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Comics You Should Own flashback – Batman #515-552

More Kaped Krusader Kraziness! Who doesn’t love the Dark Knight?

The first of many great covers in this run! I'll reckon Mike Sterling loves this issue! Fine use of negative space!

Batman by Doug Moench (writer), Kelley Jones (penciller, issues #515-519, 521-525, 527-532, 535-552), John Beatty (inker, issues #515-519, 521-525, 527-532, 535-552), Eduardo Barreto (artist, issue #520), J. H. Williams III (penciller, issues #526, 550), Jim Aparo (penciller, issues #533-534), Mick Gray (inker, issues #526, 550), Bill Sienkiewicz (inker, issues #533-534), Adrienne Roy (colorist, issues #515-518), Gregory Wright (colorist, issues #519-525, 527-533, 535-552), Pat Garrahy (colorist, issue #526), Lee Loughridge (colorist, issue #534), Android Images (separations, issues #523-552), and Todd Klein (letterer).

DC, 38 issues (#515-552), cover dated February 1995 – March 1998.

That's just bound to give him indigestion! There's a creepy cover! I love this cover, but it's bittersweet because it's the last one of the run

Some SPOILERS below! Very few, though – I tried to keep away from them!

It’s early- to mid-1994 in the DC offices. The Bat-editors are sitting around, wondering what they’re going to do when the big “replace Batman with a crazy person” crossover is over. They have Dick Grayson lined up to take the mantle of the Bat for a few issues, but after that, what can they do? Everyone wants Bruce Wayne back because Azrael, let’s face it, sucked as Batman, but who can they get to write and draw the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite dark and disturbing vigilante? Someone (Denny O’Neil, maybe?) says, “How about we get a writer who has become increasingly more paranoid about the government and honestly seems to believe that aliens landed in New Mexico in the 1940s and are currently influencing our culture, and team him with an artist who excels at making everything he touches look more grotesque than Bosch? And why don’t we put these guys on our flagship title, Batman?” And they all look at him briefly like he (or she, I suppose, depending on who was there) is insane, but then, slowly, the idea takes root. Sure, why not? Let’s do that!

Doug Moench and Kelley Jones on Batman is one of the weirdest pairings at one of the weirdest times in comic book history. Remember, this was the mid-1990s – when image (and Image) was everything, and comic books were all about barrel-chested men and large-breasted women spouting things like “We must defeat Dr. Large Pecs, or Our Way Of Life will Forever be Altered and We’ll be Trapped in an Alternate Reality where 7-11 never invented Big Gulps! Oh, the Horror!” DC wasn’t immune to the “new way” of doing comics (namely, sucking all of the fun out of them) – witness the Death of Superman and the Breaking of the Bat, but to their credit, once that monstrous piece of crap had worked its way through the bowels of the executives at DC, they gave us this. And comics became better.

Roman Sionis brings the crazy!

Roman Sionis brings the crazy!

Moench has been around comics for years. He cut his teeth on Marvel titles in the 1970s before bringing the first iteration of Moon Knight to glorious light in the early ’80s, teaming with some fella named Sienkiewicz. Those MK stories were excellent (the subject of a future column), and they were also where Moench started to get a little skeevy about the government. He wasn’t a full-fledged paranoid yet, but the road was in front of him. He moved on to Batman and Detective in the mid-1980s, a not-bad run (mostly because of Gene Colan’s art), but he did try to expand Batman’s supporting cast, fleshing out Harvey Bullock (sorry for the pun), although I don’t think he created him (comments to the contrary are welcome). Alas, he tried to turn the two main Batman books into a running soap opera, like the X-books, and failed. After that I lost track of him. Then, DC gave Batman back to him. First he did some Elseworlds graphic novels in which our friendly neighborhood Bat-guy becomes a vampire. Who knew his predilection for the supernatural would follow him to the mainstream? He had also become a writer who looked completely askance at anything the government did, had apparently studied either some science or whatever Warren Ellis reads about science, and had honed his writing skills even more. DC turned him loose, and he gave us wild new villains while also showcasing the old ones.

Although Moench’s scripts are wild, they would have lacked the punch of the bizarre without Kelley Jones. Jones, at this point, was known for a few things: the “Calliope” story in Sandman (he did other issues, too, but this one is the famous one), a couple of Deadman series with Mike Baron, and the aforementioned Elseworlds Batman vampire OGNs. He must have had a friend at DC, because one thing Jones is not is a typical superhero artist. That’s perfectly fine, even though my perception was that Batman was always the more “superheroic” of the main titles, and that’s why people like Jim Aparo always worked on it. Jones took Moench’s weird scripts and turned Batman into a visual feast. This was a truly gothic Gotham City – cobblestones, weird spires, shuttered windows, narrow, winding streets, ornate streetlights – this was a city in which not only evil, but weirdness lurked. This was a city in which Batman’s old-school, 1930s-style Batmobile that Jones redesigned (until he started using J. H. Williams’ design in the latter part of the series) wouldn’t seem out of place, and would come out of a fog bank and scare the jumping bejeesus out of even innocent bystanders. This is a Gotham in which the coroner, the delightfully-named Mortimer Gunt, could stew in a basement off the set of a Hollywood horror movie – when you read the autopsy scenes, you can almost hear the creaking of the gurney wheels. In short, Jones made Gotham terrifying. But he also made it a city with more personality than it usually has. I mentioned in my last column that Peter Milligan made Gotham a character in his three-part story, “Dark Knight, Dark City.” His city, however, was sentient. Moench and Jones’ Gotham isn’t alive, but it’s no less a personality. Jones also turned the denizens of this weird city into gargoyles, quite literally. A small but vocal fan base wrote in to complain about, of all things, the length of Batman’s ears. Sheesh. Jones’ Batman was grotesque in all the right ways – his ears extend upward out of panels occasionally, and he is often twisted and hunched over, with claws for hands. The rest of the cast becomes horrific, too. The aforementioned Mortimer Gunt has a bulbous head and sunken chin, and looks for all the world like one of the corpses he’s cutting up. Harvey Bullock becomes an obscenely fat cop, a stereotype in every way, which makes Moench’s humanizing him during the run more interesting, because Jones (deliberately, I’m sure) draws him like a caricature. Some of the villains are cartoonishly drawn, and in many instances this is a good thing – Jones’ Scarecrow is truly eerie, more so than usual. Even the “normal” people in the story – Gordon, Alfred, Sarah Essen, Tim Drake (who looks like a drag queen in one memorable panel), Vesper Fairchild (whom Moench created during this run) – often look askew, as if inhabiting a slightly off-kilter universe. Ironically, the only person who ever looks “normal” is Bruce Wayne, when he shows up. It’s an interesting little tic that Jones has – it’s as if he’s trying to say that Bruce Wayne is the rock of stability in this wild universe he has created, but because Bruce is often absent, the world has gone bizarre without his influence.

