Last time we covered the dramatic Brian K. Vaughan re-telling of Matches Malone’s origin story. It’s delightful. But Batman’s undercover alter-ego actually premiered back in 1972 as a response to Ra’s al Ghul, who himself premiered ten issues before Matches Malone. It’s complicated and weird, but if we jump right into it, I think it’ll sort itself out.
Let’s start with some background, mainly Ra’s al Ghul’s first issue back in Batman #232, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano. Remember how Bane one-upped Batman by figuring out his secret identity and then using it to destroy his life? Bane’s a copycat. Ra’s al Ghul had the supervillain-figuring-out-Batman-is-Bruce-Wayne gimmick twenty years before our beefy luchador.
So in order to defeat his opponent ten issues later (and in a crossover event), Bruce Wayne has to die. Unfortunately, despite this being Batman’s dream of getting to be Batman 24/7, no longer having to deal with the awful life of a super rich, attractive, playboy billionaire CEO, he still needs another identity that doesn’t growl and wear a cowl. In Batman #242 and 243, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Irv Novick, Neal Adams, & Dick Giorando, we get our answer: Matches Malone.
I know they called Bruce Wayne a millionaire, but this was back in the 1970s when bread was five cents a loaf and new cars could be afforded by whatever clump of bills you found in your pocket. Nowadays, Bruce Wayne has to cross that billion mark just to afford replacing his $20 million Batplane ever three or four issues it explodes. Now, it’s never fully discussed why he needs Matches Malone (the real one) on his side, but this happens anyway:
For some reason, and not explained very well, Matches Malone’s gun ricochets off the wall and kills him. So Matches Malone dies more than once in the Batman universe. Fortunately, his death allows Batman to take over his identity. And more complicated plans to allow Matches Malone and Batman to appear at the same time.
Of all the people Batman could have picked to help him go after Ra’s al Ghul (Superman, Wonder Woman, other people with superpowers), he chooses a gangster, a doctor, and a martial artist. Look, we’re not crazy detective geniuses — we normal folk can’t comprehend how Batman’s mind works. Also, spoiler alert: Batman wins in the end anyway. But at least Batman shares. Everyone gets to be Matches Malone!
On Monday, we jump back to the mid-2000s for a Matches Malone and Catwoman team-up!
Sometimes when criminals have finished peeing their pants while hanging off the balcony as Batman explains his arm’s getting tired, the Dark Knight still doesn’t have all the information he needs to knock out supervillains’ teeth. And since Batman’s the world’s greatest detective, sometimes that means going all Donnie Brasco in the depths of the Gotham underworld. His most used, famous, and silliest secret identity is New Jersey’s Matches Malone. No one suspects a thing. Luckily, Brian K. Vaughan explains to us how Matches Malone came to be in Batman #589, written by Vaughan and drawn by Scott McDaniel.
Oh, and in bigger news, Matches Malone just got shot. Not Batman. The real Matches Malone. That’s right, kids, we’re getting a plot twist in the second paragraph of the article.
It seems Batman has to frequently explain his own dark secrets to his closest friends and allies. Remember in the arc “Batman: Bruce Wayne — Murderer?” where his Batfamily actually questioned for a moment whether Bruce Wayne could actually kill anyone or not? It’s because of times like these, where no matter how deep they dig, Batman’s closet pours out a never-ending supply of skeletons. Here’s another one. Also, we sometimes forget that he wasn’t always the unbeatable, always-plans-for-everything Batman we know and love. That took time.
The most important thing to remember about the above pages is that Batman once wore blackface as the Joker racist-ly remarked. But if we take into consideration Batman started crimefighting at age 25 (as Frank Miller decided for us), that’s still a tremendously stupid age. Trust me, I made some horrifically bad decisions when I was 25, and I rarely wear a mask and uppercut criminals. Luckily, an opportunity came around for our protagonist.
Let’s not get angry at Batman for obstructing justice or interfering with an investigation — that’s pretty much all he does. Any evidence collected by Batman is illegal, obtained through illegal methods, can’t be used in a court of law, and given freely to a corrupt police department. Hopefully, the criminals’ broken jaws and Batman’s threatening growls are enough to keep them on the straight and narrow. I’d only have to get punched in the face once to end my life of crime, trust me.
