Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair 1

The coverage of "The Lazarus Affair," one of the great Ra's al Ghul stories, continues with the first part of the story, from Batman 332.

In "The Lazarus Affair," Marv Wolfman created a kind of corporate espionage thriller that involved Bruce Wayne as much as Batman, and few writers between Wolfman and Grant Morrison have dealt with the Bruce Wayne character in this executive role to this extent. Through the long-developing subplots, Wolfman gradually makes things very bad for Bruce Wayne, to the point that he is at risk for losing Wayne Enterprises. This is also not the ultra-competent version of Batman that we've seen lately in the comics--here, Batman is spread too thin, and he misses signs that something is wrong with his company until it is almost too late.

As an espionage tale, however, "The Lazarus Affair" wears its influences on its sleeve. The title itself bears a striking resemblence to the titles of Robert Ludlum novels, like The Bourne Identity and The Parsifal Mosaic. And including the word "Affair" in the title hearkens back to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series, in which every episode had that word in the title.

One of the most strikingly obvious references, though, comes in a framing sequence from issue 332. The story opens with a spy named "Archer Templeton" escapes in an inflatable raft from "Infinity Island." Archer hastily removes a radio transmitter from his bag and begins broadcasting a secret code. As the issue concludes, the master of Infinity Island sends out a retrieval device to eliminate Archer.

Now, what does that remind me of? A spy, who attempts to escape from a mysterious island, is tracked down by a globular retrieval device? Have I seen that somewhere before?

Oh yeah--that's it.

Before I go any further, I want to get one thing out of the way. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it's my duty as a comic blogger to point out that Batman 332 contains the following panel:

Now, when I saw that panel in my recent revisiting of this comic, my comic blogger sense started tingling, and my mind was filled with lines like, "It always does in those shorts, Robin!" and "I think we all know who pitches a tent when Talia's around!" However, here at the 100-Page Super Spectacular, I try to run a classy operation, so I'll just let that one pass without comment.

In this issue, Bruce Wayne figures out that Gregorian Falstaff has been sabotaging his business deals through inside information provided by Wayne's secretary, Caroline Crown. Here's a panel from issue 330 showing Caroline giving Falstaff a call:

It seems, from the arch of her eyebrow and the tone of her dialogue, that she's enjoying her espionage activities, but that is not consistent with the way she is portrayed two issues later:

Here, we see that she is being blackmailed by Falstaff, who is keeping her daughter hostage. (An added note: I love the way Batman enters the room in this panel. It's not so much that he's kicking the door open, but rather opening the door with his foot.)

Gregorian Falstaff is a great character, and I really wish someone would bring him back. Here are some randomly selected images from his appearances in the series:

Notice some similarities? He is always wearing the same green coat with yellow ascot, he talks like Sidney Greenstreet, and he always has a giant, partially eaten turkey leg in his hand. Seriously, what's not to love about that character.

Unfortunately, this is Falstaff's final appearance, as Talia kicks him into a a glowing energy sphere (which resembles the one I showed earlier), and he disintegrates.

Or does he?

No, he does.

Next time: "The Lazarus Affair" continues with some very special guest stars!

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