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Nostalgia November Day 27 — Detective Comics #600

Each day in November, I will read and review/discuss/whatever one comic taken from a box of some of my childhood comics. Today, it’s Detective Comics #600.

The Nostalgia November archive can be found here.

detectivecomics600Detective Comics #600 by Sam Hamm, Denys Cowan, and Dick Giordana is both a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Batman and the concluding part of the “Blind Justice” storyarc wherein Bruce Wayne has been framed as a traitor and is now in a coma after being shot. This is a rather good comic, actually. 60 pages of story plus some pin-ups and short thoughts by various people on Batman… a solid anniversary package all around. Sam Hamm wrote the screenplay for Batman, so bringing him in to write the comic with his story concluding with the big anniversary issue in 1989 seemed like a smart move. And, it works well since the story here isn’t half bad. It gets a little convoluted with various plots involving micro-chips implanted in people that allows others to take over their brains and, honestly, the Bruce Wayne as traitor plot goes nowhere, but, otherwise, there are a few really great moments in this comic.

The first big thing that Hamm adds to the story is Henri Ducard, an amoral brilliant man that helped train Bruce Wayne on his path to become Batman. He basically works for the highest bidder and is in Gotham to make sure Wayne goes to prison, hired by those that framed him. While in Gotham, he figures out that Wayne is Batman and offers to testify for Wayne instead of against him… for the right price. He gives a rathe scathing review of Batman that I absolutely love:

TRUE EVIL SELDOM ANNOUNCES ITSELF SO LOUDLY. THE DANGEROUS ONES SET THEIR SUBVERSIVE GOALS, AND ACHIEVE THEM, BIT BY BIT… INVISIBLY, INEVITABLY. THEY HAVE NO TASTE FOR THEATER. WHILE BATMAN BUSIES HIMSELF WITH PETTY THIEVES AND GAUDY MADMEN, AN ABYSS OF ROT YAWNS EVEN WIDER AT HIS FEET. HE’S A BAND-AID ON A CANCER PATIENT. I AM OF COURSE NO MORALIST, BUT THIS BATMAN, I THINK, HAS A VERY POOR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD.

In the end, Ducard does a different job in Gotham, leaves Bruce a note, and leaves. He’s appeared once or twice since, but really comes off as a great character. Amoral but insightful — someone who doesn’t really care about Batman, because Batman is too small. The character was used again in Batman Begins with Liam Neeson playing him in an altered version.

The other big element to this plot is how Bruce Wayne overcomes his disability. He wakes up from the coma, but the bullet left him paralysed. Using the mind-infiltrating technology, he actually pilots another person’s body to continue acting as Batman. In this case, it’s Roy Kane, an athletic guy that Bruce helped reuinite with his sister Jennie and they’ve been living at his mansion (possibly — it’s unclear). Roy stumbles across the Batcave and volunteers to let Bruce pilot him. The initial outting is kind of fun as Bruce struggles to keep going with a body that, by most standards, is in shape, but isn’t in the shape that’s required to be Batman. Ultimately, this use of Roy leads to a showdown against the main villain, Kenneth Harbinger, the man who invented the technology to allow putting one person’s mind inside another’s body — he’s also the man who shot Bruce and has been switching bodies ever since. The fight at the end results in both Harbinger and Roy’s deaths. That’s an important event that’s gone largely unnoticed since: Batman caused the death of Roy Kane. I haven’t seen this event referenced ever, which is odd.

The death of Batman (since Roy was in costume) raises various questions. It culiminates in a scene where Commissioner Gordon visiting Bruce Wayne (ostensibly because Roy was living at Wayne Manor) and it becomes very clear that Gordon has figured out not just that Bruce is Batman, but how Roy came to be in the costume. He even lets Bruce off the hook a bit. Another important/big scene.

There is the question raised about Batman not being around, but that strikes me as odd since it wouldn’t be uncommon for Batman to be outside of Gotham with the various cases that lead him to other places or his work with other heroes. Funny how those things are ignored by everyone when there’s actually an in-story reason why Batman isn’t around that’s problematic for him…

Denys Cowan’s art is great. Rough, angular, dark… it suits Hamm’s script well. He’s very good at giving each character their own look: facial expressions, body language, and such… and then playing those elements up. There’s a scene where Alfred and Roy test out the mind-technology and Cowan adapts well, drawing Roy with Alfred’s body language and facial expressions… very well done.

