Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recent Re-Reads: Batman - War Games, Act 1

So between large boxes of comics once a month, I'm spending a lot of time re-reading stuff I've already purchased. This helps justify my actually keeping my comics, as well as allowing me to help update entries in my database.

So last week, I re-read the three-month, 25-chapter epic War Games. This book occupied every book DC published that was even tangentially related to the Batman universe. Even Legends of the Dark Knight which was usually kept exempt from crossovers was occupied. This story is relevant, considering my recent rant on liking Marvel's crossovers more than DC's because of the lasting impact on their respective universes. Particularly, my gripe was that Marvel accomplished visible goals with their crossovers while DC tends to just use theirs as a reset button.

This one is an exception to that rule. This crossover largely existed to shake up Batman's status quo, revamping his relationship with Gotham's police and set up a new 'head criminal' in Gotham. So in this case, DC was actually doing something I think was worthwhile. The problem is that after the first third, I think the story just flounders.

Here's the gist. I think by now we all know that Batman plans for every possible (and apparently impossible) contingency. I mean, a man who keeps a backup PERSONALITY is probably ready for everything. Including the possibility that every gang in Gotham might go to war at the exact same time. Stephanie Brown, who was Robin for about a week, steals that particular contingency plan, and decides she's going to prove herself to Batman by carrying it out. I mean, if she can make one of his plans work, then he was wrong to fire her... right? Show of hands if you think this was a good idea.

She sets up a meeting with all of Gotham's top (non-lunatic) criminals, and is suitably shocked when they start killing each other. Out of 21 attendees, eight survive. So most of Gotham's gangs are now leaderless and wanting blood. This part of the story highlights Batman's helplessness to contain the chaos. Tim is still retired as Robin, Nightwing isn't even in Gotham yet, so it's basically him, Catwoman and Batgirl versus every crook in Gotham. Nightwing does make it to Gotham in this chapter, but he's got his own baggage. This act basically culminates in a standoff between several gangs of criminals and the police at Tim Drake's high school where one of his fellow students (and daughter of one of the new mob bosses) has been shot. Batman and his crew are able to save the day, but not in time to save the girl, who's bled out.

Throughout this first act, Batman has no idea what's going on, or what prompted all this. He's wondering who's behind it. The audience only learns as Stephanie confides in Catwoman that she set up the fatal gangland meeting, but that the key figure involved didn't show up... some hood named 'Matches' Malone. (Most Batman fans are aware that 'Matches' Malone is a criminal identity Bruce Wayne set up for dealing directly with Gotham's underworld to gather information, etc.)

Through this first act of the story, it's directed and tight. Sadly, that doesn't seem to last beyond the first act. I'll see if I can't post tomorrow to discuss where this one goes downhill in Act 2.

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