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REVIEW: BATMAN: YEAR TWO
Author: B.L. Wooldridge
Thursday, December 29, 2005

Batman: Year Two is the name of the story, and a trade paperback collection, originally featured in Detective Comics #575- 578 and first published from June to September 1987.

Batman: Year Two, as told in writer Mike W. Barrís (Batman: Son of the Demon) introduction, began its life as a rejected story called Batman 1980, in which Barr tried to explain some of the gaps in the Batmanís crime-fighting career following Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelliís ground-breaking Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths work Batman: Year One. Barr wanted to answer a few questions about the modern-day Batman, such as why he doesnít carry a gun. Batman: Year Two does indeed answer those questions, but it also raises others, and sometimes, disturbingly so.

(Editorís Note: SPOILERS!)

The story begins with newly appointed Commissioner James Gordon fielding and dodging questions about his, and the Gotham City Police Departmentís relationship with the mysterious vigilante known as The Batman. The official stance is that the Batman aids the police, but remains outside of the law.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is building a monument to his father in the form of the Wayne Foundation Building. Here, we meet the post-Crisis Leslie Thompkins, the elderly physician who comforted and nurtured a young Bruce Wayne following his parentís murders -- and who also knows of Bruceís unique nightlife. In the meantime, we are also introduced to Judson Caspian and his lovely daughter Rachel, who are reunited after some time a part. Quickly, the audience learns that Judson was The Reaper, a brutal and homicidal vigilante who once held a crusade against crime in Gotham some two decades before. And apparently, The Reaper is about to resume his crusade once again.

The Reaper strikes soon after, leaving the bodies of criminals in his wake. The Batman begins his own investigation, but confers with Commissioner Gordon, who believes this Reaper to be a copycat. The Batman thinks otherwise, and leaves his ally with a gift: a pipe to replace Gordonís cigarettes. Soon after, the Batman faces The Reaper in battle for the first time, and The Dark Knight is soundly and viciously beaten. This is where the story takes a strange, and somewhat baffling, turn. The Batman decides to fight The Reaper utilizing the pistol that was used to kill his parents. Why, do you ask? Well, Bruce gives some sort of speech about the only way to avenge his parents is to use the gun that killed them, but this seems a tad bit lame. However, this pales in comparison to the next chapter in which the Batman decides to temporarily eschew his alliance with Commissioner Gordon and the police, and throw in with the very man who gunned down his mother and father, hitman Joe Chill.

The rest of the story features The Batman and Chill chasing down leads, employing vastly differing methods, and the Batman secretly sulking about teaming up with his parentsí killer. Of course, The Batman couldíve avoided all of this by just going after The Reaper himself, or with the policeís aid.

The upside to all of that malarkey is the touching romance that Bruce Wayne begins with Rachel Caspian. Rachel was to enter the convent and become a nun, but falls in love with Bruce, who reciprocates her feelings. The two become engaged, and although Bruce tries to tell Rachel about his secret life as The Dark Knight, she stops him, blindly supporting him in whatever he does.

The final chapter has Bruce proposing to Rachel, who accepts, and The Batman confronting Joe Chill in a scene reminiscent from Bill Fingerís ďThe Origin of BatmanĒ and the pre-Crisis Untold Legend of Batman, where he reveals his true identity as the grown son of the couple Chill murdered some twenty-five years previously. Chill is then suddenly shot and killed by The Reaper, and he and The Batman have their last battle. The Batman does not learn that The Reaper is truly his future father-in-law Judson Caspian until the last possible second. The Reaper eggs the Dark Knight on to shoot him, but The Batman will not do it. Caspian falls to his death remarking that Wayne will make a fine replacement for him.

Bruce buries his parentsí murdererís gun in the foundation of his foundationís building, vowing to never use another one again. And Rachel breaks their engagement, telling Bruce that she must now become a nun to atone for her fatherís murderous acts. The story ends with The Batman returning to action, and firmly allied with Commissioner Gordon once again.

All in all, Batman: Year Two is a good story, structurally speaking. Mike Barr is one of my favorite writers, and his Batman: Son of the Demon is one of the best Batman stories ever written, but his logic regarding Batman, the gun, and Joe Chill never rings true. This sequence plays out much better in the film Batman Begins, and there is even a love interest named Rachel in it, to boot. The Reaper story line is also very novel, and The Reaperís appearance and modus operandi do and will draw comparisons to the title villain of the amazing animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm from 1993.

And what can be said about Batman: Year Twoís marvelous art teams? The impeccable Alan Davis and Paul Neary handled the first chapter, while a young, up and coming Todd McFarlane penciled the last three. Davis was nearing the peak of his career, and would soon follow this work with an astonishing run on Excalibur for Marvel. Of course, McFarlane would also do his due diligence at Marvel, drawing, and later, writing and drawing about a young man named Peter Parker and his moonlighting as an arachnoid crime fighter. Both pencillers are near the top of their game in Batman: Year Two with Davisí fluid, clean lines taking the edge over McFarlaneís kinetic, sometimes frenzied artwork. Yet, I still wonder what the entire series wouldíve looked like if Davis and Neary had stayed for the entire run.

Batman: Year Two really wasnít a story that had to be written like Year One was. I believe it failed in what it was intended to do -- fill in the Bat-timeline gaps, and do it well, but it is still entertaining. Of course, with Zero Hour and Denny OíNeilís further tinkering, The Batman no longer knows who killed his parents, thus Year Two, and Joe Chill, out of current continuity. This is the second time OíNeil did this to a Mike W. Barr story, and you have to wonder what the guy had against Barr.

Itís really a shame how easy it is to just say a story never occurred, but this is D.C. Comics we are ultimately talking about, and only now, with the publishing of Infinite Crisis, does it appear that they are learning their lesson.

B.L. Wooldridge is a graduate of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He currently resides in Barry, Texas, where he does very little besides surf the Internet, write short stories, read comics, and watch an exorbitant amount of cable television.

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