The bonus stuff is good, too. Some Batman pics by the likes of Neal Adams, Walter Simonson, Will Eisner, and others, while various notables like Stephen King, Penn and Teller, Adam West, and other mostly non-comic people share their thoughts on Batman. Kind of cool.

All in all, exactly what you’d except for a big 50th anniversary issue. I just wish the story had a more lasting impact, like it should have.

22 Comments

I loved Ducard in that. I keep hoping someone will bring him back for something significant, especially after Batman Begins, but no luck.

I have fond memories of this storyline. Denys Cowan’s art was quite good.

All right, guys, this is it.

I must say that Blind Justice is my favourite Batman story EVER. Highly underrated and ignored by the public.

I was ten years old when Batman forever came out… I remember watching that piece of crap in the theatre thinkig: why don’t they just go ahead and make a fim out of BLIND JUSTICE? That would be the greatest Batman movie ever!

Do yourself a favour and check out Blind Justice whenever you have the chance. You will not regret it. It’s great.

And before you guys ask: I’m not related to Sam Hamm in any ways. :-)

Is this issue the one where Batman looks at the murder victum’s body and is told that every bone in the body was shattered, and Batman looks shocked and mouths “Holy Mother of God!!!” or something like that?

If so, I’ve read that one.

Read this issue as a kid, and I fondly remember Ducard. I was genuinely surprised when I saw Liam cast as him in Begins. I remember thinking: “So other people remember him too?”

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

November 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm

At the time this came out, it WAS hailed as a great, even definitive Batman story. ASt the same time, I wonder if time hasn’t taken some of the bloom off, as the hypermanipulative Batman seen here — a man who’ll literally take someone else’s body to keep going — was taken farther still by later writers and made a genuinely unappealing and unworkable character.

I can also see why it was never made a film. The plot involves a mad scientist who develops a sound-based weapons system..tha allows mind-transfers, enabling the mad science villain to survive physical death by bodyjacking someone else. With ultrasound. Even by comic-book standards, that’s very ropey science. And it clashes rather badly with the realism and politics of stuff like Ducard.

In both these regards, it’s got the same problems as Sam Hamm’s script for the 1989 Batman movie; that, too, had some rather weirdly campy elements dressed up in heavy Goth makeup. And it, too, was great in 1989…but seems vaguely silly in some of its segments today for viewers raised on the Nolan/Bale cinematic take on Batman.

I believe that Denny O’Neill decared this story Zero Hour’ed away, as part of the purge of extra characters who know Batman’s ID.

Jacob T. Levy — Weak sauce. Then again, that only counts as much as the current editorial/creative team wants it to count…

Can’t agree with the write-up. There was without a doubt a section of fandom that found this a disgraceful misuse of a rare milestone issue. I was among them. The Ducard character was a throwaway, as was everyone else in this storyline. We had no emotional investment or history with any of them, and therefore one of the fundamental rules of storytelling was broken. Absolutely nothing changed. We learned nothing new about Bruce/Batman in this storyline either. I remember very clearly putting this down after several reads, hoping that I had missed something. I had not.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

November 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I believe that Denny O’Neill decared this story Zero Hour’ed away, as part of the purge of extra characters who know Batman’s ID.

Then Denny left editorial, and Ducard duly showed up again in a couple of stories thereafter.

This was a pretty great comic. Denys Cowan rocks, and I think that Giordano was his best inker ever.

i loved how the story showed that even a bad guy like ducard seems to under estimate batman and how he understands the world though thought the body jumping mind control was a little too creepy for my taste other wise a worthy way to celebrate batmans fifiteth aniversary plus the hint that maybe gordon finaly knows batman and bruce are the same

Never liked this story and never liked Denys Cowan’s art. blech
DFTBA

Bernard the Poet

November 29, 2009 at 2:00 am

I’m surprised by the negative comments – I’ve always considered this one of the best Batman stories around. Most Batman stories are extremely simplistic – some costumed loon commits a crime, Batman tracks them to an abandoned warehouse (how many abandoned warehoues are there in Gotham?) and then he beats them up. In contrast, Hamm wrote a complex, plot-heavy conspiracy thriller with some deft characterisation.

In the hands of a poorer artist, this story could have been extremely hard to follow, but Cowans tells the story clearly, creates a gritty ambience and ensures that all his characters are distinct. How many artists draw their figures exactly the same, the only way to tell them apart being their costumes or hair colour?

