Bat-Timeline Archeology

Monday, August 30, 2010

A month or so ago we went to a back issue sale at a local comic shop.  The deal was that you could fill a box with whichever issues you wanted out of these huge boxes for $25.  It was a pretty great deal.  We ended up with a lot of scattered issues of various titles, and reading through some of them, I had a thought. 

I understand the feeling that it can be hard to get into comics, that the history is too long or too complicated to just jump in.  But the core of a major character hardly ever changes, and one can easily piece together the history with just a little enjoyable comic archeology.

In the box o'comics, I have 7 issues of standard DC comics with Batman in the title.  I'm going to look at 4 today.

In date order:

July 93 Batman 496 (subtitle: Knightfall 9)
July 93 Detective Comics featuring Batman 663 (subtitle: Knightfall 10)
Dec 94 Batman 513 (subtitle: Prodigal 5)
Aug 98 Batman 557 (subtitle: Aftershock)

Here we go:

Batman 496 (Knightfall 9)

Plot: Joker and Scarecrow have the mayor prisoner, Batman and cops are trying to save him.  Straightforward for the most part.  Batman suspects that Bane is behind the trouble.

Bat-Timeline Artifacts:
  • If you missed that there have been three Robins, well, two get name-checked here. 

    • Sometime before this issue, the Joker killed Robin #2, Jason Todd.  Batman has a flashback to this, and punches the Joker.  A lot.
    • Tim Drake appears for a panel as the current Robin.

  • Batman is in sorry shape in this issue.  Everyone seems worried.

Detective Comics Featuring Batman 663 (Knightfall 10)

Plot: Follows directly from last issue, Batman rescues the mayor, then has to fight a bunch of guys who I guess are Bane's lackeys while growing more injured and exhausted.  Ends with a cliffhanger, Batman facing Bane.

Bat-Timeline Artifacts:
  • Even if I had never heard of this plotline, there is a very large ad in this issue for "Knightfall 11" that indicates where this is going.  Batman is in serious painful trouble. 
  • Five seconds at Wikipedia will give you: "Batman: Knightfall is the title given to a major Batman story arc published by DC Comics that dominated Batman-related serial comic books in the spring and summer of 1993 .... Bruce Wayne (Batman) suffers burnout and is systematically assaulted and crippled by a "super steroid"-enhanced genius named Bane." There you go.

Now jump a year and a half of comics to

Batman 513 (Prodigal 5)

Plot: Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Tim Drake) face off against Two-Face and a bunch of escaped prisoners.

Bat-Timeline Artifacts:
  • Well, apparently Bane didn't kill Bruce, (Tim refers to Dick's decision to be Batman as “helping Bruce”) but he must still be laid up or something.
  • They had a Subway Rocket-mobile?  That's...odd.
  • References to some times where Dick failed to stop Two-Face in the past.
  • Some talk about someone named Jean Paul.  Just from this issue I can deduce that he must have been Batman briefly.  

    • Tim makes a joke about Dick being the only Batman who can do laundry.  
    • Extra evidence: Commissioner Gordon thinks of Dick as “the third one”.

  • Letters column gives Jean Paul his code-name: Azrael.  Oh, I've heard of him.  Know nothing about him, but I've heard of him as a Bat-character.

Now a big jump, almost 4 years of comics to

Batman 557 (Aftershock)

Plot: Batman teams up with a vigilante named Ballistic to recover a suitcase from the ruins of a building.

Bat-Timeline Artifacts:
  • Bruce is Batman again
  • A terrible earthquake has hit Gotham.

    • Ballistic makes a joke about the good money being on California.
    • Seems to be chaos and rubble everywhere.

  • Another reference to Jean Paul as temporary Bat: Ballistic previously met Jean Paul, not Bruce, and is surprised by our standard Bat's aversion to guns.

Now, while not getting any full stories, except maybe in that last short one, I got a lot of painless information about continuity through the era.  Mainly that Bruce got seriously injured and other guys stepped up as Batman for a while, with varying success, but we also got some background on Jason Todd, and some on Dick Grayson.  (Also a few other issues we have in the box indicate that the earthquake and aftermath was a long storyline, although I did know that going in.)

Not bad for 4 issues.  Comics today no longer all have a page at the start that says “Last time, this happened...”, and there have been a few issues in the sale box that needed that.  (Looking at you, Legion of Superheroes)  But generally, it's not hard to pick up.  And if you're not up for the puzzle, you can just ask the internet.

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