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The stories are all short, three-issues-or-fewer arcs, but Moench is still trying to turn Batman into a long-running soap opera. Therefore, we get recurring themes and consequences, even though the stories resemble your standard Batman stories – villains show up, Batman smacks them down, they are forgotten. Moench is interested more in the relationship between Batman and not only his supporting cast, but the villains as well, and therefore the villains’ schemes are not really that important to the overall stories. It’s worth pointing out, however, since this is a long run, how it’s broken down:

Issue 515: The first part of “Troika,” re-introducing Bruce Wayne as Batman and giving him a new costume, which isn’t really all that different. The Dark Rider, from Moench’s run on the titles in the 1980s, is the main villain. This story is continued in the other Bat-titles and is a nice introduction to Jones’ work, but doesn’t really pop off the page like the rest.

516-517: The Sleeper story. Moench shows that he has been reading far too many conspiracy theories and stories about government experimentation.



518-519: Black Mask and Black Spider. Black Mask was always an interesting villain. These days, apparently, he’s just another crazy guy.

I love Batman's angry face

I love Batman's angry face

520: Eduardo Barreto illustrates a “human interest” story in which Harvey Bullock gets a date. Since it’s the Batman Universe, no good can come of it.

Oh, Harvey, you're such a charmer!

Oh, Harvey, you're such a charmer!

521-522: What should have been the last Killer Croc story. Guest-starring Swamp Thing!

Croc gets some good drugs!

Croc gets some good drugs!

523-524: The Scarecrow returns. Moench re-did his origin in an annual around this time, and incorporates elements of that into this story.

Dig the crazy binoculars!

Dig the crazy binoculars!

525: Mr. Freeze shows up in an “Underworld Unleashed” story. Like the best of these related stories (the “Major Disaster” one in Aquaman), it’s only tangentially related to the big storyline.

Mr. Freeze doesn't mess around

Mr. Freeze doesn't mess around

526: J. H. Williams III illustrates a story dealing with “constant whitewater” – Bruce’s seeming inability to get downtime. It’s an interesting peek into his psyche.

Robin doesn't show up too often in this run, but when he does, it's pretty keen

Robin doesn't show up too often in this run, but when he does, it's pretty keen

527-528: A Two-Face two-parter in a circus. Jones in his element.

What this?  Batman puzzled!

What this? Batman puzzled!

529: Poison Ivy shows up as part of the “Contagion” crossover. One of the weaker efforts by the team, simply because it’s part of the crossover.

Jones loves making contraptions huge and ornate!

Jones loves making contraptions huge and ornate!

530-532: Deadman guest stars in a weird story that takes Batman to Peru to deal with gold smugglers and lost Incas. Moench begins getting really experimental with storytelling techniques, as we’ll see.

International Man of Mystery!

International Man of Mystery!

533-534: Aparo and Sienkiewicz illustrate parts of the “Legacy” crossover. It’s always good to see Sienkiewicz inking anyone, much less Aparo, but these two issues have nothing to do with the rest of the run.

Sienkiewicz inking makes everyone better!

Sienkiewicz inking makes everyone better!

535: The double-sized “Ogre and the Ape” story, in which Moench allows his mistrust of government full rein.

Creepy stuff coming from the needle there!

Creepy stuff coming from the needle there!

536-538: Man-Bat appears as part of the “Final Night” crossover (in issue 536) and flees to the Arctic, where Batman must track him down. More governmental shenanigans.

Only the skull and boots shall survive!

Only the skull and boots shall survive!

539: A new villain called the Undertaker is doing naughty things with dead bodies. Come on, it’s a DC book – nothing too icky!

Doin' some detective work!

Doin' some detective work!

540-541: The Spectre guest stars and Bruce gets a new love interest – Vesper Fairchild!

Man, that has to hurt!

Man, that has to hurt!

542-543: Moench mocks the whole “crazy mailman” theme with a story about Faceless, a, well, crazy mailman.

That's not going to be pretty

That's not going to be pretty

544-546: The Joker summons Etrigan to do his dirty work. You’d think this would be a slam dunk, but it might be the weakest story in the entire run.

You know, there's no way that alliance was going to work out

You know, there's no way that alliance was going to work out

547: A pseudo-crossover with the whole “Genesis” thing. People are depressed and the heroes of Gotham (including the cops) must help them.

Is that a suicide or a swan dive?

Is that a suicide or a swan dive?

548-549: The Penguin gets tired of his casino and returns to crime. He doesn’t get away with it, but he doesn’t get caught, either.

