• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Obsolete Comic Reviews: Where Were You The Night Batman Died? (1977)

A few years ago I wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

Batman 291-294: Where Where You The Night The Batman Died?

The miniseries within an ongoing comic book series has been a comic book mainstay ever since publishers learned that invested readers were more likely to purchase subsequent issues. Having enjoyed tremendous popularity for so long, Batman has been a character that has seen many stories in many formats, including many variations on the miniseries within the series theme.  Sometimes these story arcs were designed to bring a new creative team on board for a short time to let them explore that particular comic book universe without a long-term commitment (such as Jim Lee’s run on the Hush storyline in Batman); sometimes the story arc introduces a new key character into the mythos (such as Jim Starlin’s Ten Nights of the Beast), and sometimes the story is just too good to tell in a single issue.

It can be argued that the very first Batman miniseries within a series came in 1977, with the “Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” storyarc, which ran from issue #291 (September, 1977) to #294 (December, 1977). The premise was straightforward: the Batman was missing, and feared dead, and the entire Gotham City criminal element claimed that they were responsible. Having had enough of the claims from those clearly improbable to be the slayer of the Dark Knight, Gotham’s underworld gathers for a trial by jury to determine whose story story was false and who was really responsible.

The Testimony of Catwoman

Batman 291: The Testimony of Catwoman

Just a cautionary note: there are going to be spoilers throughout this article. However, these comics are now 40 years old, and if you haven’t read it before, it’s unlikely you were waiting for just the right time to pull out your back issues and spend some quality time with Batman. Consider this fair warning, regardless.

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Each issue, a major villain pled his or her case to the court that he or she was responsible for the death of the Batman. The first three villains to present their case were Catwoman, the Riddler, and Lex Luthor. (Why Luthor was included rather than some other Bat-villain may have been influenced by the Superman movie hype that was just ramping up.) Upon the conclusion of their testimony, the prosecutor, Two-Face, finds a falsehood in each villain’s story and debunks their claim. Finally, the Joker takes the stand, and his outlandish tale of easily besting the Batman in hand-to-hand combat, upon which he accidentally killed him, and, as a joke, poured acid over the Dark Knight’s face and fingerprints to prevent identification of the body, turns out to be truthful. But there are more surprises yet, as the Joker is mistaken: the body was not the Batman’s, and somebody at the trial is not who he seems.

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” was written by David Levine, who used one of his pseudonyms, “David V. Reed,” with pencils by John Calnan and inks by Tex Blaisdell. Levine had recently returned to writing Batman, as he was a ghost writer for Bob Kane in the 1950’s (co-creating Deadshot along the way, and credited as the writer of some of the best stories of the era, including “The Joker’s Utility Belt”). The story is well-crafted – a genuine mystery – and riveting to the end. There are some very cute storytelling techniques in play, such as showing the Joker in the last panel of each of the three issues leading up to his testimony (the third issue shows only his chilling laughter), foreshadowing what is to come. As for the art, the pencils are quite serviceable, though not spectacular, perhaps owing more to the quality of paper than the actual artwork.

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

This miniseries featured cameos from virtually everyone in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery active in the 1970s. The Mad Hatter, the Spook, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Signalman, and Mr. Freeze filled the six-person jury. As already mentioned, Two-Face served as prosecutor, and the ancient Rās al Ghul sat as judge. In addition to the defendants (Catwoman, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, and the Joker), there were several cameos, some for only a single panel, which included the Cavalier, Killer Moth, the Cluemaster, Captain Stingaree, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and even the Getaway Genius. Two notable villains missing from this villainous assemblage were Deadshot and the Penguin, the former perhaps because he was booked for a run in Detective Comics #474 (December, 1977) by Marshal Rogers and Steve Englehart, and the latter because he had just had a run-in with the Dark Knight in issue #287 (March, 1977), and was serving his time. (An interesting cameo is that of Sean Connery, complete with beard, cap, and diamond-tipped staff. Is it homage to the actor’s iconic status in the 1970s? Or was it meant to be someone else, akin to the Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee cameos that would show up in certain comics?)

The bottom line is this: the DC Universe has rebooted and retrofitted itself many times since these issues were published, yet these stories can be slotted into whichever retcon the Batman mythos is subjected, as nothing that is presented is truly out of cannon (excepting, perhaps, the purple power-suited Lex Luthor). This is the mark of a classic story, and one which needs to be on any Batman fan’s “must read” list.

