Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair Prequel

With the impending return of Ra's al Ghul to the pages of Batman, I thought I'd take the next few days to look at two of my favorite stories featuring this villain--"Bat-Murderer" from Detective Comics 444-448 (1975) and "The Lazarus Affair" from Batman 332-335 (1981)--neither of which has been collected in trade paperback. ("Bat-Murderer," however, was collected in one of the great DC digests of the 80s, possibly to coincide with "The Lazarus Affair.") Both of these stories really should be collected, though--perhaps in a second volume of the Tales of the Demon trade.

For no good reason other than I have the issues sitting right next to me, I'm going to start with the second story, "The Lazarus Affair," written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin.

This story was the swan song for Marv Wolfman's run as writer on Batman, and as such, it functions as a culmination point for several subplots that ran through Wolfman's issues. If Marv Wolfman has a legacy in comics as a storyteller (as opposed to the legacy he has through his creations or co-creations, like Blade and the New Teen Titans), it's his ability to maintain soap-opera-like subplots over many issues. In this case, there were three inter-related subplots at work that fed into "The Lazarus Affair": Lucius Fox's struggle with his son, Timmy, who was getting involved in a street gang; the betrayal of Bruce Wayne by his new secretary, Caroline Crown; and the corporate sabotage of Wayne Enterprises by the aptly named Gregorian Falstaff. All of these three plots come together in issue 330: Timmy's gang has been manipulating Timmy at the behest of Falstaff to aid in a robbery of Wayne Enterprises, and Caroline Crown has been feeding inside information to Falstaff so that he can underbid Wayne on certain contracts. In addition, Robin recently returned to the series after dropping out of Hudson University (a source of tension between the two partners), and, most important, Talia shows up in issue 330, anticipating the arrival of her father.

So, in considering "The Lazarus Affair," it's useful to start with Talia's arrival in 330.

Robin asks the musical question: "Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday?"

The issue begins with death-row killah Archie Skyler putting out the word through his lawyer that anyone who kills Batman before Arch's scheduled execution in the morning will receive $10 million in gold. This offer brings the assassins out of the wordwork in Gotham, and Batman is confused by these sudden random attacks.

In a parallel plot, the story also follows a master assassin named "Cowboy," who has been training for just such an opportunity.
"Trainin'" for Cowboy consists of shooting, stabbing, and bitch-slapping a cardboard stand-up of Batman. Is that really training? If so, then you'll have to excuse me while I head over to Spencer's Gifts to train for my upcoming battles with Xena, Gene Simmons, and Princess Leia.

The attacks on Batman and Robin continue, including one where a grenade lobbed from a rooftop lands in the front seat of the Batmobile. The grenadier, however, is not long for this world, as we see in a series of panels containing three of the most awesome sound effects:
I don't understand, though, how the assassin is screaming "Agghhh!" while the sound effect "ARRRRGGHH!" trails behind him. "BLAMMO!" is my favorite sound effect for a gunshot, though.

The Dynamic Duo's savior is Talia. She reassures Batman that the man she shot is not dead, but neither Batman nor Robin does anything to confirm it. She also quickly lets Robin know that three's a crowd, and she and Batman proceed to ditch the Boy Wonder.

Batman eventually lures all of the assassins to the isolated "Grosvenor's Island," where he eliminates all of them from contention for the $10 million prize, with the exception of Cowboy, who slinks behind a tree waiting for a better opportunity. Batman and Robin finally take Cowboy down at the Wayne Foundation building, and Archie Skyler is taken to the electric chair with his final wish unfulfilled.

Batman 331 continues to develop the subplots that will lead to "The Lazarus Affair." Most notably, the final page ratchets up the bizarre love triangle between Batman, Robin, and Talia.

Talia lays a huge guilt-trip on Batman here: "Ever since you slew my father, I have been without a residence." However, Robin doesn't like this one bit, and threatens to leave. Batman manages to defuse the impending cock block by responding, "You have a lot to learn about life, youngster! A lot to learn about people, and about relationships!" I think we all know exactly what Robin needs to learn.

Well, that gets us to the first issue of "The Lazarus Affair," which I will pick up on in the next post.

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