Luckily, Bruce Wayne and Matches Malone have the exact same face and head shape. We read comic books, where no one knows Nightwing is Dick Grayson because of a tiny black strip across his eyes. At least now you know the truth, though you should go buy this book (part of a collection called Batman: False Faces) for the rest of this story and a delightful two-issue Wonder Woman vs. Clayface arc.
Do you enjoy Batman and Bane beating on each other but prefer the newer artistic techniques of modern day comics? Well, I’m not going to let you wallow in early ’90s self-pity. Today, we’ll cap off our five weeks of Batman-related articles (or we’ll keep going, I haven’t decided yet) with Batman and Bane’s newest battle in the responsibly titled Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman vs. Bane one-shot, written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Scot Eaton. As with many things in the New 52, the venom-riddled Bane we know and love is back. No recovery, no speeches about weakness, etc. Just Bane’s veins pumped full of that delightful neon drug and a desire to pummel the Dark Knight until he has a permanent bat symbol stained on his fists.
Did you read the DC event Forever Evil? All the superheroes disappeared, the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League) took over, and the bad guys briefly won if only by default because of no good guys were around to stop them. Bane used his time wisely. He took over Gotham City.
By the way, I love this issue — both speak in such grandiose terms and broad metaphors in between hitting each other with statues and stuff.
I get that the venom makes Bane superpowered, but for all his bravado, even he wouldn’t survive a thirty-ish story fall onto Gotham City pavement. And he’s a large man — it’d be a lot of mess to clean up. Sadly, Bane’s Kingpin of Gotham status lasts exactly until Batman shows his face again. Marvel’s Kingpin still traverses New York City with his ninja army and drug mules no matter how many times Spider-Man, Daredevil, or Punisher take him down. Hell, Daredevil and Punisher left New York months ago — the Kingpin outlasted even the superheroes. But poor Bane, because Batman’s far scarier than Spider-Man could ever be.
Beautiful movie action hero line by Batman. Has Bane thought about wearing sleeves or a helmet maybe? I’m no strategist, but when Batman ambushes him, he’ll almost certainly aim for the parts that aren’t protected by clothes. Batman certainly adjusted. As Batman’s costume has slowly evolved into armor over the past decade or so, we accept more readily that the Dark Knight can take a hit and bounce back. As you read these next pages, could you really see spandex Batman walking away from blows like these?
Obviously Bane has to lose this fight. It’s part of the downside of being a supervillain. But if we can give him credit, he took a fall from a skyscraper, four batarangs, innumerable punches and kicks, and a stone child to take him down. I’m just saying the Riddler would have been out by the first batarang. So while Bane hasn’t shown up in the New 52 since this issue, at least he went out like a man. A delusional man ranting nonsense and addicted to drugs. But still.
Before we begin, have you seen the cover for Superman/Batman #56? You should. It’s the issue we read today. Plus it includes Superman’s Batman-esque costume he received from Alfred last issue.
Right? Isn’t that awesome? For those who don’t know iconic pictures of American history, artists Rags Morales and Nei Ruffino recreated a super famous boxing photo of Muhammad Ali standing victorious over Sonny Liston back in 1965. Here’s the original:
I know, it’s great. Let’s get to the issue. Our big finale! It’s well worth the wait, to which you should go buy the arc as soon as you finish this article because your friends will be impressed and women will be attracted to you. Probably. Look, let’s not beat around the bush, you know what’s going to happen: lots of angry punching. But remember last time when Nightwing exposed a Superman-vulnerability to our Dark Knight of Steel? Mainly the dark part. Superman gets his powers from our yellow sun, much like Birdman. So constant exposure to sunlight keeps Superman at 100%, something to keep in mind coming up.
Batman brings up a good point. If Superman can take hits far beyond the ability of a normal man, our secret aggressor no longer has to hold back. Meaning in the 75 years of Batman history, you just witnessed Batman taking the most powerful, brutal, no-holds-barred punch ever in his entire history courtesy of Superman’s girlfriend (and feminist icon, strong solo character, and everything else associated with the most recognizable female superhero in comics — please don’t flame me).