He's an engry little man!

He's an engry little man!

550: The introduction of Chase, in a Clayface story. Williams III pencils part of it, as an introduction, I assume, to her own series, which is quite good but died too quickly.

That's gotta hurt something fierce

That's gotta hurt something fierce

551-552: Ragman returns to Gotham and has some problems with his costume. Neo-Nazis are on the prowl for Jewish victims, and Rory and Batman must stop them.

Oh, Rory, control those rags!

Oh, Rory, control those rags!

Moench gives us a nice mix of classic villains and creations of his own, which of course were ignored by later writers. He also gets into the various characters in a way that is all-too-rare in any comic starring our Bat-friend. He obviously has a soft spot for Harvey Bullock, but Commissioner Gordon’s relationship with his wife (Sarah Essen, that is) is handled well, especially when she is chosen by the mayor to replace him. In the first issue of Moench’s run, he promises more focus on Bruce Wayne. Obviously, since it’s not titled The Adventures of the Playboy Millionaire, Batman is going to be the focus, but Moench manages to peek more often than most at Bruce’s non-Batman life, especially after the introduction of Vesper Fairchild in issue #540. Vesper was treated, well, horribly in later issues, culminating with her murder, but in the year that Moench wrote her, she is a fascinating love interest for Bruce, one who actually gets him to think more about his role as Batman and what it means, something no woman had done since Silver St. Cloud in the late 1970s.

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The introduction of Vesper, the loss of trust between Gordon and Batman (from the events of the previous year, when Azrael went nuts), the interactions between the members of the police force, and the dynamic of the villains themselves, all cohere into a theme Moench explores constantly throughout the run: Masks and how they hide identity and how they change us. In any superhero book, the potential to deal with how the costume affects our identity is there, and several writers have run with it. Just because Moore did it in Watchmen doesn’t make it a subject other writers can’t tackle, and Moench does it in a different way than Moore did anyway. Batman, obviously, lives a double life, and that’s why writers always have to write a Harvey Dent story when they take over Batman, to show the dichotomy and the similarities between the two. Moench takes it one step further, as Harvey visits a circus and meets up with conjoined twins, who share a middle eye but not a personality – they argue for most of the time they are on the page. Conjoined twins might be a bit obvious, but because Jones’ drawings are so unsettling and there’s a murder mystery in the middle of the story, we tend to overlook the link between Batman, Harvey, and the twins – the twins and Harvey representing the inner struggle that Batman goes through, although one character (Harvey) has taken the struggle to the logical extreme, while the twins are still wrestling with it.

We see this idea of masks affecting and shaping lives in several other stories, as well. The Black Mask story, again rather obviously, uses this theme, but not really in dealing with Roman Sionis, who isn’t the main character in the arc. The main character is the clichéd 1950s greaser Johnny Lamonica, who wants to join the False Face Society. To do this, he has stolen the costume of the Black Spider (who is dead), and confronts the gang. Lamonica is a pretty boy, but his beautiful face masks his twisted personality. When he puts on the Spider mask, he laments covering up his gorgeous face, but we realize that the mask is his reality – ugly and disturbing. When, at the end of the story, his face is slashed by a broken window, that “mask,” just like the burned face of Roman Sionis (much more disturbing than the current “skull” face he has) is fitting because he becomes a monster, inside and out. Masks give us power, of course, as Sionis himself says to his mannequin girlfriend, but the truly powerful (which Sionis thinks he is, even though he’s not) are freer. “The secret of our masks,” he says, “is that we don’t need them.” Moench makes the point here that even Batman is not powerful, because he needs his mask. It’s a bold statement, because many other writers have tried to prove that Batman’s mask is what gives him power. In a few simple lines, Moench disagrees, then spends the rest of his run proving it, as Bruce Wayne slowly comes out of the shadows and puts aside the mask more and more, gaining power all the way.

The issue of masks and identity continues to come up, because Moench is fascinated by it. He creates some notable villains, including the Ogre and the Ape and Faceless, that deal with this theme. The Ogre is a homeless man who is experimented on by shadowy government agents. They “devolve” him and “evolve” an ape in order to try to discover the missing link. The two escape and begin a vendetta against the members of the program. The Ogre loses his identity because of the experiments, becoming more like an ape, while the ape becomes more like a man. It doesn’t even matter who he is anymore – just that he is no longer human. The “Faceless” story is the culmination of Moench’s ideas about masks. Faceless is a mailman who is ignored by all the people on his route. He creates masks that mimic the people on the route and then kills them, “replacing” them with himself for a brief instant. At the post office, he is faceless – no one knows who he is. On his route, he is faceless unless he screws up. So he decides to become these people, because he obviously has no identity of his own. It’s not that difficult for Batman to figure out who is murdering these people, but again, that’s not the point of what Moench is trying to say. He wants to examine what happens when modern life becomes so disconnected and diffuse that no one sees the people who are in our lives every day. People are losing their identities every day, and some of them will snap, especially in a place like Gotham City, which seems to actively destroy identity. In the final story of Moench and Jones’ run, Ragman feels that he is losing his identity. For those who don’t know about Ragman, he is a hero connected to Jewish legend who defends the innocent wearing a suit of rags made of souls. The suit is becoming evil in the story, as the souls are starting to exert their will. Ragman can’t control the suit as it kills the bad guys instead of simply subduing them. Rory Regan (Ragman) feels that he is losing what makes him human – the ability to forgive. It is an inner battle that he has to fight, and ultimately he can’t do it by himself – he needs the rabbi he visits and Batman to help him regain his humanity and, of course, his identity.

