Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)
Publisher: D.C. Comics
The book opens at the funeral of Thomas Elliot, the childhood friend of Bruce Wayne who was seemingly murdered by the Joker. However after the funeral we see Nightwing looks in on Bruce in the Batcave, where he learns that Bruce is convinced that the Joker didn't fire the shot that killed Tommy. We also see he's convinced himself that who ever framed the Joker, is the same person who has been responsible for the string of uncharacteristic crimes that members of his rogues gallery have been committing. However, his investigation into Tommy's murder is cut short by a police report of the Riddler pulling off an armored truck robbery, and feeling that this might be connected to the case he's working on we see Batman rushes to intercept this villain, with Nightwing tagging along to keep his company. As the two speed toward the scene we see Dick takes the time to mention that Bruce seems more at peace with himself, and he credits Selina Kyle for this attitude change. As Dick oversteps his bound by suggesting that Bruce tell her he's Batman, we see the conversation is ended, and the two busy themselves taking down the Riddler & his men. After Batman picks up another clue as to the possible identity of the mystery villain, the book looks in on the Joker, as he has a visitor in jail, and we learn the identity of Hush.
It's a bit difficult to accept all the various encounters that Batman's been having during Jeph Loeb's run as the work of a single master-villain, as it's more like Jeph Loeb is working his way down a checklist of ideas that both he and the fans want to see play out in the pages of a Batman comic. So we have the Superman versus Batman issue, the Joker versus Batman issue, plus appearances by almost every single member of Batman's rogue gallery, and of course the Batman/Catwoman romance looks to take a fairly serious step forward in this issue. Now there's nothing wrong with writing stories with the fans in mind, and there is something rather appealing about a writer who is running around like a kid in a candy shop, as Jeph Loeb is clearly a big fan of Batman's corner of the DCU. However, his attempt to fit all the pieces together so that everything that happened in recent issues is all part of a big master-plan doesn't quite hold together all that well, as it calls upon certain characters to jump through hoops that are simply too smart and/or unpredictable to be used as pawns. I mean, even Batman seems to notice how poorly constructed this mystery is, as he's trying to fit all the pieces together to form a coherent master-plan. Now perhaps I'll be eating my words when the big picture is revealed, but at the moment this story looks like a collection of "wouldn't this be cool" moments.
This issue offers up a moment that was quite revealing about how little I know about Batman's corner of the DCU, as I'm been operating under the false assumption that Catwoman knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, so when Nightwing began pressing Batman to let Catwoman in on his secret, I grew a bit confused. Then I told myself that she knows but that she simply hasn't let Batman know that she's in on the secret, but this theory also went out the window when she acts surprised after he removes his mask. So basically we have a woman who has been romantically involved with Batman & Bruce Wayne for a number of years, and she never made the connection. While this doesn't say much for her intelligence, or her curiosity, I guess if Jeph Loeb wants this scene to be a big moment, I can accept it as such, and I have to say it's certainly an unusual display of trust from the one character in the DCU who I would never expect to see it from. The other fan pleasing item in this issue is that Nightwing is running around in this issue giving Batman a hand against the Riddler's latest scheme, and while the Riddler is played as little more than a harmless distraction, we do get some solid insights into what Batman thinks about Nightwing. Given Batman's not exactly big on revealing what's going on in his mind, the first person narration is a welcome touch.
Jim Lee is an amazing cover artist, and the big visuals inside the book are far and away the best this side of Bryan Hitch. I mean one look at that double page shot of the Batcave, or the establishing shot of Gotham City with its cooler than heck GYPD blimps, and one has to be delighted that he's found his way back to a monthly book. He also does some solid work on the action scenes, as Nightwing's attacks are a wonderful study of grace & impact. I also enjoyed the Riddler's desperate flight down the tunnels of the Gotham sewers as it's nicely reminiscent of the classic final act of "The Third Man". The scene where the Joker is visited by the mystery villain is also quite impressive, as the Joker's extreme facial contortions as the bandages are peeled away really sell the idea that he's being shown something important. However, as impressive as these moments are, there are also panels where I can't say I'm exactly blown away by the art, as the scene at the funeral is a collection of cliché visuals, and the scene where Batman employs all the various razzle-dazzle holographic images in the Batcave, I could've help but feel this was simply an excuse to make a talking heads scene visually interesting. The new battering ram Batmobile is also a rather uninspired design, though I will concede that the scene where it slams into the armored truck is pretty impressive.
The final pages of this issue offer up some nice plot advancement, as we learn who Hush is, and depending on how big a fan you were of this villain before this issue, you'll either be pleasantly surprised, or annoyed by the rather significant change that has been made to this character. Speaking as a reader with next to no feelings about this character one way or the other, I do have to say that I did feel like Jeph Loeb has cheated a bit on this reveal, as it's one thing to reveal the mystery villain is a character fans would recognize, but it's quite another to change the character to such a degree that it might as well be a completely new character. Still, it wasn't really much of a mystery as this book has really been more of a collection of fan pleasing plot premises than an ongoing mystery, so truth be told I doubt too many fans will make a fuss. This issue does offer up a nice look a Batman's opinion of Nightwing, and there's a fairly big development in the Batman/Catwoman relationship, so there's more than enough here to keep fans happy.
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