It's been teased at the end of several collections. Ads for The Flying Graysons in newspapers, Circus billboards, Bruce discussing taking dates to the circus. Finally, in Dark Victory, Dick Grayson debuts. But, uh, not just yet.
The volume opens with the new DA (who replaces Harvey "Don't Call Me Harvey Anymore I'm Two Face Now" Dent) catching us up with one of the villains from The Long Halloween (which was also created by Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Gregory Wright): Holiday. The crux of this story is the rise and fall of the next generation of Maronis and Falcones, Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni having been killed during The Long Halloween. Carmine's daughter, Sofia, who was paralyzed after plunging out of a building makes a deal with Sal's sons to go after Harvey Dent.
The plan is to cause chaos at Arkham Asylum by freeing assorted villains, including Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday), Calendar Man, and Poison Ivy. Holiday, Alberto Falcone, chooses to stay behind, earning him an early release with the help of the new DA. But during the madness, instead of killing Two Face, they allow him to escape.
The main theme of this book is improving reputations. Mario Falcone returns from Italy to try and clean up his family business, going as far as locking out Sofia when he learns of her criminal plans. Jim Gordon tries to get back together with his wife Barbara who left him and took custody of his children. Bruce Wayne tries to establish a solid romantic relationship with Selina Kyle. Catwoman tries to earn Batman's trust. And Two Face tries to clear his name when a new serial killer, The Hangman tries to improve The Gotham City Police Department's reputation by killing a corrupt cop on every major holiday.
Once again, Loeb and Sale throw in pretty much every major villain that's been introduced: the Joker, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, The Mad Hatter, and The Scarecrow all end up in the mix. But, as in The Long Halloween, their individual motives flow logically into the story.
In the midst of the story, Bruce finally ends up at the much teased circus, and watches as The Flying Graysons plummet to their deaths when a Maroni underling named Anthony Zucco frays the wires for their trapeze act.
Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson, but it's Batman who sees Grayson outside one night, prowling for clues. Batman and Grayson run into each other again when Grayson goes to the circus to research his parents' killer. The boy is badly beaten, and Batman takes him to the Batcave to care for him, and reveals that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person.
I don't want to ruin the end of this for you. Yes, you do get to see Grayson don the original, short pants Robin outfit. You also get a great wrap up of a storyline that began with Year One. but there are still some loose ends, including the fact that Two Face is still missing.
I can't stress enough that Sale's pencils and inks, and Wright's colors are an integral part of Loeb's script. The combination of visual narrative and dialog is what takes the Loeb/Sale/Wright trilogy from great Batman story to Classic Work Of Art.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
Chuck Dixon picks up the dangling threads from Dark Victory for Robin: Year One. We get to see how Robin is perceived by a befuddled Jim Gordon, an ambivalent Batman, a loyal Alfred, and the angry criminals of Gotham. There's honor in being taken down by the Dark Knight, but a little kid in pixie boots, short pants, and a yellow cape? That's gotta hurt.
After busting some small time criminals, Robin finds himself entwined with The Mad Hatter's scheme to kidnap and brainwash some young girls (his usual M.O.) and sell them to a diplomat named The Generalissimo. In a startling development for a Batman story, it turns out Robin knows one of the victims from school (Jenny Noblesse), and she has a crush on him.
Robin ends up saving the day with some help from bumbling millionaire Bruce Wayne, who happens to be on The Generalissimo's yacht for a cruise.
The next villain up to be taken down by The Boy Wonder is The Killer Moth, whose story takes up a whopping seven pages before Robin takes him down. There's also a three page battle with Blockbuster (who will end up being one of Dick Grayson's major villains years later) before we get to the main villain in the story: Two Face, who's been on the run since the end of Dark Victory.
Two Face has decided that the easiest way to bring down Batman is to take out his new sidekick. He also decides to enact revenge on the judge who presided over his trial during The Long Halloween. While Batman and Robin are on the case, Jim Gordon expresses his concern that Batman has taken on such a young sidekick. And when Two-Face later tells Gordon that he's killed Robin (Spoiler alert: he hasn't. After taking a beating, Batman takes him to Leslie Thompkins's clinic to heal.), Gordon convinces Batman to retire him. Grayson isn't too keen on retiring from being Robin (poor kid got forty years in pre-Crisis continuity, and he's barely five comic issues into being Robin in modern continuity, and he's already being let go), and when Mr. Freeze steals the blood supply from the hospital where Grayson is being rehabilitated, he throws on his mask (but not the rest of the outfit) and goes out to take Mr. Freeze down.
