"Bat-Murderer!"

Writer: Len Wein. Pencils: Jim Aparo, Ernie Chan. Inks: Aparo and Dick Giordano.

Detective Comics #444-448 (1975)

In looking back at notable "uncollected" story arcs, I suppose I should add the caveat that sometimes I mean uncollected in a readily available version. Because this story arc was collected once -- wa-ay back in 1981 in a digest form, in the Best of DC digest #9 (in those glorious days when you could get 96 pages of shrunken comics for only 95 cents!) That digest also included the unrelated Batman story "Angel--or Devil?" a tale I've always liked for its unpretentious, old school story telling.

In "Bat-Murderer!" Batman is implicated in the murder of Talia, daughter of his arch for, Ra' al Ghul -- implicated! heck, he shoots her in front of a roomful of witnesses, but insists his finger wasn't on the trigger. But faced with that evidence, Commissioner Gordon orders the arrest of Batman, causing Batman to go outlaw -- and things go even worse for Bats when Ra's al Ghul shoots himself, further making it look like Bats is on a killing spree. Along the way Batman battles, then teams up with, the Creeper, and eventually exonerates himself.

I doubt this was the first time Batman was forced to go outlaw, or was framed for murder -- it certainly wasn't the last! But it was probably the first long form take on the topic, stretched over five issues. Albeit, the whole saga only totals 66 pages (at the time, the Bat-tales in Detective Comics were generally 12 pages -- only the final chapter was the full 18 pages). As such you can, perhaps, forgive a certain economy to the telling -- the whole thing less an "epic" and more the length of a good sized one-shot. There is a middle chapter -- "Slaughter in Silver" -- which attempts to push the murder-mystery to the background, with a one off story of Batman investigating an unrelated case while still an outlaw, as though Wein was thinking of teasing the arc out as a sub-plot. But ultimately most of the chapters stay focused on the central plot.

I tend to have a fondness for Wein's scripting, his dialogue crisp and memorable, capturing emotion and personality in well chosen phrasings. His portrayal here of Batman nicely straddles the sense of the ubermensch crime fighter, with a vulnerable human being, capable of human emotions -- his stammering shock when the gun goes off in his hand, his almost hysterical reaction when realizing he's being framed. This is a far cry from the one note caped crusader that's written today. Sure, Wein falls into that condescending hubris of belittling the "man in the street" as Batman, in one chapter, overhears Gothamites disparaging him as a rogue killer and he thinks "God, how quickly they forget!" But given the seeming incontrovertible proof, with Batman himself remarking earlier to Alfred "I can understand even your doubt" it seems a bit unfair to act as if the citizenry is just fickle sheep.

The first half is drawn by Jim Aparo, a definitive illustrator of the Dark Knight in the 1970s, well suited to the mix of gothic mood and heroic action. If there's a regret about the saga, it's that Aparo didn't draw the whole thing, with Ernie Chan finishing it. Not that Chan's a bad artist, not at all. Nor was he a stranger to the Caped Crusader at that time. His art is clean and realistic...but does lack some of the mood Aparo had. His Batman is a burly super hero, not a nocturnal avenger. Still, it's good art throughout.

I read this years ago, and recalled it fondly. But over the ensuing years, dropped it a bit in my estimation because, as an "epic" it seemed a bit wanting. As I say, instead of teased along as a sub-plot, it's over with in five chapters. The story isn't maybe that complex, the surprise revelations not too surprising. But re-read even more recently, because of its mainly 12 page chapters, it's not like it really has the scope to be a grand serial. But considered as 66 page story, told in chapter format, it's an entertaining, memorable serial.

Back