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The second thing that makes Moench’s run truly unique is his paranoia. I don’t know if Moench lives in a bunker in the backwoods of Bucks County, PA, stocking cans of food and practicing his aim on squirrels for the inevitable day when the government comes to take away all his rights, but from his fiction, I wouldn’t be surprised. His Batman run is full of speculation about what shady things the government is doing, and it’s of interest to look at why he does this. It starts in his first story, in which a woman named Sleeper is killing people and removing their hearts as, supposedly, a sacrifice to her “goddess.” It turns out that she is being used by the government to kill the members of a group of scientists who experimented on her, depriving her of sleep in order to turn her into a perfect agent. This theme comes up again in the Ogre and the Ape story. In each of these, people are used by the government and then either turned against those who used them (in Sleeper’s case) or who break out on their own and track down those who destroyed them (the Ogre). In both cases, Batman is obligated to stop them, because they are murdering people, but in both cases, our sympathy is with the so-called villains (in the case of the Ogre, Barbara Gordon actually begs Batman to stop the people who did it, not the Ogre himself) and we find ourselves rooting for them against the government agencies. Batman becomes less of an avenging hero and more of an audience to vengeance – he is unsure what to do about the crimes, because he recognizes the justice of them. In the issues directly following the Ogre and the Ape story, Moench brings in Man-Bat, who also gets involved in the government, this time in the Arctic. Some governmental types are experimenting with a new way to tap into the Earth’s magnetic fields, and since it’s the government, it all goes horribly wrong. In these stories, Moench is not only allowing his paranoia to run wild, but he is making an interesting comment on Batman and his place in our society. Many writers make the case that Batman exists to punish the criminals that the police can’t handle, but it’s rare (Frank Miller excepted, but that wasn’t in continuity) for a writer to contrast Batman’s vigilantism with the activities of the government so blatantly. Batman becomes the reader’s substitute for our doubts and fears about a government that has very little to check it. Batman has always been, of course, the superhero we could be, since we could all, conceivably, train hard for the role, but in Moench’s hands he becomes the guy who can stand up to the government. He doesn’t win, of course, but he does bring to light some of the more nasty aspects of the abuse of power. The government wins because they have unlimited resources and can always sacrifice scapegoats, but we feel vindicated all the same. Unlike Miller in both Dark Knight series, this Batman’s fight is ultimately futile, even as he wins individual battles. In the comic book world, the status quo must always win, but Moench can show that the victory is not the point – the fight is. Batman never backs down, and neither do those people whom the government has tortured. Because it’s a comic book, Moench can allow his fantasies to bloom fully, and although one could argue that this cynical view of the government is unhealthy, it is less a realistic view of our own government and more of an idea of a powerful group that abuses that power because it can. This is not the “American government” per se, just a government that has grown corrupt and knows that it can get away with things because no one has the courage to stop it. Batman has that courage, and he is our proxy in our continual struggle to make sure our elected officials remain honest.

Moench also tries new things with his storytelling, another example of why this is a unique run on Batman and why it’s astonishing DC gave it to these two iconoclasts. Moench has always been a didactic storyteller, and while it is usually in the context of the stories, he also likes to expound on his pet theories and new ideas he finds interesting. More than once he has two characters speak to each other as if they were at some sort of lecture, and although it can be frustrating to read, usually it fits in with the story and informs the audience. Moench’s lecturing tone is in full view during this run, as he tries something we don’t often see in mainstream comics – full pages given over almost completely to dialogue. The first time he does this is in issue #531, page 10, on which Batman and the Inca priest, Chimu, discuss whether Batman, who dresses like a demon, is evil, and why men commit evil acts. Batman and Chimu are both depicted on the page, but in simple poses – the rest of the page is given over to the dialogue between the two. He does it again in issue #538, page 12, while Batman is chasing Man-Bat across the Arctic and talks to one of the scientists about HAARP – the Harmonic Atmospheric Research Project – and the implications of tapping the Earth’s magnetic field. As I mentioned, this is part of Moench’s long-running rant against the government, so he looks at the positive and negative impacts of the experiment. The last time Moench sets up a page like this is in issue #543, page 3, in which Batman and Robin discuss the identity of “Faceless” and why he kills the way he does. These are not completely revolutionary ways of telling stories in comics, but it is something we rarely see, especially in a mainstream book, and Moench deserves credit for using the medium in this way. He has a lot of information he wants to get across, and trying different ways in the context of the book to do this makes this an even more fascinating run.

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Yeah, it's obnoxious, but when it's not used too often, it's effective!

Yeah, it's obnoxious, but when it's not used too often, it's effective!

