Across the DC Universe #29 - Part 1

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It’s a huge week of releases for the Batman Family with five titles set directly in the Dark Knight’s world, two with related continuity to it and one with a very much pre-Batman R.I.P. guest-shot. It will be of little surprise then that the first part of our ATDCU coverage this time focuses largely on events in the streets of Gotham. Spoiler Warning: Read no further if you’ve not had your DC fix this week and don’t want to read about key story elements.

Legends of the Dark Knight

Batman #686 is the first of the two-part "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" acting as a coda of sorts to recent climactic developments in the main Bat-book and the pages of Final Crisis. Thematically, of course, this arc is supposed to mark the same defining point between incarnations of the Batman as Alan Moore’s "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"  (Superman #423/Action Comics #583) did for Superman back in 1986.

The story is set at Batman’s funeral as villains and supporting cast alike gather to pay their respects (or lack thereof) to the fallen hero. As the issue progresses both Catwoman and Alfred give their differing accounts of how Batman died as the narrative cuts away to flashback territory. These tales adopt a skewed and condensed vision of the history of the titular character that is very reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s recent approach to the book. With one major exception though: I could follow everything that was going on after just one reading of Gaiman’s tale...

Structurally the plot reminded me very much of Batman #s 291-294 (Sep-Dec 1977), collected in the recent The Strange Deaths of Batman trade, wherein a courtroom full of Batman’s Rogues attempted to discover which of them was responsible for Bruce’s recent "death".

Throughout #686 Batman’s disembodied "spirit" is in communication with a mysterious silhouetted, feminine presence as he queries the contradictions and anomalies inherent in this version of Gotham. From Joe Chill to the Jokermobile to Catwoman’s first appearance as "The Cat" nearly every panel embodies the essence of the history of the Dark Knight's world. There's even an obligatory giant typewriter reference! Where this all fits in recent continuity, if it is even meant to, remains to be seen.

In Batman and the Outsiders Special #1 Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s faithful retainer, is summoned to the Batcave by a pre-programmed message from the departed Bruce Wayne. In the event of his death Batman had taken steps to ensure the reformation of the Outsiders. Alfred is tasked to with bringing Geo-Force, Owlman, the Creeper, Katana, Black Lightning, Halo and Metamorpho together to fulfil the as yet unrevealed true purpose of the team.

Old time fans of the original 1980s iteration of the group will be delighted to see, with the exception of Batman, that the initial lineup are all back together. A most cursory mention of REMAC's death, though, leads me to think there's little hope of any of the unresolved plot threads from Chuck Dixon's BATO run being resolved any time soon.

The character most shrouded in mystery in pre-publicity for this Special had to be the new version of Owlman (originally the parallel to Batman in the first Multiverse’s Earth-3 Crime Syndicate). The individual who looks set to take this role, after being recruited by Alfred here, is Roy Raymond Jr. Raymond Junior first appeared in Robin #38 (March 1997). Having always failed to live up to the family name of the great Roy Raymond, TV Detective (who debuted way back in Detective Comics #153 cover dated Nov 1949) perhaps this is the new Owlman’s big shot at redemption?

Shadow of the Bat

Remember how long it felt it took for Harley Quinn to make the transition from the TV screen to the comics page? Well compared to King Tut, who makes his first DCU appearance in Batman Confidential #26, that wait was negligible! Forty-odd years since Victor Buono (pictured right) first played Tut in the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV series the villain finally makes it to the printed page. If you’re looking for the camp chicanery of the original Tut, though, prepare to be disappointed – there’s no Sixties silliness about this guy!

Nightwing #153, the final issue of Dick Grayson’s long solo run, ties up some strands from "Batman R.I.P." while setting up others prior to "Battle for the Cowl". The Batcave is finally restored to its former glories after it was trashed by the Black Glove. While Alfred and Dick seem to have come to terms with Bruce’s passing it would appear Robin is in denial.

The book’s finale also has an "Origins and Omens" backup with a number of intriguing images. These include Nightwing confronting two of the claimants for the legacy of the Batman, one of whom is seen holding a gun to his head. We also see Dick and Talia training Bruce’s son Damien in the Batcave and a shattered rooftop Bat-signal. The scene that is bound to get tongues wagging the most is a shot of what appears to be Nightwing kissing Barbara Gordon in her Batgirl costume. Is a cure for Barbara's shattered spine really on the cards?

Titans #10 also plays its part in setting up the "Battle for the Cowl" when Dick, like Tim Drake before him in recent Teen Titans, leaves the team to attend to what’s going on in Gotham. The main portion of the issue is spent on the Titans and the JLA dealing with Jericho, who is once more incapacitated at story’s end. After several issues we are no further on in discovering which of the absorbed personalities in Joey’s mind is responsible for his recent actions in DC Universe: Decisions and here. On the positive side, though, the "Deathtrap" crossover kicks into gear next month and we will hopefully start getting some answers there as to why Jericho tried to kill the Presidential candidates during that miniseries.

The "Origins and Omens" entry lets us know we can expect to see the return of Indigo from The Outsiders, Wally reconsidering his identity as the Flash (no surprise there!), Roy Harper gravely injured, Brother Blood moving his vendetta on from the pages of Teen Titans to Titans and a romantic interlude between Beast Boy and the new Terra.

Last up, in Simon Dark #17, Gotham’s mystical protector is faced with tragedy when Gus, his creator and father figure, is killed by Simon’s undead predecessor and "brother". Next issue is the book’s finale and with Simon and cast being creator-owned properties I would expect everything that this series added in magical terms to Gotham’s mythos to be quietly forgotten thereafter. A shame because it's added a Gothic, supernatural dimension to Batman's home city and is very worth checking out in trade paperback

Join us on Monday when we catch up with the rest of the of the DC line including the rebirth of L.E.G.I.O.N. in R.E.B.E.L.S. #1, the conclusion of Vixen’s limited series, the prelude to Blackest Night in Green Lantern Corps and the long-awaited return of our Fanboy Moment of the Week.

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