Blame it on the Infinite Final Crisis On Infinite Multiple Earths. Blame it on Superman's tendency to spin the globe around whenever someone he loves dies. Blame it on the rain (that's what's fallin' fallin'). One of the major problems with a giant universe written and edited by hundreds of creators is that there's a whole mess of contradictions in comic timelines. Unfortunately for Year Two: Fear The Reaper, most of the stories it contradicts are more appealing.
This collection opens with Jim Gordon being named Commissioner of Gotham (don't get used to it Jim, you'll be back playing Captain? Lieutenant? Head groundskeeper? in the next collection), and publicly revealing (drum roll, please) The Bat Signal! Which, of course, we've already seen.
There's a lot of familiar tropes in Mike Barr's story: Bruce Wayne falls in love with a girl whose father's life is intertwined with Batman's (see Batman & The Monster Men), her father turns out to be another vigilante in Gotham (see Blades), but this is a vigilante who's not afraid to kill (that hasn't come up yet, but it's not far off on the horizon), and the villain is connected to Batman's past. In fact, to take down The Reaper, Batman must cross Leslie Thompkins, Alfred, Commisioner (for the moment) Gordon, the Gotham City Police Department, and his past by teaming up with small time thug Joe Chill who (spoiler alert) KILLED HIS PARENTS. Bruce's love interest, Rachel Caspian,'s mother was killed by a masked murderer on the family's way home from the circus, which mirrors Bruce's childhood trauma in an almost aggressively forced way.
By the end, of course, everyone realizes that Batman only teamed up with villains to take down a larger villain, and they forgive him. But the girl, of course, is traumatized by her father's death (see Batman & The Mad Monk), and decides to become a nun, instead of marrying Bruce.
I realize this entry sounds a bit harsh. Some of the stories that I've referenced were written AFTER Year Two: Fear The Reaper, so I'm not trying to imply that Barr's work is derivative,it just doesn't hold up as well as the other stories. The writing is fine for a book written in 1987, but Frank Miller's Year One was written the same year, and it still holds up. There's also the issue of this collection being heavy handed with the family theme. Bruce's family in relation to other characters' families comes up again and again, and it's tough to make it feel fresh, but many writers did. Barr does not.
The art here is also very telling of its era. The penciling duty goes back and forth between Alan Davis and Todd Macfarlane. There's a lot of eighties hair and some inconsistent experimentation with cross hatching in the Macfarlane issues. But while the art certainly screams 80s, it screams it in a good way.
The follow-up story, Full Circle, also appears in this collection. This story is set a year or so later, and I recommend skipping it for now. I actually own Full Circle as its own collection, and have it placed in the appropriate chronological location on my bookshelf. But that's because I'm OCD. You can just come back to this book later.
Story 2/5, 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.