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Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying

I finally "pulled the trigger" recenty on several Batman volumes I’ve been planning on ordering. Over the last couple years, I’ve been gradually "upgrading" to newer editions of stuff I’d had, as these newer ones are far more comprehensive than the half-hearted volumes that were originally put out…or just simply have more content per volume, look better, etc.

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The one I was most looking forward to was Batman: A Death in the Family. This is one of the stories of my youth, and while I don’t truly "get" the merging of A Lonely Place of Dying into this, noticing that Batman Annual #25 was (supposedly) included definitely had my interest.

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I do like the minimal cover. It’s simple, but very, very telling…the image is haunting, shows the violence of Robin’s death, and is such an iconic image, filled with layer and meaning to me.

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The back cover is less to my liking. It fits with contemporary volumes, of course, but I liked the back of the original edition better…or at least, the original’s inclusion of the original cover images.

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According to the (back) cover of the book itself, the volume contains 10 issues. The 4-issue A Death in the Family story, the 3 Batman and 2 The New Titans issues that make up A Death in the Family, and the Batman Annual. "and also includes the 2006 follow-up story from BATMAN ANNUAL #25" .

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The indicia also would support that, citing the individual issues, with no wording such as "material from" or "excerpted from" or anything indicating truncation or abridgement.

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The volume’s table of contents begins to paint a different picture. It’s been nearly a decade since I actually read the annual, so I’ll be darned if I could remember the title of the story. But given the whole Superboy Prime and "punching reality" and all that, causing stuff to change, it would not be inappropriate for that issue’s title to BE "Alternate Ending." The pattern the table of contents uses lists the issues’ contents as their chapter of each story and the original issue numbers. The issues are included in full, no abridgement/etc.

But if one pays attention to the page numbers and the BIOGRAPHIES section below…notice the Annual is 270…but then the biographies are the VERY NEXT PAGE.

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The sole inclusion from Batman Annual #25 is one. single. PAGE. And it’s not even reprinted as a page the way the entirety of the rest of the volume reprints the pages, this is intended to show AS a page from something else.

As a single page, this SHOULD HAVE been included between A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying. Given the Annual itself came 17-some years later, it would make perfect sense for it to be reprinted after both original stories. It seemed like a BONUS inclusion to the volume, to give us the original story, the followup, and then the revision, the revisitation that bridges the original stuff and contemporary stuff with Red Hood and such.

This is absolutely misleading, and had I known, if it had registered that the only difference was that this volume is 2-in-1 without the actual Annual in full, I definitely would NOT have bothered with this! I already have the original individual volumes, neither of which contains the Annual that was published those 17ish years after, and I’d thus prefer those.

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The art itself is basically the same on this new edition, it’s the words/fonts on the cover that is different. The art is centered on the new one and basically in full, while it’s off to the side on the original, wrapping slightly to the back. The original edition maintains the logo from the comics the story appeared in, as well as the story logo of A Death in the Family from those issues.

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Personally, my ideal back cover is a mix of the original and the current…I would include the original cover images, but use the current text describing the story(ies) contained.

My original edition is the sixth printing or so, and quite beat up from numerous re-reads and being with me for over 20 years. Ditto for the Lonely Place of Dying volume.

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Here are the two original editions. They show their age, and are far from anything resembling pristine condition, as they are two of the oldest volumes in my entire collection. That can also be seen below with the prices of both books…

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I think the first printing of A Death in the Family may have had a $3.95 cover price, but I’m not certain. Obviously the sixth printing has the $4.95 cover price. Which, with at least a couple of the issues being oversized/extra-length is not bad at all.

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A Lonely Place of Dying was 3.95. That’s five issues, including two issues that I believe were "Direct Market only" for basically $4. The cost of one single issue of what seems to be the majority of what both DC and Marvel put out these days heading into 2016. Granted, a quarter-century or so gap in time, but still…

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Above: the back-cover text from A Lonely Place of Dying.

