Or – “Because Last Week’s Review Made Me Remember It Fondly…”
For all my love of unofficial crossover madness (like Nick Fury/John Steed), occasionally we see two companies working together in an official capacity to tell a story featuring two beloved icons. Usually, this results in a watered-down tale that doesn’t do justice to EITHER property…
And then, there’s Batman/Captain America.
BATMAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA #1
Scripter: John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: John Byrne
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill/Jamison (separations)
Letterer: John Byrne
Editor: Denny O’Neil/Mark Gruenwald
Publisher: Marvel Comics/DC Comics
Cover Price: $5.95 (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00)
Previously, in Batman/Captain America: The careers of Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers are somewhat similar (after the whole ‘parents murdered in the street’ bit, anyway. Each wanted to make a difference, each sought out important symbology that would make them more effective, and each has become known as the strategist of their respective universes. The difference between the soldier and the caped crusader breaks down mostly to their point of view. Rogers wears his symbolic uniform to rally the people behind him, Wayne wears his to frighten the enemies against him. In the final analysis, though, one thing is clear: They both have ridiculous headgear.
Our story opens with a car chase through the streets of Gotham City, as the Batmobile (old-school bat-headed 1940’s sedan version) chases the always-amusing Joker-mobile through the streets. Mistah J throws an oil-slick that takes out the Gotham City polics, but the Batman is prepared for his treachery, sweeping away the offending petroleum with a steel brush from the front of his car. It’s classic Golden Age Batman stuff, done in a nicely modern way, somethin that writer/artist Byrne excels at. That’s not to say that the Joker doesn’t get the upper hand on the Caped Crusader though, as The Joker races down to the Gotham City docks before engaging his escape hatch…
I’ll know that I’m successful when I can drive a car with a giant replica of my face on the front… Batman attempts to analyze the abandoned Joker-mobile, and discovers a clue seconds before the car is destroyed by an incendiary device left behind by the Clown Prince of Crime. As the Joker-mobile explodes, we smash-cut to another bomb burst, this on in the battlefields of the European front…
I know it’s a complete fanboy reaction, but seeing Captain America in battle alongside Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy grunts of Easy Company (against Blackhawk’s recurring nemesis, the Nazi War Wheel) makes me very happy, the equivalent of seeing two of your favorite actors teaming up for the first time, or perhaps your favorite adult actresses kissing. (That’s a comparison for Stephen.) The Captain and the Sarge make short work of the war-machine, giving us a moment designed to give comic fans around the world goosebumps.
Captain America’s mission takes him back stateside, specifically to Gotham City airport, where he and Bucky arrive just in time to see that a priority flight has been hijacked. Acting quickly, as always, Captain America LEAPS OUT OF HIS PLANE to try and take control of the stolen airship, but is unsuccessful, leaving him hanging by a thread hundreds of feet above Gotham City. Will this be Captain America’s last stand??
Not if The Batman has anything to say about it.
Say what you will about Byrne (and some have a lot to say) the man knows how to write a compelling adventure story, and his text boxes here are just about perfect for the tone of the story, verging on purple prose as they evoke the movie serials of the era. Cap and Bats, working together, get aboard the fleeing plane and single-handedly (double-handedly?) slap down the thugs onboard to save the kidnapped American VIP: Robert Oppenheimer, head of the ‘Gotham Project’. If you know your actual American history, that name may ring a few bells for you. Batman interrogates further to find out the name of the man behind the scenes…
But why would a criminal madman like the Joker ever get involved in a matter of national defense and terrorism? More importantly, what is the Gotham Project? Hang on, the story gets better. Returning to Army brass, Captain America’s mission gets very meta for a bit, as Private Steve Rogers is assisgned to civilian duty as bodyguard for the man helping to bankroll the Gotham Project, revealed to be none other than (say it with me) millionaire Bruce Wayne!
This sequence is one of the things that makes me love this comic book, tying in more than just the sight of the two iconic characters in their uniforms, but using their entire backstories and supporting casts. Robin and Bucky giving each other the stinkeye, Bruce Wayne keeping up appearances while Steve suffers, and the use of characters still in the wings remind us of everything that is cool about both Batman and Cap without shorting them of their appeal. Overhearing Bruce Wayne mentioning the Joker to his ward Dick Grayson, Private Rogers tails Wayne to his penthouse in the city, and confronts him, thinking that he is working with the Joker. A spectacularly kick-@$$ fight ensues in which both men are astonished at the skill of their opponent…
For all the talk about “realism” in modern comics, I have to say that part of me prefers the Golden Age assumption that all heroes will be pals, and that each one is perfectly safe in revealing their identities to one another This moment is particularly acute for me, as Batman figures out the truth and doesn’t turn into a complete schmuck, instead welcoming his fellow hero as compatriot and equal. The two heroes realization also frees up Batman to investigate the leads about The Joker, whose out-of-character actions have a very Jokery (circa 1940’s era, anyway) motive: Cash.