Once Grayson foils the Freeze plot, he sees a TV report that Two Face has escaped from police custody, and debates how to handle it when he's jumped by a group of junior assassins run by one of Ra's Al Ghul's assassins, Shrike. Grayson decides to infiltrate the gang to get back on Batman's good sign, as well as learn new fighting techniques. After a successful mission to determine Robin's loyalty, the junior assassins are sent to kill Two Face. Given the opportunity, Robin opts to let Two Face live, and ends up battling Shrike, who falls on his sword and dies. During the battle, Two Face escapes.
One of the details Dixon works into this collection is the relationship between Alfred and Grayson. Alfred taking care of Bruce after his parents died was noble, but could be attributed to his loyalty to the Wayne family. There are a couple of occasions in Robin Year One, and will be many more in the future where Alfred puts Grayson's health and feelings over his loyalty to Bruce. Dixon will revisit the importance of this relationship several times in the Robin ongoing series, and even Nightwing.
Story 5/5, Art 4/5
There's something nearly poetic about how many of the books that portray Batman as being a bad guy are, themselves, terrible. I lumped Batman Deadman and Teen Titans Year One together mostly to get them out of the way.
Batman Deadman is by James Robinson, who has done a lot of work for DC, and is best known for Starman. While I highly recommend the Starman series (currently being released in omnibus hardcovers), none of his mainstream character work really stands out to me as good. So, while I read this blind for the first few pages, I quickly flipped to the cover to see who was killing my post-Trinity Batman buzz and was not surprised to see Robinson's name on the cover.
Robinson's writing, like Grant Morrison's, tends to stray from typical stories. And while I applaud him for that initiative, I don't tend to connect with his characters. And if I don't feel something for the characters, no amount of interesting plot concepts is going to win me over.
What did win me over was John Estes's art, which looks like early 90s Vertigo, if it were made using colored pencils and watercolors. The details in the background and props make up for the, at best, mediocre dialog.
The basic premise of the story is that while pursuing The Joker, Batman seems to black out and when he wakes up, he is believed to have killed police officers, and is holding an innocent woman at knife point. The story descends into magic and possession and demons, which are not my favorite aspects of comics.
Most of the focus on this book is on characters involved with Deadman, although we do have some Alfred and Jim Gordon moments.
(a biased against possession) Story: 2/5, Art: 5/5
While the two stories aren't supposed to be intertwined, and have two different demons, possession of Batman, and other members of the JLA is also at the core of Amy Wolfram's Teen: Titans Year One. This time we see Batman's possession through the eyes of Robin. Batman is behaving as though he was in Frank Miller's All Star Batman And Robin, but with less rat eating and cursing.
Batman isn't the only one behaving strangely, though. The entire JLA is possessed by a demon called Antithesis. Robin rounds up a few of his sidekick friends in order to discover why the heroes are behaving strangely. So this collection features the chronological debut of Kid Flash, Aqua Lad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl.
This collection is intended for children, and so the voice of the characters is skewed from how they're written in other books. But The Teen Titans are an important part of the Batman mythos, so I felt their origin story needed to be included. It's cartoony style is a little out of place in the chronology, but as the debut of the sidekicks as heroes, it's brightness in both art and storytelling can be seen as metaphorical. And it makes what happens to the team down the line seem all the darker.
Story: 3/5, Art: 4/5
I'm going to add Full Circle to this entry, though it doesn't contain a possessed Batman, but it does continue the theme of characters written in an odd voice. Batman Full Circle features a very silver-agey Dick Grayson as Robin. Lots of cheesy one liners, and the classic Batman benches Robin storyline. Much like the book that this is a direct sequel to, Fear The Reaper, this book has a lot of tropes, and suffers because the tropes are not used as well as they are in other collections.
The concept behind this story is the next generation of the families from Fear The Reaper. Joe Chill's son and grandson, Rachel Caspian's relationship to The Reaper, and, of course, Batman and Robin. We also have another appearance by Leslie Thompkins, and your requisite hookers and nuns.
Todd Mcfarlane drew this book, and it's not his best work. He seems not to know quite how to draw The Reaper. His proportions linger somewhere on the border of inconsistent and awful. And Batman and Robin look too golden agey when presented against the designs of the other characters.