Spoiler alert: Batman does it the hard way. So if the Dark Knight’s hard to beat in his normal squishy form, then the Justice League’s about to have their butt handed to them. As he mentions and as we know, Batman fights dirty and you’d have to be crazy to go up against him in a fair fight (like most of his rogues gallery). And for reference, yes, this is the mentally unstable Batman they’re facing — the one we’ve seen in the previous two parts consumed and pushed over the edge by the major superpower surge. Though it doesn’t make these next few pages any less satisfying.
So let’s talk about this scene. Let’s admire that the Justice League straight up stops the fight because they know three pages in they won’t be able to win. But those crazy voices? Besides being a scene I’m going to skip? It’s one of the most effective ways to stop Superman: mess with his mind. Use illusions, fight emotionally instead of physically, use truth bombs, etc. Superman may be a Man of Steel, but he has a paper-thin heart. We’ll skip Batman crying about his parents, but indulge in Batman’s final maniacal monologue (though on a small level, it is correct) before Clark Kent and Zatanna play their hand.
Don’t despair, you know this is what Batman really wanted. We saw how the venom made Batman into a similar monster. He simply doesn’t cope well with superpowers no matter how much he claims otherwise, much like me and a bottle of wine. Look, I adore Batman and we all knew the status quo would force the two’s switch to reverse itself. But as readers, writers, and Batman himself have pointed out constantly, the only real difference between him and his rogues gallery is that Batman’s obsession is justice as opposed to anything evil. And honestly, it’s my favorite thing about him. After batarangs.
Bittersweet endings still qualify as happy endings.
Here’s the problem with a Superman-powered Batman: he’s never going to stop. Ever. Until his dying breath in a post-apocalyptic kryptonite meteor shower, Batman’ll never pause or take a break from heat vision-ing crime. Y’see, the only reason he heads back to the Batcave during dawn is to do normal human stuff like collapse into his bed or suture up his wounds or do that whole feeding himself nutrients thing. But no more. Superman always had a stable alter-ego in Clark Kent, but not Bruce Wayne — and you can see his obsessions fully manifest as the arc progresses:
I looked up the word unequivocal: leaving no doubt, unambiguous. Part of Batman’s war on crime relies on evil-doers knowing Batman’s out there and ready to strike. With heat vision, the bad guys can’t crop up their failings on bad luck when the Batman symbol gets seared into their car. Also, take a moment to appreciate Batman perching/brooding on the Eiffel Tower.
Oh yeah, and his friends are worried, but like all great teenage logic, no one could ever understand Batman, right? Gosh, just leave him alone and let him text his friends in peace.
It’s the “with great power comes great responsibility” cliche, except if Spider-Man never stopped swinging around New York City from the day he got bit by the spider until his heart gives out on the way to the Spider-Nursing Home. I know what you’re thinking: someone’s going to have to talk some sense into Batman, and his friends are very poor at talking sense. The Justice League punches first, negotiates second. But if his buddies can’t convince Batman that an equal balance of work and life prevents him from going crazy with power/duty/freeze breath, then it’ll have to be his most trusted ally. His dearest comrade’ll make one of the stupidest decisions I’ve ever seen him make, and that includes the pixie boots.
All this after Batman beats up Catwoman, though. We need to see his instability before the escrima sticks become justified.
Batman’s (very) minor weakening will be explained in a few pages. We all agree Nightwing made a terrible choice. Maybe he thinks Batman’ll take it easy on him or might even refuse to fight him at all — though to be fair, Nightwing did just see Batman wipe out Catwoman, and those two have seen each other’s private parts. So if you’ve ever wanted to see a very human Dick Grayson fight an angry Superman-powered Bruce Wayne, your wish has been granted. Spoiler alert: it goes as well and lasts about as long as you think.
For our big finale on Friday, Batman takes on his toughest opponent yet (excluding a healthy relationship with a woman). Hint: everybody. He fights everybody.
Our title’s on the nose today. Batman gets all of Superman’s powers and Superman gets all of Batman’s powers (nothing). It’s a brilliant idea. Batman’s personality flaws revolving his obsessions and unending justice get blown open wonderfully when he actually has the powers to act out his unending justice obsessions. We’ll take a look at this mess in Superman/Batman #53-56, written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson and drawn by Rags Morales.
Like all good Superman and Batman arcs, the story begins with their contrasting viewpoints. Spoiler alert: they think differently.
