Regular Major Spoilers Podcast listeners may be familiar with my rant about the overuse of the “villain as dark mirror” of the hero archetype, but as with any complaint I have about comic bookery, there are always exceptions.

Here’s one of ’em.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
Fascinating premise.
Gorgeous artwork.

Cons
Not enough room for the story to breathe.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

READER RATING!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)
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BatmanSpecial1CoverBATMAN SPECIAL #1
Writer: Mike Barr
Penciler: Michael Golden
Inker: Mike DeCarlo
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor(s): Dick Giordano/Len Wein
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $8.00

Previously in Batman:  Night in Gotham City.  The Wayne family exits a theater, a young man emerges from the darkness with a gun.  A demand of valuables, a quick struggle, shots are fired.  Young Bruce Wayne kneels in the rain, as his parents’ lives ebb away before his very eyes.  It’s a very powerful and frightening moment, the kind of moment that changes lives…

But have you ever wondered what OTHER lives might have been altered that fateful night?

BatmanSpecial1

As the Waynes faced a desperate Joe Chill, a young Officer James Gordon happened upon a crime in progress.  Each situation was tragic in its own way, and the well-known events on Park Row are mirrored on the bad side of town, with both confrontations ending in a young man watching his parents die…

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As years pass, young Bruce forges himself into a detective, an acrobat, a world-class fighting machine, while his counterpart works his way up from the streets, becoming a successful criminal, then super-criminal, taking his war against the police to the streets of Gotham City with a distinctive costume and modus operandi.  Twenty-five years later, the man now known as The Wrath has come to target James Gordon, now the commissioner of Gotham City’s police department.  Thankfully, Batman is able to intervene before his friend is murdered…

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The parallel lives of Batman and The Wrath are truly remarkable, from their wardrobe to their combat skills, but unlike his black-cowled counterpart, The Wrath has been lucky in love.

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I’m seriously loving that Cosby sweater, by the way.  Given that the villain is as ruthless in his pursuit of Gordon as Batman is in his pursuit of crime, encountering The Wrath has been fatal for more than just the occasional butler, as Batman discovers, thanks to a ballistic analysis.  But the implications of his discovery are truly staggering, even for as remarkable a man as Batman has become…

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I really like the concept of “The Player On The Other Side,” and it’s the kind of concept that Mike W. Barr loves to play with in his stories.  Given that their pain stems from the same thing and they are equally driven and determined, Batman and The Wrath seemed destined to clash in spectacular fashion.  As for the night of the 26th?  Why, that sounds important!

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Having inadvertently discovered an important clue, The Wrath breaks into Gotham’s public library, scanning through ancient microfiche (because it’s the early 80s, feel free to pretend that I wrote “googling his way through archives of a dead form of communication”, if you’re Zach’s age), and discovers what higher-profile villains were never able to put together.

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Armed with the knowledge of Batman’s secret identity, The Wrath heads to a private cemetery plot, all the better to send a message to his metaphorical twin…

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Thankfully, The Wrath doesn’t kill Alfred Pennyworth, only delivering a beat-down and a message for Batman:  Deliver Commissioner Gordon, or else.  Unbeknownst to the red-clad vigilante, though, his lady-love has been paying the mugs, thugs and neer-do-wells of the city to track down Gordon so that she and The Wrath can finally run away together.  Earlier stories revealed that Batman always travels to Crime Alley to visit Leslie Tompkins, the woman who helped him to get over the emotional loss of his parents, a behavior that allows The Wrath to outmaneuver him, and capture Leslie, using her as a bargaining chip to get his target…

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The Wrath takes his shot, placing three bullets in the chest of the man who killed his parents, and rejoicing in finally having his revenge, before Gordon reveals that he’s wearing a bullet-proof vest.  (Head-shots, Wrath.  Head-shots.)  Batman leaps into action, but finds that The Wrath is his match in more than just deduction…

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Michael Golden’s art throughout the issue is pretty phenomenal (there’s a reason why he has become one of the most highly sought-after names in the business), and the combat sequence is no exception, depicting two incredibly skilled combatants going all-out, with Batman getting the worst of it, as only he is worried about fatal consequences.  As the GCPD gathers, the two pointy-cowled men find themselves in a proverbial checkmate…

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The Wrath attacks with an incendiary grenade, which Batman is barely able to dodge, but the resulting flame threatens to engulf the building upon which they’re battling.  The momentary distraction of worrying about civilians puts Batman right where The Wrath wants him…

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Wrath’s costume burns, and the man within burns as well, but The Wrath’s own bloodthirstiness has slowed the Batman enough that the wounded Dark Knight is unable to reach him in time.  A horrified Batman watches as his “twin brother” falls to the ground below…

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The Commissioner asks Batman if he knows WHY The Wrath targeted him, and Batman lies (in order, presumably to protect his own identity, which an experienced investigator like Gordon could find, given enough information on Wrath’s activities during the issue.)  Bats prepares to slip back into the night, but before he can, Leslie has a question for him…

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Years later, it would be revealed that Miss Tompkins was much smarter than Bats gave her credit for, and that she easily recognized Bruce Wayne under the cape and cowl, a moment which gives the end of this story a quiet subtext that I love.  As we fade out, Leslie is comforting The Wrath’s devastated lady-friend, another victim of Crime Alley.  This story reminds me of the pulps that influenced Batman, creating a powerful and interesting villain who kind of has to die for our hero to live, a counterpart so dangerous that there couldn’t be a return visit, a true counterpart to Batman’s hyper-competence and dedication.  Batman Special #1 is a memorable, only falling short because of the nature of 80s comic production, giving us a character who is Batman’s equal in every way but compassion, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  The greatest tragedy, in my eyes, is that somebody hasn’t yet brought this guy back for a 10-issue arc in which he really shows himself to be Batman’s equal.  (Here’s hoping the New 52 Wrath isn’t a giant disappointment.)

Rating: ★★★½☆

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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6 Comments

  1. Arcee
    September 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm — Reply

    Great review of a great comic. Ah, the 80’s. Good reads and good times.

  2. Ian
    September 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    Always loved this issue, and loved the Wrath as a villain. Wish we got to see more of him. Much better than, say, Prometheus.

  3. September 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm — Reply

    Despite the hokiness of becoming orphans on the same night, I really liked this character.
    Next to the Black Spider, he is probably one of my favorite street level villains.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    September 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm — Reply

    One thing about this story I appreciated is that Bats is using actual martial arts blocks and kicks – too many Batman artists just show him throwing fists around. That said, I always hated these one-shot stories where an entirely new villain is introduced, his backstory given and he bites the dust by the end of the story. The Wraith deserved to have his story spread out over a half-dozen issues or more. Of course, back then, DC wasn’t doing epic stories very often, so I suppose that was too much to ask for.

  5. September 23, 2013 at 4:33 pm — Reply

    Thank you for a nother great retro review. This first wrath story was really good. I didn’t care much for the later follow-up.
    I hear that the Wrath will be back in the new 52 real soon.
    Looking forward to that?

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