. Some serious literary tomfoolery, that’s what this is! The kid tells Dick he’s got to get back to Gotham because Batman needs him, and that he hasn’t been the same since Jason died. The kid tells Dick that whatever went down between the two of them, Grayson at least owes Bruce for raising him all those years.
Meanwhile, Batman broods upon a gargoyle-festooned rooftop… which means he could be literally anywhere in Gotham City, gargoyle capital of the world. Which makes me wonder if there’s ever been a Batman/Gargoyles crossover? If Bats can have adventures with everyone from Captain
NaziAmerica, the Shadow, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, surely an epic crossover with the third-greatest animated series ever made is in order.
But as Batman broods, another sits in the shadows, pondering his relationship with the Dark Knight as he flips his coin.
Next time: Batman #441, and part three of our tale.