MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1Batman: Run, Riddler, Run

(1992 - three issues, prestige format, DC Comics)

Written by Gerard Jones. Pencils: Mark Badger.

Bruce (Batman) Wayne becomes intrigued and supportive of a new development project, one that proposes to be a city-within-a-city...and completely free of crime. But when residents of the slum that is going to be torn down to make way for it start protesting, he realizes the situation is more complex. His ambivalence is further fuelled when he discovers the developers have hired a paroled Riddler as a security consultant. And when the developers employ an elite security force -- dressed in cyborg battle suits and given sweeping authority by the government -- soon both the Riddler and the Batman are being targeted, forcing Batman to ally himself with his old foe.

Run, Riddler, Run is one of those prestige format mini-series which didn't really need to be a prestige format project, per se. Still, it's an enjoyable, self-contained adventure, even if not without its flaws.

I like Batman, but a lot of his stories in recent years can fall into too many familiar ruts involving the obsessively grim dark knight battling his rogues gallery or crazed killers. So what's nice here is it sets Batman against a semi-real world of urban development and social ills and where, the Riddler excepted, the characters are all original to this story. It put me in mind of the sort of tale Bob Haney might've written for The Brave and the Bold years ago. As well, this is a less grim Batman -- oh, he's not cracking wise, but he is capable of smiling, and human relationships. This is the BatMAN, rather than the BATman. Some of the fight scenes are interestingly staged as we see Batman relying on his wits, not just fists, thinking his way through battles with more powerful adversaries.

There is a light-heartedness threaded throughout, with the Riddler's riddle obsession particularly extreme here, to humorous effect -- he's as mad as the Joker, but without the mayhem. The scenes between Batman and the Riddler are often fun.

In fact the lightness sometimes jars when the story does veer into darker or brutal areas.

I like the story for its more realist backdrop, but that becomes a problem, because the story is frequently unbelievable (even ignoring the super suits of armour -- hey, this is a comic book adventure!). For instance the security force is given almost Martial Law authority -- but I don't think a municipal government has the authority to grant that power! Obviously Jones wanted to write a story about Batman up against a police state-style force (the series might more accurately have been called Run, Batman, Run, as Batman is a more paramount character than the Riddler), but to get there, kind of stretches credibility. Likewise, his Batman seems a bit naive. Batman's initial interest in the project is its promise of a crime free city, but Batman never really asks how that will be achieved (nor does Jones offer an explanation). It seems like a plot point for exploring themes rather than a rationally developed story idea.

In a way it reminds me of Jone's later, Fortunate Son, in which the themes seemed to be driving the character, not vice versa.

Still, as mentioned, this is a likeable, more even-tempered Batman than is sometimes portrayed.

Although the story clips along well, and has enough going on to fill out the page count, the villains' agenda is pretty straightforward, and there aren't necessarily a lot of twists and turns given this comes out to almost 150 pages! I'm not even sure of the logic in a few spots -- again, the story needs the villains to seem to have total authority, and Jones doesn't mind glossing over the details to get them there. (There's also a scene where the villains start executing a roomful of people -- and I'm not sure who those people were; and, again, mayoral decree or not, you can't just kill people willy nilly).

As well, for a story involving the Riddler, complete with plenty of riddles...I wasn't entirely sure Jones had a knack for coming up with such puzzles.

Mark Badger's art is kind of a mixed bag. It's of a rough, cartoony style that can be a bit out-there at times, and some of the action scenes are confusingly staged, but there is a verve and energy to it that goes with the brisk pacing to help make this a nice, well paced romp.

And maybe that's the best part of the saga -- it feels like a romp. Humorous and fun without being annoyingly glib, serious without being too dark or grim, enough character stuff to flesh out the action, enough action to keep it from being too introspective, high-minded enough -- "dealing" with questions of freedom vs. law & order, big business vs. the little guy -- to seem more than just a dust up, without getting bogged down in its earnestness. Run, Riddler, Run is uneven but enjoyable.

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