Given the gap between the two stories–Batman #s 430-439–and having Batman: Year Three (which I do not believe has ever been reprinted/collected) as well as The Many Deaths of the Batman (which was reprinted ages ago into a skinny, tiny little volume), I would think a much larger volume would be called for. Tim Drake is technically, officially introduced in Year Three, and that story also involves and has ramifications for Dick Grayson, then-Nightwing, who also played a major role in A Lonely Place of Dying. At minimum, I would expect Year Three to be included, as it also addresses Batman’s deterioration after the loss of Jason, which makes Tim’s arrival all the more poignant and sets things up FOR the latter story.

For that matter, in "losing" A Lonely Place of Dying as a title/book being folded into other stuff, I would think it’d fit quite well in a Robin volume…perhaps as the first few issues of the volume, then the story from Detective Comics where Tim’s mom died, and the (I believe) 3-parter from Batman that led into the first Robin mini-series. That’d make a handsome 12-issue volume; include the Robin mini and it’d be a strong 17 issues. That’d leave Robin II and Robin III to fill a respectable 10-issue volume, before picking up with the ongoing Robin series from 1993-on.

While this post is all over the place…ultimately, if you do NOT already have both A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying, I would definitely recommend this volume. Just be aware that it does not ACTUALLY contain the Annual that it misleadingly suggests it contains.

The content–the stories themselves–are very much worth it, and two very key stories in the 76+ year history of the Batman (and Robin)!

Remembering Detective Comics #606

My first-ever Batman comics were Batman #439 and Detective Comics #604. While looking back I can remember how little “sense” Detective 604 made to me at the time, #606 (my second issue of the series, having missed #605) left QUITE a mark on me, as well as really informing my sense of the then-current Batman. The real sense of true time having passed somewhere between comics my Grandpa’d shared with me and these brand-new ones I was reading.

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For one thing…Batman at a grave marked R.I.P. ROBIN…with a GHOST of Robin? Ok, from Grandpa’s comics, Robin was Batman’s buddy, his partner, whatever. He was like Batman, he was one of the main characters…but apparently between those comics and this, he’d DIED???

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WAS only a kid.

Time had definitely passed. Stuff had HAPPENED. Whoever this Clayface Four was, she could only mimic Robin…who Batman obviously has regretful memories of. And the shadows to the imagery…that was truly effective!

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Yeah…apparently Batman had been defeated, at least in The Joker having stabbed Robin to death.

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As the issue progresses, a glimpse into the past…an event tragic, traumatic, hurtful, impactful, in Batman’s past…

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More hurt, more violence that he couldn’t stop…

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Obviously not the brighter, more “fun” Batman I’d seen in Grandpa’s comics. And sure enough…Robin–dead. Though at the time I had no clue who Barbara Gordon was, or that that was her, or The Killing Joke, etc.

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Obviously…a number of villains in Batman’s life. Crazy, colorful madmen, all of whom wouldn’t mind hurting him, killing him, that he’d not permanently stopped. I sure did not know Killer Cros until years later, and probably was only vaguely familiar with Riddler and Penguin.

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…and QUITE a cliffhanger. I had no idea who this woman was–Looker–but this image, of a mad/insane Batman, driven there by the sheer horror of everything he’s faced, of the violence and failures (and no references to Zur En Arr)…obviously I knew he “got better,” but it would be several years before I’d acquire the “missing” 2nd and 4th/concluding chapters of this story. Meanwhile, the main Batman title moved on to A Lonely Place of Dying, a new Robin, I let comics go for a short time, and then returned the summer before the Death of Superman stuff.

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I was too young at the time to fully grasp deeper “meta” elements in comics…particularly ongoing, continuous stories with characters such as Batman, that will never–TRULY–be allowed to permanently change, die, etc. But at the time, this was a grave image, and I remember truly considering the danger Batman was in, and that there wouldn’t be a guarantee of his victory (particularly after seeing all his failures!). I also know at the time I had no sense of who this was, that this was a key, crucial character in the Batman story, as opposed to just some officer.

Over the years, I gradually filled in the gaps. I learned OF stuff, gathered more detail and confirmation of the Joker having KILLED Robin…and then got to read the story itself in a book from a nearby library.