Roll Call – The Villains of Batman: Arkham City

The excitement is building towards the release of Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady’s sequel to the amazing Batman: Arkham Asylum.  The latter was an example of a comic book property done right in the video gaming world, with a respect for the characters and subculture they inhabit.  Casting Mark Hamill as the voice of The Joker and Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman was one of many examples of this attention to the details of what makes the Dark Knight’s universe so popular.  The villains are the key, of course, and if done right, will keep comic book aficionados coming back for more.

So which villains do we know are in the game thus far?  I’m glad you asked!  Let’s review what we’ve seen thus far:

The Joker in Batman: Arkham City

Of course the Joker has to return.  This villain has been around since Batman #1, and some of the very best Batman stories star the insane Clown Prince of Crime.  The trailer shows a Joker looking a little worse for the wear, however.  Looks like getting the snot beat out of him by Batman took its toll.  Hopefully he’ll recover enough to present a physical challenge, too.  Regardless, he’s once again voiced by Mark Hamill, so surely a memorable Joker experience is coming.

The Penguin in Batman: Arkham City

The Penguin has been viewed as one of Batman’s deadliest foes, and this version seems to validate that.  This Penguin is both intelligent and vicious, and always seems to be able to keep Batman on his toes.  The Penguin of the comic books runs the Iceberg Lounge, and from within it, controls a variety of criminal enterprises across Gotham City, all the while posing as a legitimate businessman.  There is a striking difference with the game’s version, as this Penguin has no trouble committing crimes in front of witnesses, such as shooting a police officer in the back.  The character is voiced by Nolan North, who has a long resume of voice-over work in the video game industry.

Two-Face in Batman: Arkham City

The Batman’s rogues gallery spans the entire spectrum of insanity, but Harvey Dent holds a special place on that rainbow of madness.  Two-Face is the ultimate split personality, both sides fully aware of each other and acting together with the mere flip of a coin.  Good or evil? It’s just a coin toss away.   Troy Baker provides the voice for Gotham City’s former District Attorney.

The Riddler in Batman: Arkham City

Edward Nigma has always been my favorite Batman villain, as he challenged Batman’s intellect with twisted logic and puzzles rather than brute force.  As an interesting aside, most major Batman villains are physically deformed in some way, whereas The Riddler is only suffering from a strange compulsion. The Riddler desperately wants to be acknowledged as a criminal mastermind, and his crimes show it.  Wally Wingert reprises his role from the original game, bringing just the right mixture of irritating condescension and malice to the Prince of Puzzles.

Professor Hugo Strange in Batman: Arkham City

Hugo Strange has performed some sinister mind games on Batman in the past, going so far as taking over Wayne Manor and assuming his identity.  He’s one of the few villains who knows that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same.  From the clip, it would appear that he is up to similar nefariousness in this game.  Corey Burton (who was the voice of James Bond, Jr.), brings the bad Professor to life.

Catwoman in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Catwoman has always walked the line between friend (with benefits) or foe to Batman.  In this game, she appears to be an ally, and looks suspiciously like Halle Berry (or is it just me?).  Sultry, sexy, and extremely dangerous, Catwoman has been a major character since her first appearance in Batman #1 (the same debut issue as The Joker).  In Arkham City, she is voiced by Grey DeLisle.

Talia al Ghul in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Talia al Ghul, the Daughter of the Demon, has the distinction of being the only woman to both wed and bed Batman.  Like Catwoman, she walks a tightrope between ally and enemy; on one hand she aids her father, Ras al Ghul, in his eco-terrorist plans, on the other, she aids Batman, such as when she wiped out Lex Luthor’s financial holdings and rendered him penniless.  What role will she have in Arkham City?  All we do know is that she’s voiced by the lovely Stana Katic, who no doubt will lord her Batman involvement over her Castle co-star, Nathan Fillion.

Mr. Freeze in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Mr. Freeze has gone from a pathetic second-stringer to an actual threat to Batman thanks to the Batman Animated Series of the 1990s.  He has an origin immersed in epic tragedy, becoming a monster in his pursuit of saving the life of his beloved Nora.  Victor Fries is voiced by Maurice LaMarche, who veteran geeks may remember as the voice of The Brain in the classic Pinky and the Brain TV cartoon (“Gee Brain what are we gonna do tonight? The same thing we do everynight Pinky. Try to take over the world!”)

