TLH8

Can you imagine the response if the police shot Bruce Wayne in Crime Alley?

The last few months have been a bit ‘Netflix’, in that the story has been sagging along as the various threads of the narrative have been lying around unused, with the creative team needing to fill time rather than pick things back up again and start tying things together – but thankfully here we finally start seeing some of the storylines twist into one another again.

Batman investigates the Holiday killings by returning to Arkham for another meeting with the redefined version of Calendar Man, whose pale white face gives him quite a sense of presence at the start of the issue. His only goal here is to reclaim his notoriety, and in fairness it feels like Batman (and perhaps the series as a whole) overemphasise how important Julian Day is to proceedings. He has a similar gimmick, but he acts in a similar fashion to Riddler last issue: he’s disinterested in anything which doesn’t fit his own needs.

Last month Riddler spent his time being needlessly convoluted in an attempt to waste Falcone’s time, and this month Calendar Man is deliberately obtuse to inflate his own sense of importance. Neither of them are going to help track down Holiday in any practical sense, because basically neither of them care. The interrogation scene here is useful only in that it confirms what we thought last issue: Batman thinks that Holiday didn’t hit anyone on April Fool’s Day. Batman also refers to Holiday as a “she”, before then pressing Day on what he knows about Harvey Dent.

Batman is running behind the reader, and he’s also running behind the criminals of Gotham. His approach isn’t working, and the issue does a good job of showing a Batman who feels like he’s running out of time.

Sofia Falcone, on the other hand, is getting to be spectacularly effective, to the point where she seems to be the real spoiler for Holiday. She decides to follow the guns, which Holiday has been dropping at each crime scene. Presumably she picked up the most recent one after he left it with Riddler, and her hunt to find out who manufactured it puts her just minutes away from catching Holiday in the act. She’s just that little bit too slow, so she arrives just in time to find the dead body of the gunmaker, who was handily on the assassination list for this holiday rather than, say, Labor Day.

I think what we can draw from the two approaches is that Falcone tried to deal with super-villains and found them unpredictable, so he instead turned to more conventional methods of solving a crime. Batman constantly mixes the realistic with the fantastic, and so he’s looking at a bigger picture which blinds him to the more practical detective work which could secure him stronger results. It’s also a bit damning that the police haven’t managed to trace the guns, but GCPD have always been portrayed as essentially useless, so it’s no huge shock.

Being Mother’s Day, it’d be a shame not to delve into Batman’s broken psyche for a bit, and so fortunately Scarecrow breaks out of Arkham so we can enjoy another trip into Bruce’s sad childhood. Hurrah!

There’s a double-page spread of Scarecrow apparently escaping on a horse which is so evocative and has a powerful sense of presence. It’s immediately followed by a second double-page spread of Batman immediately tackling Scarecrow to the ground in a moment of immediate catharsis for the caped crusader. This is villainy on the appropriately epic scale that Batman can work with – it’s just a shame that it turns out this is a decoy Scarecrow, and Batman’s triumphant capture of the villain is actually a case of him falling straight into a trap. By charging the decoy, he releases trapped fear toxin, which affects him through the end of the issue.

Unfortunately for him (but in a bit of a relief for those of us who were waiting for something to actually happen), that means he’s completely compromised when he’s cornered by GCPD towards the end of the issue. He’s back in his Bruce Wayne guise, and visiting the site where his parents were killed, in Crime Alley. Because he’s suffering from fear toxin and hallucinating still, that gives the comic a smart, perfect opportunity to delve into the idea of how his past drives him as an adult today, as he flashes between his present-day confrontation and his past.

It helps that Gordon is on the scene, who was also present in Crime Alley after Bruce’s parents were killed. At that time he was the reassuring voice of calm and comfort, but here that same calming, comforting voice spikes Bruce’s memories and drives him into a panic. It’s made very clear for us that Gordon doesn’t think Bruce is involved in any kind of crime (and that he probably is already aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman) and just wants to protect the man, who he still sees as a child. For his part, Bruce is openly regressing in front of our eyes, with panels jumping from showing him as he is now to how he was then.

In his panic he flees to the only place he feels safe – and depending on your perspective it’s either melodramatic or utterly heartbreaking that this turns out to be his mother’s graveside. We know that Gordon is looking after Bruce as he always has, but Bruce doesn’t know any such thing. The final splash page, with him clutching to his mother’s grave as the police close in on his location, is a real breakdown of the Batman persona. At the heart of his bravado, which tricked him into falling for Scarecrow’s trap, is that scared boy who watched his parents die. Not everybody likes that depiction of Batman as a character, but it’s rarely been used with such conviction as it is here.

The cover for the issue shows a young Bruce Wayne stood grieving at his mother’s gravestone. The cover for next issue shows the grown up Bruce, as Batman, doing the same at his father’s grave. We’ll have to wait a month to see how that plays out.

See you on Father’s Day!

 

Batman The Long Halloween #8: Mother’s Day
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Colours by Gregory Wright
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft

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