It wasn’t until over a decade after this issue that I got to read A Killing Joke first-hand. Outside a backing-board “trading card” from a 3-pack of comics (ubiquitous-ish in the early 1990s at department stores like Hills), I didn’t even know of the Outsiders until a group the Eradicator was part of in a new title in the mid-’90s.

And the issue had an ad that also stuck with me through the years, showing that time had passed, and giving the far-younger me something else to chew on: more than one Robin? This one hadn’t died? That meant that the dead Robin was at least a 2nd one!

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I would love to have a poster of this image. Along with The Mud Pack and A Death in the Family, the story this ad is for–A Lonely Place of Dying–is one of “the” Batman stories of my youth, in my introduction to comics, prior to Knightfall. I imagine I’ll cover A Lonely Place of Dying in the near future.

Digital Transition: Requiem and The Walking Dead

brucemourningI bought into the hype and had the foresight to email the local comic shop the Monday morning the week Batman, Inc. #8 came out.

However, I did not display the same foresight for any of the “Requiem” issues that have come out since then.

I’m not particularly interested in Detective Comics with a $3.99 price point, ditto for Batman itself.

Much more interested in the Batman and Robin title, but as stated…I managed to lack the foresight to request a copy of the latest issue be held, and it’s not part of my pull file.

But I’ve also been–increasingly seriously–considering a transition to “going digital,” and I’ve been somewhat experimenting with that. This weekend feels like it definitely bore fruit in that regard.

digitalbatman018I get tired of wasting time and gas running around to various comic shops for an issue I may have missed (I hate using the phone, but that’s an issue entirely its own), especially when it often leads to me buying other stuff I normally wouldn’t, out of some kind of “guilt” of spending a lot of time in a shop and not wanting to walk out empty-handed; or even simply of reaching a minimum  purchase price for using a card.

There’s also the “immediate gratification” thing as well as “convenience,” to say nothing of the mere fact of owning a tablet now and being able to view full-page comics at almost “normal” size.

So in one quick expense, I was able to–at about 10pm Saturday, long after any comic shop would be open, and from the comfort of the chair I was sitting in, having just finished an episode of Person of Interest–purchase Batman #18, Batman and Robin #18, and The Walking Dead #108.

digitalbatmanandrobin000and018With The Walking Dead, I decided after all the stuff with #100 that I was gonna go back to waiting for the collected volumes. But then decided I was going to miss the experience of the monthly single issues, of fully keeping up with the story.

So, since I was then grudgingly willing to consider an ongoing prospect of purchasing twice…why not try buying the single issues as digital, and saving the collected volumes to be my sole print purchase for the series?

I’ve yet to make the follow through on print–I don’t think I’ve bought a collected volume since 13, as I’ve been keeping up with the singles–but I’ve followed one entire 6-issue run of the series now digital-only, and don’t particularly miss the print.

digitalwalkingdead103to108Yet another benefit to going the digital route–the issues are basically “always available” and never “sold out.” I don’t have to race to the comic shop ASAP on Wednesday to buy a digital copy of whatever issue; and if I don’t decide til late Saturday night that yeah, actually I DO want to go ahead and read that after all…I don’t have to wait til Sunday, Monday, or Wednesday to get back to a shop and hope they even have the issue in stock TO buy.

Also keeps me clear of the speculation side of things. I want to READ the issues. If I was in it for the speculation, I probably would’ve sold my Batman Inc. #8 already–but having been spoiled, I wanted the actual issue as a piece of history in the Bat-story. I don’t yet know what all the Requiem stuff will be–so far it doesn’t seem to be a single arc or such, so it’s kinda nice to hold off on purchasing until I’ve thought about it.

My "history" with Robin and dead sidekicks

ghostrobinMy earliest experiences with “current” Batman comics was back in Spring 1989, and involved the end of Batman: Year 3 and the start of Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, as well as The Mud Pack that ran in Detective Comics.

I remember being surprised to learn that Robin had DIED. Here on the cover of Detective #606, we see Batman before the grave, Robin’s ghost pointing accusingly at him.

