'This Issue: Batman Dies!!!' (Mania.com)

By:James Busbee
Date: Wednesday, December 06, 2000

This month, Batman dies.

No, really. We're not kidding. What, you don't believe us?

Okay, fair enough. We comic fans have been burned so many times by resurrected heroes and meaningless 'events' that we're skeptical of anything that promises major changes in our favorite characters. So, in tribute to the cheesiest of all hooks, the Bat-books this month are stories disguised as gimmicks. As such, each will bear the headline, 'This Issue: Batman Dies!!!'

Being savvy comic book readers, we all know Batman ain't gonna die, but that's the point. In fact, for this arc, Batman group editor Bob Schreck uses a phrase you don't often hear when describing the Bat-books: 'It was a fun idea,' says Schreck, 'taking that overused cover threat that's been with us for so long and using it to the extreme.'

Killer Idea

'Batman Dies!!!' is a rarity among Bat-crossovers. It's an arc where you don't need to read every single issue in sequence in order to get a feel for the overall idea. It actually qualifies more as a 'crossunder'a term coined by former X-Men writers Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle to denote an arc whose elements pop up in, but don't necessarily dominate, ongoing storylines. And virtually all the Bat-writers agree that the idea gave them the freedom to explore ideas and tones, like comedy, not normally found in the Bat-books.

The decision to down play 'Batman Dies!!!' was a conscious one, according to Schreck. With the heavy drama of the 'Officer Down' crossoverin which Commissioner Gordon takes a bulletwaiting just over the horizon in January, 'Batman Dies!!!' was meant to be a lighthearted affair. Well, as lighthearted as any affair can be when you're talking about whacking the Dark Knight.

'We were sitting around and chatting about what we could do to lighten things up for a brief spell after 'Turning Points' and before going into Officer Down,'' says Schreck. In this case, the 'we' included members of the Batman Brain Trust, specifically editors Bob Schreck and Denny O'Neil, and writers Chuck Dixon, Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson and Kelley Puckett. The venue was the annual Batman Summit at O'Neil's house this past summer, where upcoming storylines are brainstormed and planned.

'While we were walking from our hotel to Denny's house, someoneprobably Chuckcame up with this idea for a theme,' says Rucka. 'The rest of the walk, all of us were saying that this would be so much fun to write, if everyone has this fantasy of killing Batman over and over and over again. By the time we got to Denny's, we had the basics down, and he and Bob said, 'Great! Run with it!''

From there, each writer selected the villain or villains who best complemented their own visions of Bat-doom. Some, like Rucka in Detective and Ed Brubaker in Batman, chose villains who'd played a factor in previous storylines. Others let the characters themselves make the callthe Joker, for instance, is a natural antagonist for Robin, whose predecessor he murdered years ago. And then, the writers each sharpened their knives and went in search of the Dark Knight.

'The overall idea is not tied too tightly together,' says Rucka. 'You can pick them up and ideally have a pretty good time with all of them individually. You don't have to have read Detective to appreciate Birds of Prey, for instance. It's separate, unlike 'Officer Down,' where all the issues will be tied together fairly tightly.'

Let the Killing Begin!

The arc begins this week with Batgirl #11, in which writer Kelley Puckett gives center stage to the off-kilter assassin Cain, who Puckett believes is the ideal villain for this sort of tale.

'Most Bat-villains are very drivenby insanity, greed, revenge, whatever,' says Puckett. 'They tend to mirror Batman himself in that regard. Cain, on the other hand, doesn't really give a damn about anything. Batman destroys his career and beats him to within an inch of his life...big deal. Who cares? Couple that attitude with the peerless assassination skills that he might, at any time, decide to start using again, and that makes for a fun character to write. For me, anyway.'

Batgirl #11 is, as Puckett puts it, 'All Cain, all the time. Actually, it's told from the perspective of Cain while he's under the influence of powerful, self-administered drugs.' In the story, which Puckett terms a sort of 'comedy,' Cain hunts down Batman and this time manages to cap the Dark Knight once and for all! 'I had more fun writing this issue than anything I've written in a long time,' continues Puckett. 'But I might have snuck one or two complexities in there. I'll let the readers decide.'

In Detective Comics #753, Two-Face takes up a new occupation: comic-book artist. But he may not have much of a future at DC, since his entire portfolio consists of killing Batman in new and different ways. 'It's not going to be what you're expecting,' says Rucka. 'It isn't really Two-Face doing the killing; it's a character named 'Copernicus Dent.' And he kills Batman in all kinds of strange ways, like pinning his arms and then kneeing him in the gut. I'm very, very happy with how this one turned out.'

Much like several of the other issues, Detective is a 'sorbet,' in Rucka's words, before next month's gloom. 'It's fairly light, but there's some poignancy to it,' says Rucka. 'There's a framing sequence that surrounds the running joke. It doesn't necessarily further anything, but perhaps elaborates on a couple of character pieces going on in the books.'

Ed Brubaker decided to work the 'Batman Dies!!!' theme into his own ongoing Batman storyline involving the Penguin. 'It was sort of a killing-two-birds approach on my end,' says Brubaker. 'I had been using the Penguin for a few issues as the main focus of Batman's energy leading into this issue, so this was a chance to flip over to the other side.'

In Batman #586, Batman and the Penguin throw down one final timewith the winner waddling away to savor his triumph. 'It's fairly broad [in tone] and kind of a black comedy,' says Brubaker. 'Anything more would spoil it. I hope it gets a few laughs, at least.'

End Game

As the month progresses, Chuck Dixon will off Batman in all kinds of different ways in his three Bat-books. In Robin #85, the Joker's going stir-crazy from his long imprisonment in The Slab. In Nightwing #52, the Catwoman forms an unlikely alliance with Nightwing. And, in perhaps the strangest of all 'Batman Dies!!!' tales, the Black Canary and the backbreaking Bane meet in the pages of Birds of Prey #26 and end up...in love? In the course of all three stories, Batman meets gruesome ends, over and over and over again.

Batman: Gotham Knights #12 and Catwoman #89 will close out the arc at month's end. In Gotham Knights, Devin Grayson pits the fearsome serial killer Mr. Zsasz against Batman. And when it's over, Zsasz will be able to carve another 'kill' notch on his body. Finally, Bronwyn Carlton will document Catwoman's throwdown with Harley Quinn, and when Batman shows up...well, the Gotham Police had better get a body bag large enough to cover those pointy ears.

So, for those still wondering, will there be any long-term changes to Batman's continuity or characters amidst all the fun and mayhem? 'If you're already on board with the fact that he obviously won't die,' says Schreck, 'then you should have your answer.'