How could you not love panels of Superman in Gotham City? His outfit’s a primary color nightmare against the browns and grays of Gotham, and the wild optimism of Superman’s ideals against the city that attempts to prove him wrong. I love it, almost as much as I love the idea of Firefly getting taken out by Superman in almost certainly the most embarrassing and fastest loss of his supervillain career. Oh yeah, and our two protagonists switch powers.
This can’t be bad, right? Superman could use a nice rest from singlehandedly being the most powerful superbeing on the planet and let Batman take over for a little bit until Silver Banshee can be found. Y’know, except that Batman’s mentally ill and the only factor that prevents him from ever stopping beating up bad guys is that whole normal human thing like sleep and food. But not anymore. Not at all.
Here’s a glimpse of what Batman can accomplish if he doesn’t have his humanity holding him back. And I mean that physically. Because let’s be fair, if Batman gets a new batarang that shoots out knockout gas on impact, he’s using that baby on every bad guy that crosses his path that night. But invulnerability? Hypersenses? Heat vision? All I’m saying is it’d be a bad night to be Two Face.
Only one person manufactures and sells venom. And poor Bane really has no idea what he’s in for. The whole purpose of this issue just seems to get readers acquainted to a Superman-level Batman. So it’s a dozen pages of Batman wrecking everyone who even ever considered anything evil. And a dozen pages of a mortal Superman trying to adjust, but I’m ignoring all of that.
That smile on Bane’s face is about to be wiped away. All the poetic talk won’t save this brute from a Superman-level beatdown, though it certainly adds to the ambiance. Also, I like any man who wears a nice suit and tie but keeps the luchador mask on. Murcielago is Spanish for bat, by the way.
Oh, and Superman got shot. He’s okay. We’ll cover Batman’s continued assault on crime, his mental decline, and the inevitable switch back next time!
Cassandra Cain’s daddy issues. Because despite whatever problems Barbara Gordon has with her loving cop father or Stephanie Brown has with her minor supervillain father, poor Cassandra received the short end of the family stick. Her mercenary/assassin father David Cain raised her as a small child without stuff like language, toys, fun, happiness, etc. to essentially make her into a perfect body language-reading weapon. Perfect assassin upbringing, perfect assassin genes (her mother’s Lady Shiva), perfect plan — except for Batman. Now, our dear girl can talk, but all those lingering psychological traumas still exist wedged deeply in her psyche. Until Batgirl #5-6, volume two, written by Adam Beechen and drawn by J. Calafiore. Time for some daddy problems to be solved. By punching. Always by punching.
Think of David Cain as a duplicate of Deathstroke without the obsession of battling large groups of teenagers. Actually, Batgirl (and Ravager) fought Deathstroke a few issues back, but that’s for another time. Batgirl stopped Cain from killing Oracle, and now she has to take out her father one final time. Recently, Cain and Deathstroke drugged her and made her kill dudes again, causing a rift in the Batfamily, so Batgirl figures one more death won’t add much to the pile. Also, Cain deserves it.
I want you to know that while Cain’s about to murder his daughter that he trained/raised since a child, it still hurts him. Like it would hurt us if we had to shoot children, y’know, assuming we’re all insane evil sociopaths. The whole arc includes themes about the idea of right versus wrong when it comes to killing. It’s an idea that pops up in every other Batman issue and also, truthfully, can only exist in the fictional world of comic books. But one thing we can’t argue: Cain gave Cassandra a terrible childhood.
Turns out old mercenaries can learn new tricks. As in Batgirl needs to give her father a stark dose of reality (mixed with attacks because of superhero law), and what better environment than on top a lonely rooftop building in the pouring rain? If only a solo cello player on the rooftop next to them could crescendo his sad song during these next few moments.
Those last three text boxes also made up the last moments of Batman Begins. Let movie Batman do what he wants. We know comic Batman would have saved Ra’s al Ghul, partially out of his moral code and partially so writers can reuse the supervillain at a later time. But Cassandra has grown since her first appearance in No Man’s Land roughly ten years before this. She’s a bonafide superhero with superhero principles and morality. And yes, Batman’s influence strikes much harder than having henchmen pee themselves when he crashes through a skylight.
Okay, so this last page is heartbreaking. Bruce Wayne never adopts her. He dies soon after this, the DC universe reboots, and Cassandra disappears from continuity. But that’s the way the comic book business goes sometimes. Go buy this miniseries, you should treat yourself.