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.
One more smaller article won’t hurt. We continue our short stories from the beginning of the Marvel event Dark Reign with another piece from the Dark Reign: The Cabal one-shot, written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Adi Granov. Y’see, Norman Osborn can’t get superheroes to work with him due to his past as the Green Goblin and his present as a conniving jerk. That means his allies have to be his peers, and other supervillains have a long history of not working well together. Mainly due to egos, psychopathy, megalomania or whatever other evil plots they can think of. Each time a supervillain betrays another supervillain, he gets a gold star on his record. Whoever has the most gold stars win. Especially since they can’t seem to win against the good guys.
Anyway, Norman Osborn picked a secret “cabal” to help him rule the world and stuff — Emma Frost, Loki, Namor, Doctor Doom, and the Hood. Of those five, four end up betraying him, so y’know.
Note the upcoming color change from normal to a shade of blue. That’s important later. Now as you know, Doom’s right — Osborn does soon implode. But you want to know how things would go down if Osborn actually succeeded in his delusional plots? Of course. The Green Goblin made the terrible decision to make deals with supervillains, after all.
You can see where this is going. While Osborn may rank in the top five of most influential supervillains in the Marvel universe, he’s no Doctor Doom. By the way, can we all agree Doctor Doom is a silly name? There’s no way he’d be named that if he wasn’t created in the early 1960s. Plus, wouldn’t his royal titles supersede his PhD? Emperor Doom, right? Oh, and Doom murders the Hood.
Doom now rules the earth and Namor the seas. I know this isn’t canon, but that’s for a good reason:
So Doom enslaved Emma Frost and (female) Loki, who I assume the latter can turn back into a dude anytime he feels like it. My only guess: Loki has a secret fetish. But look at the genius of this story: the blue shaded panels are all simply Doom daydreams, like we have when we’re staring at our computer screens at work. Under that mask still lies an adorable human mind, just really evil and stuff. Plus that whole naked Emma Frost and Loki thing? As weird as this sounds, it sort of humanizes Doom further to know he’s just as perverted as his other fellow supervillains, because I promise you, that’s all Namor daydreams about.
You know about Attuma, right? Not that Street Fighter character. Don’t worry, I don’t know who he is either until I looked him up about an hour ago. He battles Namor every now and then in his delusional attempts to conquer Atlantis and whatnot. If Aquaman gets a rogue gallery, Marvel’s Aquaman gets one too — that’s how competition works. In this short story from Dark Reign: Made Men one-shot, written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Rafa Sandoval, we get caught up on what happened to Attuma since his head exploded in Sentry #1.
Attuma, an Atlantean warlord, used some giant octopus creatures/mechs/whatever to take down New York City, where 50% of Marvel’s superhero population lives. As you can see, it ended badly. Keep in mind that bottom panel is the entire fight from that issue — Sentry simply flies down, beheads the supervillain, and continues about his day. So it may be hard to imagine why anyone would want to bring Attuma back to life. Well, there is that one guy.
Comic book science might as well be comic book magic — its only limitations lie in the imagination of the writer. Drink a serum and now you have pterodactyl wings! Take a pill and access time travel! Touch an orb and become a god! We don’t even question it. So yes, now Attuma is far more powerful than before simply because Doom said he is. We’re cool with that. Oh, and regarding Attuma’s refusal to Doom’s request.
It’s sort of like making a deal with the devil, except eventually the Fantastic Four will go to Latveria and punch the devil until there’s blood in his stool. I know this ends on a cliffhanger, but don’t hold your breath: Attuma doesn’t show up again in comics until the Marvel event Fear Itself occurs two-ish years after this. At least then, he gets one of the magic hammers and finally gives Namor the challenge our speedo-rockin’ monarch deserves.
I know what you love most about Namor: his abs. And second? Punching, most likely. But we all know the third admiration on that list: his political problem-solving. So in a short story from Dark Reign: The Cabal one-shot, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico, we get to see Namor in the position we always prefer to see him in: king (and a lazy sex joke).
Namor sits like I do at work. Seriously, these Atlanteans should know better. Namor almost certainly left two mermaids and a DVD copy of Poseidon back in his chambers. To have to solve petty arguments is what biblical kings do, not scantily-clad sea monarchs. I’m saying Namor’s royal jewels are firmly on display, just not on his head.
Just like Game of Thrones, right? Shall we recap Marvel’s Atlanteans? They’re blue as you’ve noticed, complete with slightly stronger, tougher bodies and a longer life-span than humans. Also, they can’t survive out of water for more than a few minutes. Luckily, Namor’s half-Atlantean and half human, so he can do that whole breathe air thing. Though stick the Sub-Mariner in a desert and he’s useless — the dude still have to be moist all the time. All the time.
Oh, and with one more twist about this kid’s superpowers about to revealed, shall we revel in Namor’s judgement? If anything, he has plenty of practice in bossing people around.
Meet Crosta. I looked him up. That’s the kid’s name. He has appeared in sixteen comic book issues, all as a minor character. And truthfully, this story’s more about Namor imposing his will than anything related to Crosta. And of course Namor makes the right choice, because (sometimes) he’s a superhero. Currently in comics nowadays? He’s acting as a mini-Galactus, so y’know, not well.