This is a great “unfinished” run in comics history, too. It’s difficult to see how a run by a creative team that lasts 38 issues (with the primary team doing 33½ issues) can be considered “unfinished,” especially when it includes stories with Black Mask, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, the Joker, the Penguin, and Clayface. It’s obvious, though, that even though Moench didn’t turn this run of Batman into a Marvel-like soap opera, he still had long-running stories that he wanted to get into. Early in the run he introduced Madolyn Corbett, a mysterious femme fatale who showed up a few times and then disappeared (and whose fate was decided in an issue of Shadow of the Bat, which I didn’t read, so I don’t know what happened to her). Moench obviously wanted Bruce to have a love interest, so he created Vesper Fairchild, who had a great deal of potential that never materialized. The politics of Gotham City is also a theme throughout Moench’s run, as the town gets a new mayor and Jim Gordon loses, then regains his job as commissioner. And of course, Moench’s “master villain” never gets to show his stuff. In Moench and Jones’ first issue, #515, we see a mysterious figure on page 9, panel 4. Batman is talking to Gordon at police headquarters, and Jones gives us an exterior shot of the building. On the street is a man holding a bat-puppet on strings. The first time you see him (and we don’t see much detail about the face, but it’s obvious it’s a man) you might think nothing of it. You might even miss him altogether. However, he shows up again the next issue, on page 10, panel 3. This time he’s standing outside of the morgue, wearing a top hat (which would become part of his “costume”) and holding the bat-puppet with a noose around its neck. Early in the run, Moench threw him in a lot – he’s in issues #518, #519, #524, and #529, the “Contagion” story, in which we see the puppet clearly as a skeleton wearing a Bat-costume – but then he disappears for a while. He shows up again in issue #540 and for the last time in issue #551, in which he is lurking near Bruce Wayne’s car, indicating he might have some knowledge about Mr. Wayne that not a lot of people have. It also indicates that even though Moench and Jones (I’m not sure who came up with this character, although I’m guessing Moench did but Jones helped “design” him) knew that issue #552 was their last one, they either didn’t care or believed they would return to the book. This is one of those intriguing characters in comics who never appeared again, and we’re not even sure what Moench was trying to do with him. After issue #552, the Bat-editors decided to hit Gotham, a city in the northeast of the United States on no fault lines, with a major earthquake, which led to a few years during which the Bat-books were a mess, despite some decent stories. Moench and Jones moved on, and as far as I know, we have never found out what the two wanted to do with this mysterious puppeteer. After three years giving us some of the most bizarre and wonderful stories we have seen in mainstream comics in a long time, DC decided to return Batman to more of a standard hero kind of guy. That’s not the worst thing you can get from Batman, but it’s far less than what he had been for a few years.

I Want To Know Who This Dude Is!!!!!

It is a mark of DC’s criminally insane policy of collecting series that none of these issues are in a trade paperback. That will probably never change, but the issues shouldn’t be that hard to find nor too expensive. This is the kind of comic that looks like it will be too bizarre for the average superhero fan but because it’s Batman, the fans of “cooler” books won’t pick it up. That’s unfortunate, because even though it stars one of the pillars of the DC Universe, it gets under your skin and takes you places most superhero books won’t go. Jones’ utterly unique vision of Batman and his world, along with Moench’s twisted take on reality and what it means to have power and abuse it, make this a series of comic books that makes you think and makes you ponder and stays with you long after you have read them.

I keep hearing Carly Simon singing 'Nobody Does It Better'

I keep hearing Carly Simon singing 'Nobody Does It Better'

Here’s a link to the archives! More comic goodness there!

[Edit: I know this post will make T.‘s eyes bleed, but I hope he recovers nicely. We wouldn’t want him suffering from “Kelley Jones Hate Disease” too long! I should also point out that last year’s Moench/Jones mini-series, Batman: Unseen fits very nicely into this run. I’m fairly certain that’s out in trade, so if you don’t want to commit to buying all these issues, you can buy one trade and check out the synergy these two have. It’s a blast of a series, although it’s not quite as deep as this earlier run, but if you like it, you’ll like these issues.]


Damn you, Burgas! All these comics you should own posts with comics I own some or all of, and me with so many comics to read as it is! Now I have to dig these comics out too. Damn you, Burgas!!! ;)

Whenever I see panels from Jones’s Batman run, particularly of Batman himself, I usually think, “Wow, that is some misunderstanding of anatomy.” But seeing all these pages together, it’s pretty clear that he was perfectly capable of drawing plausible human beings and just decided to go in a way different direction for Bats and his baddies.

This looks like great stuff, Greg. Strangely, even though I am a lover of all things Moench, I have never read his take on Batman. This review has certainly inspired me to rectify that mistake. I look forward to your look back at Moench’s MOON KNIGHT run (especially the paranoia fueled MIND THIEVES story). Of course, what I would really like to see is your overview of Moench’s classic work on MASTER OF KUNG FU with the great Gulacy (hint, hint).

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I love Kelley Jones art. I have never read any of this particular Moench/Jones Batman run, but have read the Batman elsewhere books where Batman’s a vampire.

Any chance of reviewing the Grant/Breyfogle Batman run, Mr. Burgas? (unless somebody already done it)

trajan23: Greg Hatcher swears by Moench’s early 1980s run on Batman/Detective, the existence of which I mention briefly in the post. I don’t own the whole thing, but it’s not bad. I’ll get to Moon Knight in time, and I’ve been searching for Master of Kung Fu, because I don’t own it yet but really want to.

Tom: In the archives, you’ll see a dead link to the Grant/Breyfogle Detective run. As I’m trying to update the archives in a more timely fashion, I should have a “flashback” post up fairly soon.

Sorry, Travis!

The puppetmaster is totally Oberon Sexton, isn’t it??

And Kelley Jones is a madman. 18 inch bat ears, a cape that could cover an entire city block, ridiculously over complicated and gigantic gadgets. I love it.

I probably left a comment to this effect the first time you posted this CYSO, but dang I loved this run, at least until the vagaries of newsstand distribution cut me off after #534. I think you’re far too kind to Batman Unseen, though; it ran at least 3 issues too many, and Moench’s trademark bantering dialogue tumbled into self-parody.

I have more than half of this run, as I was subscribing to the book back then. I think the subscription lapsed at around issue 540, and I didn’t renew it(though I stuck with Robin, which I was also subscribing to). Jones’ art was certainly different for the time, but very cool. This was also the time when DC started to publish their books on glossy paper. Good times, though.

I do have the Shadow of the Bat which resolved the Madolyn Corbett sub-plot. I haven’t read it in a while, so my memory may be hazy, but if I recall correctly she killed herself and set it up so it would look like Bruce did it.