Story: 2/5, Art: 2/5
The Full Circle Story is also included in the Year Two: Fear The Reaper Trade. I would say "I wouldn't waste my money buying this collection on its own." but clearly I not only would, but did.
For six months, my graphic novels sat lonely in a basement in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while my cats and I wandered around New England doing very non-comic booky things. I let my websites lapse, stopped reading comics every week, and yet, somehow, still did not end up being a productive member of society. So I now have a new apartment, with many places to store my immense graphic novel collection. Arranging my graphic novels always proves difficult, but I thought it would be fun to turn one of my closets into a Batcave filled with only the graphic novels for this Batchronology, plus the Elseworld books.
Step two was getting back into reading comics. I first punished myself by reading the complete run of Jim Valentino's Shadowhawk. I then washed the taste out of my brain with the complete run of Warren Ellis's Transmetroplitan. You should read that, if you're into non superhero comics that are amazing. (Please note, I did not link to Amazon for Shadowhawk. No sin you've committed can possibly warrant you having to read that terrible, terrible series. Stay away. Stay far...far...far away.) Starman came next. And then, I decided I was ready to immerse myself in some comic book themed cartoons.
A friend of mine just got me into Young Justice, a DC Universe cartoon that doesn't involve Bruce Timm, yet manages to be equally amazing as his work. It's a reimagining of a Teen Titans-esque team of super sidekicks set in a universe different from the Teen Titans cartoon. It's fun, filled with running gags, and excellent character design and artwork. And it got me feeling all nostalgic for the Teen Titans. So, imagine my joy at realizing that the next two books for the Chronology project were the two most famous Teen Titan collections of all time.
I am not including every issue/collection of Teen Titans as part of The Batman Chronology. Teen Titans Year One was in the last entry, and you'll just have to imagine that in the time that you read that the team lineup has changed to include Dick Grayson Robin, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Changeling (a.k.a Beast Boy from the cartoon).
I've never read the first 25 issues of the series, so I can't tell you of their quality, but for an early 80s comic (this run starts in 1982) the storytelling is excellent, and the art is damned fine. Marv Wolfman does an excellent job of introducing the Titans as they enter the story. Unlike the happy-go-lucky (sort of) child glee of the animated series, these Titans are in their mid teens and bristling with hormones. Changeling/Beast Boy uses all the swagger he can muster to win over the villainess Terra and convert her to the Titans team. Hormonewhile, Robin and Starfire have lots of feeling for each other that they converse about between make out sessions. And Raven tells Kid Flash that she would love him but that being in love will release the Trigon portion of her (man, the back story sounds so intriguing that I may go out and buy the Teen Titans Omnibus).
While this collection is a complete and insular story, it's clear that it's also part of a larger story arc involving the villains Brother Blood, and a separate, and opposing, set of villains called The Brotherhood of Evil (no relation to Magneto. Wolfman (no relation to Jack) is a master of making each issue feel complete in and of itself, while making it a small piece of an overarching story. This collection is so dense with plot and interpersonal drama, to try and recount all of it would be a disservice.
The major themes of the collection are the struggle of the Titans to control their powers and to master their interpersonal relationships. Each of them have a major love life issue that has them thinking whether or not they should remain on the team. And Wolfman makes very salient points about the eighties that you wouldn't think would have been noticed as the 80s unfolded. It almost reads like a really well written mocking love note to the 80s, complete with snappy patter, faux commercials, preppy humor, and lots of references to the lawsuit happy culture that was beginning to unfold.
As an important Batman note, we learn in this volume that Bruce Wayne has taken on a new ward, Jason Todd. There aren't many Jason Todd era Batman comics collected in graphic novel, so it's a shame we have to learn about it in such an offhand fashion, but, get out your hankies, Dick Grayson ceases to be Robin in this volume, and his replacement isn't nearly as cool as Sarah Chalke.
There are also a different set of villains in nearly every issue. While the large drama unfolds, the Titans are distracted by Thunder and Lightning, the death of Trident, a mobster named Scarapelli, and Deathstroke The Terminator (who appears to be part of a new unfolding drama). We also witness the debut (and not just in this chronology, but in the entire DC Universe) of The Vigilante.
I'm tempted to say that this collection is right up there with Year One and The Long Halloween, but really this is an entirely different creature. This is not just a solid run of a few issues but part of dense continuity that is above and beyond what most people are doing now, certainly above and beyond the other comics of 1982/3.
Story: Perhaps a 6, but we'll call it 5, Art: 5