Friday, July 27, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics

Gotham City as

Gotham City is a crazy place sometimes. And by crazy, I mean insane. Totes insane. In all caps. Like this:


At the best of times, it's a place where you can be sitting in a donut shop at 2 in the morning, sipping your coffee, and then you have to blink a few times because there's a small army of penguins marching down Haney Street. And they have tactical nuclear missiles strapped to their backs. And if you've lived in Gotham for more than a few weeks, you don't even blink. You stand in a doorway or get behind a counter or, alternately, whip out your cellphone camera to get some photos for your cousins in Wisconsin. Every Gothamite develops his own way to deal with the city. (It's a lot like Los Angeles.)

At the worst of times ...

Yeah, let's talk about that. An army of psychos running around the city - like in Knightfall in the 1990s - barely registers as a "disaster" for the average Gothamite. At its worst, Gotham City goes beyond "urban nightmare." Sometimes, it's more like Rome after the Huns sacked it. Or Berlin in 1945. Or like one of those medieval villages in a Russian or Swedish movie that has survived drought, plague, fire and invasion all in succession in a four-hour span.

Within a few years on either side of 2000, I got a little fed up with the wave of disasters that struck Gotham City. First there was a plague. Then, there was another plague! (I believe they were both masterminded by Ra's al Ghul. The second plague, as I recall, took place because Mr. al Ghul had a batch of plague left over and didn't want it to go to waste.)

Then there was a devastating earthquake, and Gotham City was closed off from the rest of the country for some reason, and the "No Man's Land" stories took place. Gotham was divided up into gangs and territories - The Joker had his own turf, and the Ventriloquist, and Two-Face, maybe. (And, I dunno, The Spinner? Mr. Polka Dot? Captain Stingaree?) and Batman set up a gang of his own as a symbol for the good people remaining in Gotham. Or something.

I didn't think any of these disasters were particularly well-written. I don't object to Gotham City as Disaster Area per se, but when you do THAT to a city, you can't just wish it away the next issue. You're in for the long haul, and the regular subplots are down the toilet because all the supporting characters are now just worried about surviving, and they have no time for acting on their suspicions that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Nor do they have time to start adoption proceedings for Robin, nor to hatch plots to kidnap and brainwash Catwoman, nor to do any of the other bizarre things that you are expected to do when you are a supporting character in Batman.

It would be difficult for a city to survive a single one of those disasters, but three in a period of just a few years? I was kind of ludicrous. (But it does show that Gothamites are TOUGH. They're like New Yorkers, only made of cement.)

But there is one four-part story where the insanity is more than sufficient, if not quite as relentless and overbearing and neverending as in the cases I mentioned above. It was called "Impostors," and it appeared in Detective Comics #867 to #870 in 2010.

At its height, it looked like this:

You see, there was this stuff called "Joker Juice" going around. And people were using it to get high. And it made each of them turn into an only-slightly-less-psychotic version of the Joker. They were called Jokerz, and they were soon running rampant in Gotham City.

Well, the onslaught proved to be a bit much for the Batman and the Gotham Police to deal with. So civic-minded citizens started dressing up like little fake Batmans and were soon creating more havoc and taking the law into their own hands.

In the context of Gotham City, this insanity went on for weeks and was called The Impostor Wars.

Now this is a city crisis I can get into. It's dangerous and exciting and everything. But this is survivable. Instead of a death toll that looks like Russian casualties in World War II, the death toll looks more like a miners strike in the 1890s after the Pinkertons have put it down. Tragic, yes. Frightening for the survivors, sure. But you don't have hundreds of thousands of corpses in the streets and millions of Gothamites wondering why they ever left Binghampton or Sioux City.

The old-timers will laugh at the easily impressed youngsters and talk about the time The Penguin used millions of birds with transmitters in their brains to attack pedestrians and cause car accidents as a distraction so he could steal a gigantic seagull statue made of solid gold. "Now THAT was tough times."

This is the cover to Detective Comics #868, which was the second part of the saga. It's my favorite of the covers for this four-part series.

Gotham can be an insane place without being so awful that the fastest-growing profession is corpse removal.

If I'm sitting in that donut shop at 2 a.m., it's scary enough to hear somebody yell, "Take cover! There's a bunch of Jokerz coming down Aparo Street." The "Bring out your dead!" chant is just depressing.


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