Wednesday, March 5, 2008

All Night Long

Amongst the assorted titles in those unsorted boxes, I found Batman #526, from January 1996. I had originally thought just to present the cover of this issue (with great art by Kelley Jones and John Beatty) as a blog post before compiling it with the rest of its brethren (all the Batman related titles in the collection have been sorted from the other heroes, but not yet arranged into proper title and order), but after reading the issue, I realized it was important enough to talk about a little.

In this story, entitled "Constant Whitewater" (writer, Doug Moenche, with pencils by J.H. Williams III and inks by Mick Gray)we find the Dark Knight Detective on a "typical" night in Gotham City.

Bruce is driving himself hard tonight and his narration sets the scene:

"the engine's running rough. Like me at this point. Already a full night--two break-ins, three muggers, a crack house rip-off...and now an armed robber fleeing the scene with less than two hundred dollars and a gas station attendant's blood on his hands. More than three hours of nonstop action. But I can't slow down now."

Batman has only just subdued the thief in question by crashing their cars when he hears a report of another robbery on the police radio band and he manages to cut short a second high-speed chase, without benefit of the Batmobile.

Finally, he takes a break in the Cave to work on the car's motor and take a short break. Alfred is there, naturally, and concerned that his employer and friend acted this way prior to the back-breaking confrontation with Bane. Alfred broaches the subject of a corporate term, "constant whitewater", which he says he heard discussed in the news. Bruce thinks it's a reference to banking scandals and politics, but Alfred explains "perhaps if you were to spend more time with the business affairs of Wayne Enterprises you would recognize" it.

Alfred explains the term applies the risk of white-water rafting to the corporate scene, where downsizing means fewer people to do more work and creates a cycle of perpetual crisis management. All this as a means of gently suggesting that Batman ought to be going out with Robin as a partner more often.

Of course, this brings up a sort of flashback, as Bruce remembers what Joker did to Jason Todd, the second Robin (for those who don't remember or have become confused in recent years...he did die...even if he didn't stay that way...)and he tells Alfred that having Robin along can sometimes be a distraction, another factor to juggle in a confrontation.

With two hours remaining before dawn, Batman heads back out "to test the engine" and we see that Alfred was actually speaking for Tim Drake, the current Robin, who was hiding in the shadows of the cave, listening.

Back on the mean streets, Batman finds himself a gang of masked thugs willing to kill him to get into the Black Mask gang and it appears that he is badly out-numbered and about to be overwhelmed...when from the shadows appears the Teen Wonder, who's presence changes the odds enough to turn the tide against the maskers.

When they are finished fighting, Robin says "Heard you had a rough night."
Batman: "Its almost dawn. Just in time."
Robin: "Me, or the dawn?"
Batman: "Both."

As they get back into the car, Batman reveals that he knew Robin was in the shadows, and felt that his conversation with Alfred was a way for Robin to know how Batman was feeling without a direct confrontation. Tim says he doesn't mind them having solo careers in addition to working together, and wisely thinks that such an arrangement may help him to avoid the troubles that Dick Grayson dealt with when he was growing up.

This is a great, done-in-one issue that really highlights Batman at his most driven, but also shows off the capable partner at his side.

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