In the issue itself, it turns out that Batman’s facing a shape-shifter, momentarily rocked by seeing Robin “alive” before the realization of a shape-shifter kicked in.

For me, as an 8-year-old, this was Big Stuff, though. I knew there was a gap between my grandfather’s comics and these…and the fact that Robin had died since Grandpa’s comics really illustrated (to me) that this was an older Batman. I didn’t know much about “continuity” at the time, but I “got” the passage of time and “knew” characters had grown/changed/etc.

I gradually pieced things together from Continuity (yeah, even an 8-11 year old could do that, back in ’89-’92!) and learned that 1. this was a SECOND Robin, that had died–the original had gotten older and became Nightwing; and 2. he’d been beaten to death by the Joker.

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Thanks to the local library system, I was eventually able to access and read the tpb of A Death in the Family, witnessing the death of Jason Todd for myself.

Meanwhile, though extremely sporadic, I was around for Tim Drake’s introduction as Robin–first in A Lonely Place of Dying, and then in 1992 where he was still fairly inexperienced, shortly before Knightfall and his rapid growing up and graduation to his own solo book, etc. (I’d missed much of his training and officially taking the name Robin in the DCU, though.)

II got the Robin III: Cry of the Huntress mini-series, and the first couple issues of the ongoing series, and had picked up the Eclipso: The Darkness Within annual.

I got back into the series a few years later around #50; backtracked immediately to #46 or 47 and kept up with the title; a couple years later I bought a set of the first 40 issues, and tracked down the intervening specific issues, such that by the time the series hit #100 I had the full run to that point. I fell away from the title for a couple years, but again tracked down the back issues to fill in the gap, and kept up for several years.

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I was there for the all-too-short span of time that Stephanie Brown was the “first” female Robin, and her apparent demise in the War Games event. I read Identity Crisis as the issues came out, and was horrified and moved at the death of Tim’s father.

I used One Year Later as a jumping-off point, but got sucked back in around the Batman: RIP story, and yet again filled in the gap. I then continued into the first year or so of the Red Robin series, when Damian Wayne was made the new Robin for Batman and Robin, when Dick had taken over in Bruce’s absence. I’ve yet to track down the latter half of the Red Robin series, though it’s on my to-do list.

I picked up the first several issues of the New 52 Teen Titans run specifically for Tim Drake/Red Robin, but for a number of reasons basically gave up on the New 52 as a whole.

And now, this week, I picked up Batman, Inc. #8, and witnessed the death of another Robin.

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It’s been a long run. I started out 4 years younger than Tim Drake, and now I’m 2 1/2 times the age he was in Lonely Place of Dying. I’ve seen him grow into the role, and learned of Jason’s past, and saw the interaction/brotherly relationship develop between Dick and Tim. Saw Tim leave the role for a bit, with Stephanie Brown stepping in; then her “death” and Tim returned to the role.

batman676After the supposed “death” of Batman in Final Crisis when Dick took over as Batman, it seemed like Tim was kinda shoved out of the way so that the then-still-fairly-new character Damian could officially be Robin.

And now Damian’s dead, and I’m curious about where the Bat-books will go from here, how Batman will be portrayed in light of this new loss.

While we didn’t know at the time that Stephanie Brown wasn’t dead, not much was really done in light of her death; not the way there was with Jason Todd died. No Robin suit in the Batcave, and not much seemed to be done showing Batman without a Robin (Dick and Tim were still around).

But this seems likely to be more on the scale of Jason’s death.

batmaninc(vol2)008In the “meta” sense–interviews, rumors, hearsay–it seems likely this character death may be pretty final. At the least, this is rather sudden–seems just a couple weeks ago Death of the Family ended, we saw that Damian (and the others) were (physically) ok, and it seemed a bullet had been dodged–no major character in the Bat-family had been killed.

Then the “news” broke the other day, Batman, Inc. #8 spoiled quite handily DAYS before the issue went on sale.

So there’s the marketing, the hype, the spoilers, the speculation (I emailed my LCS Monday morning, so a copy of the issue was waiting for me at my convenience Wednesday).