I’ve often wondered what Sam Hamm’s original screenplay for Batman was like, before it was “improved” by producers, accountants, studio executives, toy manufacturers, Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson.

The scene with Gordon at end is worth the price of the issue. It makes it absolutely clear Gordon isn’t an idiot as his just playing along because acknowledging Batman’s identity would cost him a needed ally.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

November 29, 2009 at 8:46 am

Taken as a done-in-one, the story is dark and gripping with some extremely silly non-science at its core.

The negativity is in no small part because the price of that dark tension is to deconstruct a character we need to be the star and protagonist in #601 and beyond; this is a Batman who sends a naive young man to his death by commandeering his body, who’s so detached from his own wealth that the villains are using his company — his inheritance — to carry out their schemes, and who’s monomania makes him a total joke in the eyes of a worldy fellow like Ducard.

It’s not a Batman who’s a heroic figure of any sort; many readers will now sagely nod and tell me that Batman is of course not heroic, but rather a fascist loon and a shallow playboy. In this story, that’s true. But as the spine of countless stories across many years, that’s not a sustainable vision. Eventually enough dead bodies are added to his name and enough petty arrogances that narrative logic demands a lasting comeuppance. And then you’ve got no Batman #651 to publish.

…and then you’ve got Iron Man.

I liked this comic, even though I read it several years after it was published, by I was surprised by how detatched it seemed from the Batman canon. I had never read a story referencng it, never seen it mentioned in any (pre-internet) “Best Batman Stories” list, and never heard anyone talking it up at the LCBS. Still, I enjoyed it as a self-contained story.

Bernard the Poet

November 30, 2009 at 4:19 am

I’m happy to suspend my disbelief and go with the idea that a chalk-faced serial killer can regularly escape from the authorities, find an endless supply of disused warehouses to use as his headquarters and lay his hands on copious amounts of poison gas, acids and explosives – all shaped in the guise of practical jokes. So I didn’t struggle to believe that the government were trying to develop a mind control device.

Did this arc really deconstruct the Batman character? He was wheelchair bound and under indictment for treason – under those exceptional circumstances, he accepted the aid of an able-bodied adult. Personally, I find this far less jarring than bringing a teenage sidekick along on his adventures. Yes, Roy Kane dies as a result of this decision, but that’s the way supporting characters have been treated in adventure fiction for 150 years – how many of Dirty Harry’s partners or James Bond’s lovers survived to the end of the picture?

The same goes for Bruce Wayne not realising that the Wayne Foundation is being used as a front for the CIA. It has always been written that Batman’s priority is his crime-fighting career and that he takes a rather hands-off attitude to the running of his company, so I don’t think it stretches credibility to suppose that he doesn’t know exactly what is going on in every single department. Anyway, for seventy years, Batman has been constantly walking into traps and allowing people to sneak up behind him and cosh him over the head. If he never made mistakes, then his adventures would be very very dull.

I have always felt that post-Dark Knight Returns, DC allowed Batman to be painted into a corner. He became very one-dimensional – a humourless, arrogant obssessive with no outside interests and subsequently the stories became very repetitive. One of the reasons that so many Batman stories have been set at the beginning of his career is that the mature, never-makes-mistakes, knows-all-the-answers Batman is nigh on impossible to write in an interesting way.

Blind Justice was a successful attempt to broaden the scope of Batman’s adventures. I think that it is a shame that other writers haven’t tried to imitate it.

Oh dear…my boss ought to know that I’ve spent most of Monday morning writing about a twenty-year-old comic.

Hmmm…Roy’s last name is Kane. Surprised, since lots of writers these days like bringing back obscure characters, noone has tried to do anything with this with regards to the new Batwoman…

Peter Woodhouse

January 13, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I can’t believe I’ve missed this feature until now!
I loved ‘Tec 600 as a teen when it first came out and wondered why the hell Hamm didn’t write more comics. I too suspect interference in his ‘Batman’ screenplay.

Cowan/Giordano are awesome. I too felt this storyline was all on its lonesome – a nice done-in-one, and on reflection, a wider sense of involvement in the main continuity would’ve been nice.
I re-read 1 of the trilogy recently & thought it held up. Doesn’t part 2 (599) go into the origin stuff, to be fair to the story?

I have a copy of this issue and lots of other comic books from the 70’s and 80’s that i am looking to get rid of. i am looking for someone who might be able to help me find out what if anything these books may be worth. If u can help me out with this please email me with helpful info only. Thanks….. amandahenken@yahoo.com

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