Greg, It is positvely criminal that you have not had the opportunity to experience the unmatched greatness that was the Moench/Gulacy MASTER OF KUNG FU. Come on , MARVEL, if you could negotiate a one-off with TOHO and publish an ESSENTIAL GODZILLA, you can certainly do the same with the Sax Rohmer estate and publish an ESSENTIAL MASTER OF KUNG FU.


April 21, 2010 at 12:10 am

I’ve got the their Batman vampire trade, but I’m not it’s biggest fan – is that a good sample of how their run goes?

(I’m not sure what I don’t like about it, but it could just be the vampires of the story).

As for Monech fearing the government – wasn’t X-Files making that cool every week as the number one show?
Is he scared of the govt, or could he have just been following the flavour of the day?
(Of course, with Slick Willy in office, who wasn’t scared of the government?)

Doug Moench wrote a good Batman story once. It was called Prey.

The rest were rubbish.

Whenever I see panels from Jones’s Batman run, particularly of Batman himself, I usually think, “Wow, that is some misunderstanding of anatomy.” But seeing all these pages together, it’s pretty clear that he was perfectly capable of drawing plausible human beings and just decided to go in a way different direction for Bats and his baddies.

I don’t understand how you reached this conclusion from reading the post. In the scans, all of the figures drawn by Kelly Jones are deformed in some way. The only one that comes even remotely close to resembling an ordinary human being is the drawing of Black Mask at the top, and even then, he’s wearing a suit that covers his entire body and a mask that covers his face (in other words, his anatomy is being obscured by his disguise). Keep in mind that not all of the scanned pictures were drawn by Jones. One of the better looking ones, the splash page of Batman and Robin, was drawn by none other than JH Williams III.

In my somewhat limited experience reading him, Kelly Jones excels when his job requires him to draw something monstrous and distorted. His drawing of Swampthing, for example, is almost gorgeous in its grotesquerie. But ask him to draw something plain, say a man and his wife chatting over breakfast, and you take him out of his wheelhouse. I’ve never seen him draw a scene like that well.

I can appreciate why people like this run, and if you described it to me I’d probably expect to love it… but Kelly Jones’s art on this run made me drop Batman for the first time, and then general suckiness kept me away until Grant Morrison’s run.

I didn’t mind Jones’s slightly more restrained art on Sandman, and even the first Batman/Dracula book though.

AWESOME review of an awesume run. I’m looking forward to read that Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle review. Heck, review all of Alan Grant’s bat-run!!!

This is my absolute favorite run on Batman. I read and reread and examined and dissected the hell out of these. Kelley Jones’ art was fantastic on these.

Damn, I wish you warned me there was Kelley Jones art in this post before the fold!! If I knew I would have skipped the post altogether.

I did scroll down however and saw those awesome pages by Eduardo Barretto and JH Williams, so that at least was good.

Whenever I see panels from Jones’s Batman run, particularly of Batman himself, I usually think, “Wow, that is some misunderstanding of anatomy.” But seeing all these pages together, it’s pretty clear that he was perfectly capable of drawing plausible human beings and just decided to go in a way different direction for Bats and his baddies.

If true, that’s even worse. If he just couldn’t do any better I’d be more forgiving. If he drew this badly by CHOICE that just makes me hate the art even more.

Captain Doctor Master

April 21, 2010 at 5:23 am

I love most everything Moench writes — but I skipped that run because of the Big Ears on Batman. That ain’t Batman.

I don’t buy comics that display big boobs either.

I really dig Jones’ style. It is wonderfully distinct. His anatomy in some panels seems more restrained than I remember, but his over the top style on other panels adds oodles of dynamism to the books.

This is my second-favorite run of Batman ever (behind Grant/Breyfogle and ahead of O’Neil/ Adams). Batman was practically a horror comic during the Kelley Jones era and I loved every second of it.

My favourite Batman run of all time. I think part of the reason I usually don’t like Batman that much is because it usually isn’t like this at all.

FGJ: Actually, I’m not that big a fan of the Elseworlds Batman Vampire stories. They’re not bad, but Moench took it so deadly seriously that it wasn’t all that interesting. He takes this seriously, too, but there’s a lot of dark humor in this run, so it alleviates the seriousness somewhat.

Cass: Well, I don’t agree with you, obviously. Madolyn Corbett looks “normal,” as do Vesper and Bruce when they kiss.

T.: Sorry about that! Although, come on, the minute you saw the first cover, you should have known it was Jones! And I did wish you a speedy recovery at the end of the post!

So, Captain Doctor Master, what you’re saying is that you don’t read any superhero comics? :)

I can’t stand Jones’ art mostly because for every panel/issue that are amazing, he draws four that are horrendous. That inconsistency bothers me. I always hold up two “Sandman” issues as my example. His “Dream of 1,000″ cats is spectacular, but “Calliope” in the same block of issues is the worst issue in the entire series, almost entirely because of his art. I remember being even more upset after reading the script for the issue in one of the TPBs, as he took too many liberties IMHO.

That said I love Moench, I just couldn’t come back to Batman with that art.

I didn’t notice the Aparo/Bill S art first time I read this. It’s pretty good too.

Captain Doctor Master

April 21, 2010 at 9:39 am

“So, Captain Doctor Master, what you’re saying is that you don’t read any superhero comics?”

Not if it has boobs bigger than the woman’s head, Greg. I also avoid comics with over-sized guns. These are indicators that the comic book is aimed at the pubescent.

There’s so much great stuff to read in this world — not just comics — and so little time, I have to draw the line somewhere. Since Friday I’ve read three novels (you know, books without pictures), half a non-fiction book, and about 15 comics — and it’s only Wednesday.

I do enjoy your columns!

“I love most everything Moench writes — but I skipped that run because of the Big Ears on Batman. That ain’t Batman.”