The Joker’s mysterious string-puller has more in common with the erstwhile Jack Napier than just criminal intent, as he pulls off his mask to reveal his own misshapen face, the crimson headbone that marks the horrifying face of Der Roten Schädel: The Red Skull! (Yes, I’m aware he was on the cover, but let’s just play along & pretend it’s a stunning reveal, wouldja?) Byrne takes great pleasure in drawing the intricate wonders of the Batcave, and even revives the original portly portrayal of James Gordon, who lights the Bat-signal for superhero help and gets something entirely different than he bargained for!
Since Batman has to complete analysis with his crime computer, Cap and Robin follow the Commisioner’s lead regarding a stolen military convoy, leaving the team of Batman and Bucky to follow the computer’s leads. I like the fact that Bucky has the yellow collar that he sometimes sported in the Golden Age (probably due to coloring error, but still), but I like even more that following what he thought was the trail of the Joker led the Batman to a completely different foe…
Captain America and Robin encounter a group of dead men, their faces contorted in a rictus-like smile, prompting Robin to wonder why the Joker changed his venom. Cap knows the real truth, though: “The Joker has allied himself with the one man who may be crazier than he is.”
And here’s the point where this book goes from retro goodness to flat-out brilliance, as the Joker refuses to work alongside the Nazi war machine, being a good old fashioned American boy deep down in his black, black heart. Joker and Skull each decide that their partnership is best dissolved, and what follows is possibly the greatest sequence of the 1990’s involving either character.
Truly, there is no honor among thieves… The Skull treacherously has one of his men take the Joker out, and loads the secret of the Gotham Project on his plane: A working atomic weapon. As the Herr Skull takes off, though, he finds himself dogged by a familiar bat-shaped fighter plane, as Cap & Robin have freed Bats & Bucky from their captivity in Joker’s lair. Batman reveals that his unseen plan when the heroes split up has been successful, and the heroes board Red Skull’s plan just in time…
The Star-Spangled Super-Soldier and The Dark Knight of Derring Do make short work of the Skull’s minions, but the Red Skull himself manages to escape into the bomb bay, intending to drop the Atomic Bomb on any part of America that he can. The only impediment to this plan comes in the form of a just-awakened unlikely savior: The Mime-Mugged Madman known as The Joker!
Miraculously, Captain America has piloted the ship far out into the Atlantic Ocean, but it takes the muscle-power of both heroes to pull the jet up in time to avoid the mushroom cloud that comes from the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb. The Captain and The Bat steady the ship and head for home, as Batman remarks, “At least we’ve seen the last of the Joker and the Red Skull…” Captain America gives him a disbelieving look, and asks if he believes it, and Batman smiles (SMILES! It’s really cool, too!) and replies that, no, he doesn’t really think so. Heh… Remember how I talked about all those awesome little moments that were rooted in a deep love for both characters, and could only come from a truly skilled craftsman working magic in comic form?
Cut to 20 years later, as a Bat-Submarine travels through the North Atlantic, and discovers a strange form trapped within an iceberg…
Aside from how incredibly awesome that ending is, I think what I love most is that Byrne draws Dick-Grayson-as-60’s-Batman in the “New Look Batman” style that Carmine Infantino created in the actual 60’s Bat-comics. It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes this issue superior to many crossover books (especially the awful fanboy mish-mash nightmare that was Marvel Vs. DC/DC Vs. Marvel a few years earlier.) This whole book shows a deep affection for characters and settings from both universes, without taking a stand on which are better or worse, playing with the toys and tropes of 40’s comics, and making both heroes even more awesome TOGETHER. It’s really a shame that egos at Marvel and DC have put an end to these types of universal crossovers, because (when done correctly) they really are fun. Batman/Captain America is why these sort of books exist, a celebration of comics that is exactly what you hope for when you see the book’s title, and earns 5 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What unplumbed Marvel/DC crossovers sound like the most fun? Daredevil/Batman? Spider-Man/Blue Beetle? JSA/Invaders? Texas Twister/Vigilante?