Now if you’ll excuse Namor, he has some mermaids to bang.
If you don’t mind, let’s have shorter articles this week. I’m busy with stuff (and things), you’re busy with stuff (and things), and just like a rerun of your favorite TV show — sometimes it’s an off week. So today, we’re taking one of the multiples stories told in Dark Reign: Made Men one-shot, written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Khoi Pham.
We jump back to the beginning of the Marvel event Dark Reign, where Norman Osborn has taken control of the nation’s security allowing him freedom to spread his corrupt and evil influence all throughout the country’s stuff (and things). First order of business? Petty revenge. What kind of supervillain would he be if it wasn’t? Oh, and meet Spymaster.
As you can expect, his name pretty much summarizes everything you need to know about him. He usually annoys Iron Man, he has no superpowers, and he mostly does espionage. There. You’re caught up. And speaking of caught, Osborn has a few tricks up his sleeve to find his man. And by that I mean the entire computer databases of all information in the United States.
When Osborn asks you for a favor, you don’t have much of a choice. Those lasers from earlier? Looks like Spymaster’s reenacting that laser dance scene from Ocean’s Twelve. When it comes to refusal or failure, Osborn’s predecessors Nick Fury would yell and Iron Man would mope, but the former Green Goblin has no problem ruining. Hell, we’ve seen what he did to his own son, much less a C-list supervillain trying to stay under the radar. So the purpose of this job? Remember how Osborn disgraced Iron Man to get his job? This is called rubbing salt on the wound:
On Wednesday, we’ll continue our Dark Reign short stories with Namor! He wears his speedo.
The small piece of the arc we saw last time was amazing. So much so that I want us to read a few more scenes from it, and hence the dilemma — to avoid whatever legal punishment comes from showing all the pages of a comic, I’d have to choose a specific angle and ignore the rest. Iron Man and Mandarin face off in two separate, phenomenal clashes that highlight the beauty and eternal struggle of technology versus magic. Oh, they’re great and one of the full-page spreads wows me each time I look at it. But I know what my readers like. They’re sick of punching. They read comics for something deeper, like what they would see on CSPAN. So, even though I protest, I’ll honor your requests. Today we’ll cover all that wonderful political talk you crave so much using pieces from Iron Man #23-28, volume four, written by Daniel & Charles Knauf and drawn by Butch Guice, Roberto De La Torre, & Carlo Pagulayan. You’re welcome.
Let’s pick up at the exact page we left off on, where Iron Man explains Graviton’s death to the Commission on Superhuman Activities.
Notice anything odd from that conversation? No, not Norman Osborn — he’s making his legitimate rise in politics by being slimy behind the scenes. Plus, he’s needed in these meetings as an accurate portrayal of what Tony Stark would face if he had to talk to actual United States politicians. It’s mostly odd that Stark met with the committee in full Iron Man armor. He’s not going to repulsor beam anyone there and it’s not like he’s the Thing — he can take the armor off whenever he chooses. But don’t worry, the government has noticed Stark’s behavior as well and they assign the Hulk’s therapist to the case. Even though to be fair, he hasn’t really been too successful with the Hulk.
This mainly serves to de-power Iron Man so he has to fight Mandarin using weaker, older armor. Raises the suspense a bit, y’know? Because while Stark has totally been hallucinating and going crazy and probably could use a long vacation, he’s a superhero. They’re always last to acknowledge their own faults. Here’s a sidebar pep talk from Dum Dum Dugan before we get to more exciting politics talk:
To save the country, Iron Man and SHIELD drop a nuclear bomb on Omaha, Nebraska. Hell yeah, they do. It’s called leadership, my friends. As you can expect, they now have to answer for their decisions, especially since our country (and the world) prefer that Earth’s most powerful military force doesn’t launch nuclear weapons at their own country whenever it feels like it. To each his own, I guess.
Spoiler alert: I’m not going to tell you what happens to Jack Kooning. That’s a side plot that I’ve completely ignored. A lot of stuff has been going on, but I don’t want you to miss the committee meetings. I have my priorities. Watch Dum Dum imitate our own political system by making backroom deals and open threats before we continue our UN inquiries.
Now, if there’s anything I know about politics, it’s that they always make the right decision. They use logic, evidence, and an unbiased agenda to properly act in the interest of the people. Right? No? Look, we know what’s going to happen. Mandarin still plans to release his 97.5% human fatality rate bomb onto the world and only Iron Man can save the day — it’s his arch-nemesis after all. So in a scene that could only happen in pop culture and not in real life, we get a small slice of how bureaucracy could work if everyone involved was insane instead of just sociopaths.
So what happens next? Sorry, that’s the last bit of bureaucracy in this arc so we have to end here. But I’m not a monster, I’ll be happy to give you a taste of what you’re missing out on. Don’t fret, it’s nothing special. See?
Go buy lots of Iron Man comics. Don’t you deserve it after this long week?