Bob Kane would disagree… to be fair, though, Kelley Jones would draw Batman’s ears even longer than the ones on his original costume.

I’ve read some of Moench’s work on Batman, including the Kelley Jones issues, but I don’t recall being too impressed (Metalhead, anyone?). I do have several other Moench issues I haven’t gotten to, yet, though, so I’m more than willing to give his Batman work another go.

“It is a mark of DC’s criminally insane policy of collecting series that none of these issues are in a trade paperback.”

One of several! I like to think DC’s trade collecting’s improved, but in the old days, DC would leave out pages, issues, etc. it considered “irrelevant” or whatever. James Robinson’s Starman work was a notable example, but at least now DC’s making up for it by collecting it all in the Omnibuses.

Captain Doctor Master: I was just having some fun. I don’t see very much in the way of boobs bigger than someone’s head, but what I like about Jones is that EVERYTHING is grotesquely exaggerated! I agree with you in general (although, come on, no shots about reading books without pictures – we all read them, too!), but what I don’t like is when comics make everything “realistic” EXCEPT the boobs! That’s silly.

Gokitalo: Yeah, I got “Crawling from the Wreckage” when it first came out and wondered why some of the stories seemed to end oddly. It turns out DC was editing the Mr. Nobody and Brotherhood of Dada prologues. I ought to get the new trade they released a few years ago, but I’m so angry that they did that I don’t want to give them more money for it!

This article is a little misleading. Didn’t Doug Moench return to Batman much earlier, in issue #481, replacing Alan Grant, and worked as the regular writer all the thru Knightfall, Knightquest, etc? In early to mid 1994, no one said

“How about we get a writer who has become increasingly more paranoid about the government and honestly seems to believe that aliens landed in New Mexico in the 1940s and are currently influencing our culture”<

because said writer had already been on the book since mid-1992.

And you make it sound like Kelley Jones came out of nowhere:

Jones, at this point, was known for a few things: the “Calliope” story in Sandman (he did other issues, too, but this one is the famous one), a couple of Deadman series with Mike Baron, and the aforementioned Elseworlds Batman vampire OGNs. He must have had a friend at DC, because one thing Jones is not is a typical superhero artist.

However, Jones had already been a popular Batman cover artist for quite a few years. He had been doing Batman covers since issue #491, which is two years before issue #515.

I’m not sure where you got the premise that Doug Moench and Kelley Jones came together out seemingly out of nowhere with issue #515, since Doug had already been writing the title for nearly three years at that point, and Kelley Jones had been working on the Batman covers for about two years. Also he had worked with Doug Moench on the Batman character in general since 1991 with the Batman/Dracula: Red Rain, Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist Elseworld Graphic Novels.

I loved this run. As with an earlier commenter, it is my second favorite after Grant/Breyfogle. I thought Kelley’s warped art gave the book a cool, horror story kind of feel that was different from anything else I was reading at the time.

Apropos of JoeMac’s comment, I’d be interested in reading your assessment of the pre-Jones Moench issues from that run.

In my opinion, Moench is one of the best Batman writers, because he wrote Batman stories that actually explore character, instead of just non-stop action. His run in the early 80’s is very under-rated, and I like the chatracter development he did with Jason Todd (the heroic kid whose parents died helping Batman, not the Collins/O’Neil hoodlum turned spoiled brat that readers voted to kill), and Bruce Wayne.

JoeMac: Yeah, you’re right. I mentioned Moench’s work on Batman in the early 1980s and I knew he wrote the Knightfall stuff, but I forgot he was working through the Azrael stuff and the Prodigal stuff. I suck, I guess. Sorry! But I still think that Jones was known for his Sandman stuff and not too much else, and that giving him on the book was a bold move, as having him as a cover artist is much different from doing the interior work. Cover artists can be as weird as they want, because it’s more of an iconic pose kind of thing. Doing the interior work on a superhero comic is something different, and Jones was a bold choice.

But I’m sorry I forgot that Moench was on the book the entire time. I did think he left once Azrael took over, and then DC brought him back.

Scott: Well, I re-read them a few years ago (right before I re-read these issues), and I still hate the whole idea of Bane and Azrael. Knightfall wasn’t bad, but the pacing was so crazed it was hard to deal with, and the Azrael stuff was … well, lousy, unfortunately. It was one of those intriguing ideas that probably sounded a lot better on the drawing board and committee room than in execution. But yeah, I’m tracking down the early 1980s Moench stuff (of which I only have scattershot issues) to read all at once.

I own about 1% of this run, so it’s at the top of my “50 cent bin” list. If I ever find a 50 cent bin again.

I remember when Jones was added, and it definitely was hyped “You know the guy we’ve been having do the covers forever and did those Elseworlds with Moench? We’ve got him on the interiors now!”

Heck, if you recall, their pairing was hyped to the point where, right from the get go, they LABELED their run!!! (DM-KJ-JB 1, DM-KJ-JB 2, etc.)