Yet, there’s that Death’s Revolving Door in comics…a character dies only to be back within a few months or a couple of years.

Shamefully…I’m finding myself with a rekindled interest in Robin; in all the Robins…and especially in the idea of catching up on both iterations of the Batman and Robin title; possibly other Bat-books in general.

Batman Incorporated #8 [Review]

batmaninc(vol2)008The Boy Wonder Returns

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Art (pgs 6-9): Jason Masters
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Associate Editor: Rickey Purdin
Group Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Chris Burnham with Nathan Fairbairn
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

DC suckered me.

I’d read and heard rumors throughout the Death of the Family stuff going on that we might get a “big death” in the bat-family, and it seemed like most guesses were going toward either Alfred or Damian. Of course, that proved to be yet another Major Joker Story where the scary madman doesn’t actually kill any major characters.

Then I caught wind of this issue–and as the bulk of the comic fans On The Internet learned a couple days ago…this issue gives us that “big death.” Thanks to DC, the “news” was out days before the issue, SPOILING its otherwise surprise for many comic readers–myself included. I’m almost ashamed to say that the spoiler/confirmation of the “big death” prompted me to get this issue.

I recall picking up the reprint of Son of the Demon a few years back, when Morrison‘s run started–and I’m pretty sure I picked up the first couple issues, at least, of his run, not long after Infinite Crisis. With this slightly-muddled memory of being there at the beginning, I wanted to be here at the end. And…my very first Batman comics were less than a year after the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd.

So, Batman Inc. #8…that’s what this review should focus on, right?

This is my first issue of the title. Batman Inc. was not part of the first wave of New 52 titles, and so I gave it a pass when it did premiere. I don’t think I even got around to reading any issues of the original iteration preNew 52. So other than the loose concept–that Batman has agents all over the place in a more formalized structure–I come to this cold.

This issue opens with Robin (Damian…I’m still not totally used to Robin NOT being Tim Drake) flying into an ongoing battle, and connecting with Nightwing. Meanwhile, Batman is fighting against Talia al Ghul (Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, mother of Damian). Red Robin’s part of the mix, fighting elsewhere. Nightwing and Robin have a moment–the original Robin and current Robin, on their own time as Batman & Robin. Enter an armored warrior from Talia’s end, and the two realize they’re in trouble. Nightwing falls, leaving Robin to stand against this Goliath-figure.

As Robin leaps to the attack, agents outside the fight interfere, and the boy is wounded numerous times, while calling out to his parents to stop this fight.

And for the third time…Batman finds himself with a dead Robin…perhaps the most personal of all, as Damian was his own flesh-and-blood son.

Story-wise…this is a painful issue. Most of the fighting fits, and seems like just another large-scale incident with superheroes involved in some city-wide invasion or such. But the scene of Damian’s battle is just…brutal. Despite all I know of the character–and the character certainly being “old before his time,” this is still a child…and it’s (to say the least) not at all a comfortable scene. I have no idea what Batman and Talia are fighting about this time, the details of their present issues…maybe I’ll find out via Wikipedia or listening to the inevitable podcasts covering this issue, etc.

Visually, I have no problem with the art–even the multiple artists didn’t throw me at all. Reading the issue, I just kinda sped through, taking in what’s going on, and honestly would not even have NOTICED there were multiple artists had I not specifically read the credits to list above for this review.

It was probably a mistake for me to give in and allow much weight be given to this issue. “The death scene” is only a couple pages, and easily recapped. Unlike 1988’s A Death in the Family, I’m reading only a single issue, so it’s not like this is the culmination of several issues’ reading, building to a climactic moment. This is me having a specific moment spoiled by mass media and deciding to read the issue for myself rather than simply read ABOUT it.

As a standalone issue, I’m not all that thrilled with this. I didn’t really pick up on much context of the “why” to the fighting or other context (I’m sure this’ll make more sense read in a collected volume, in-context). But sadly…I got what I paid for. I witnessed the brutal death of another Robin…a visual I’m uncomfortable with, yet get to live with today, and moving forward.

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