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