Solomon Grundy in Batman: Arkham City

Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday. Christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, took ill on Thursday, grew worse on Friday, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. This is the end of Solomon Grundy.  Except, for poor Cyrus Gold, it is never the end.  After committing suicide in Slaughter Swamp, he finds himself transformed into a zombie that cannot be killed.  He can be destroyed, but only rises again and again, each time a little different physically, and sometimes intelligent, and sometimes not. For the game, he appears to have a crude intelligence, but that’s judging from his one line he gives before attacking.   Solomon Grundy is voiced by Fred Tatasciore.

Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Wherever the Joker goes, Harley Quinn follows.  She is a recent addition to the Batman mythos, having been added by the creative team in the 1990s Batman animated series, and then later migrated to the comic.  She survives the Joker’s attentions thanks to the efforts of Poison Ivy, who gave her enhanced speed, strength, and an immunity to poison.  She is voiced in this game by Tara Strong, who actually looks much like what I’d expect Harley to look like.

Mr. Zsasz in Batman: Arkham City

Mr. Zsasz is a serial killer – a very dangerous serial killer – who marks his body with a single line every time he succeeds in taking a life.  Seeing his body is thoroughly covered in marks, Victor Zsasz is someone best detained under lock and key. The game portrays him as being easily influenced by the greater Batman villains, such as The Joker and The Riddler, but in the comics he is extremely intelligent, and completely remorseless.  Mr. Zsasz was voiced by Danny Jacobs in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it is not yet known if he will have the same voice in the sequel.

Poison Ivy set to return in Batman: Arkham City

Batman always seems to draw the attention of beautiful women, though some are as homicidal as they are lovely.  Such a lady is Poison Ivy, who uses pheromones to enhance her sex appeal (and to control others), and has an affinity for plant life with a potency just short of a DC Comics plant elemental.  She had a starring role in Batman: Arkham Asylum as a “boss” character, and it appears that she will have escaped her Titan-enhanced doom to vex Batman once more, again voiced by Tasia Valenza.

Who else might be showing up?

Will The Creeper make an appearance in Batman: Arkham City?

Jack Ryder is a television reporter in Gotham City.  He has a presence in Batman: Arkham Asylum as the final battle with the Joker is covered by The Jack Ryder Show, albeit not a physical appearance.  Jack has a secret, and that secret is that he can transform into The Creeper, a colorful superhero whose manic laughter and mannerisms are, well, creepy.  The Creeper has battled The Joker and Batman in the past, and with Ryder making a full appearance in Batman: Arkham City, can The Creeper be far behind?

Is The Scarecrow returning in Batman: Arkham City?

Jonathan Crane was once a promising and brilliant psychology professor who explored the dark side of the human psyche, focusing on fear in all its forms.  Dr. Crane pushed the envelope too far in his classroom, and after being let go from the university, sought revenge, becoming The Scarecrow to mask his identity and scare his enemies to death.  His appearance in Batman: Arkham Asylum is widely lauded as being some of the most imaginative levels in the game, as his fear gas brings hallucinations that Batman must battle his way through.  Will he return in the sequel, and if so, how can Rocksteady bring something new to The Scarecrow gaming experience?

Calendar Man in Batman: Arkham City

Is there a Batman villain so obscure as Calendar Man?  Julian Day was just another costume with a gimmick until two mini-series, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Justice, reinvented him as a more sophisticated criminal mastermind.  The image above, with the tattoo of the running across his bald head, is the same as that found on the version in the miniseries.  It does not appear that Batman will battle Calendar Man, but he will interact with him, perhaps to give clues to other crimes.

Is Black Mask in Batman: Arkham City

Roman Sionis was a bit of loser with rich, loser parents.  Suffering indignity after indignity, he finally set his familial home on fire and killed his parents, inheriting their fortune.  He thought he was going to be a winner by designing a new cosmetics line for the company his father built, Janus Cosmetics, but neglected to test the products before rushing to market.  His failure further strengthened his psychosis, and he eventually donned a mask made from the ebony lid of his father’s casket, and became  Black Mask, and eventually a crime lord of Gotham City.  No images have been released of Black Mask thus far, but a tantalizing image of Sionis Industries keeps the possibility open.

Will Bane make a return appearance in Batman: Arkham City?

The last we saw of Bane, he had been Patient X, the source and test subject for Dr. Penelope Young’s and The Joker’s Titan Project, trapped within the medical wing of Arkham Asylum.  He fought Batman as a “boss” character, and was ultimately smashed into the sea by the Batmobile.  He was last seen grasping a floating Titan case, which meant that he could very well return for the sequel.  Will he be an ally or an enemy?  Or both?


That’s it for now, but at the rate the reveals are coming, perhaps a few more villains are on their way.  However, like The Shadow, only Rocksteady knows!