Greg, your emphasis on the conspiracy theory aspects of Moench’s Batman run has inspired me to search his MASTER OF KUNG FU run for conspiracy allusions. As a perfect case subject, let us look at the Moench/Zeck “Warriors of the Golden Dawn” arc (MASTER OF KUNG FU, 83-89, with issue 82 serving as a prologue):

82: Fu Manchu arrives in the Andes in a spaceship and is mistaken for a God from the stars by the Amerinds: UFO, alien astronauts, implied Machu Picchu ref

83:A. Arc title: “Warriors of the Golden Dawn” (Aleister Crowley occult conspiracy ref)
B: Fu Manchu uses the eye in the pyramid symbol (Illuminati ref)
C:Fu Manchu now leads a melting pot of occult conspiracy groups: Si-Fan, Phansigars, Thugees, Hashishin, Knights Templar, Leopard Cultists, the Twenty Third Sect, etc.
D: Fu Manchu has a vision on page 11, panel 5 in which he sees a swastika, a pentagram, an eye in the pyramid, a peace sign, the number 5 (CF. the ILLUMINATIS TRILOGY), the Golden Apple of Discord (Again, CF. the ILLUMINATUS TRILOGY).
E: Fu Manchu uses the phrase Orientis Illuminata as a code

84:A: Mind Control: Fu Manchu controls key individuals (scientists, government officials, etc) via electronic brain implants.
B: Fu Manchu uses strange vehicles (which resemble UFO lights) to transpot his operatives.Fu himself says that he uses them “For distraction…psychological chaos…pervasive subconscious mass confusion…and so on.”

85: A reiteration of previously discussed conspiratorial elements.

86: Fu Manchu’s UFOe craft are seen leaving from a pyramid that contains an all-seeing eye design. The pyramid is located at the bottom of a lake (CF. the ILLUMINATUS TRILOGY)

87-89:Reiteration of previously discussed elements. Noteworthy for the scene in #89 where Fu flies his UFO over New York

The letters’ Page for issue 92 is a real treat, as most of the letters concern the obvious conspiracy theory references in the “Warriors of of the Golden Dawn” arc. Doug Moench himself mentions that he corresponds with Robert Anton Wilson. Moench also notes that his first published story (in KNIGHT magazine) was an “only slightly fictionalized autobiographical account of weird occurences on Doug’s 23rd bithday” called “23 on the 23rd.

Of course, Fu Manchu was always a walking conspiracy theory himself in the original books, with Nayland Smith only able to see the tiniest part of his operations and mess up that bit if he was lucky, so all of that felt pretty true to the source material when I read it at the time. And yeah, that was an amazing MOKF run.

Next: Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan Detective Comics!
Right? I mean it´s gotta be!

Thanks for the nice column on the run Greg.
Let me clarify a few points about the Batman years.I was offered the book by Denny O’neil . D.C. editors were in total charge of their titles then. Denny told Archie Goodwin that he wanted a new artist and he liked my Batman stuff . Archie had told him that my interpretation was one of his favorites,and if Denny didn’t offer it to me, he would use me on his Batbooks.
When Denny called to offer,I said yes. Doug Moench was not informed that this was coming. At first Doug was dismayed,and told me that he wished I wouldn’t take Batman on a monthly basis so we could continue our Batman specials.
Doug then said that if I promised to keep up,and not quit after a few months,he would like to write Batman the way he always wanted but couldn’t, and that it would be fun.
The book was always on time, and the fill ins were due to distributor scheduling change, We did 36 issues in 36 months.
Doug and I made our run separate from the other Bat-titles as much as we could.This was for a few reasons.The most important was respect for those who didn’t want to buy several different titles a month to follow the action in just one.If they didn’t like us,they could drop it and not have it affect reading the others.If they did like it,they could recommend it to others and those new people could buy it without the burden of having to follow a bunch of other titles.The main reason probably, was Doug and I wanted to do shorter stories,and occasional one shots.
We were told then they weren’t keen on this, but due to Doug and Dennys relationship it would be allowed.
After about a year Doug was told not to expect the stuff to get collected and reprinted,as it wasn’t part of any mega story events. This didn’t change our determination to continue doing the book the way we had been.
As to the reaction,it was interesting. Usually,all the Superman books out sold the Bat-books.But almost immediately, our title alone leapfrogged over the Superman titles. Up to this time that had never happened.
The fan reaction had been quite positive.Doug handled the letterpages,and had found in the three to four hundred letters a month the title received ,the negative mail was only several per issue.
Because of the format and tone Doug ,John and I strove for,I have always been pleased with the legacy those issues achieved over the years.
On some points we had to acquiesce, certain tie-in issues, Batman wearing a black suit not grey, the design of the batmobile ,which was a design from Anton Furst.
On the other hand ,they let us put Swampthing in the book,as well as Mr Freeze,who at the time had been quietly banned.
The puppeteer was a character that Doug and I created that knew Batmans identity. He was to become prominent in the fourth year,but at that time the edict came down that the book was to be finally tied to all the others.To me that would remove the cool little atmosphere we had built up to that point.So, sadly I quit this beloved title.
As to the labeling(dm kj jb 1 etc) that was entirely John Beatty’s idea.He told me that when he first got the pages to ink,he felt it would motivate us to not be late,and try and post a number higher than 7 or 8.

Kelley: Thanks a lot for stopping by! It’s great to get all the insight about the run. I really wanted to see what you and Moench did with the puppeteer guy, but I guess the earthquake was just TOO important! I think keeping the two Batman titles separate is the way to go, and it seems like DC tends to do that a little more these days than they did in the 1990s. Too bad.

Crossovers are especially annoying when you’re not following a title (hello to the weirdos who do) but a creator.

Recently bought all the back issues from Jones’ Batman. Looks totally ace.
(love those ears, the art deco bits, and the general spookyness)

JoeMac: Yeah, you’re right. I mentioned Moench’s work on Batman in the early 1980s and I knew he wrote the Knightfall stuff, but I forgot he was working through the Azrael stuff and the Prodigal stuff. I suck, I guess. Sorry!

Dude! I don’t think you suck. I think your stuff is insightful and fun to read. I just had a feeling that Moench / Jones were working on Batman for a long time because I quit reading during 1996 (which would be like the middle of the run you detailed above), but really remember their stuff, and remember it as having been going on for a while when I stopped reading.

I had to google everything to confirm my suspicions.

And I’m sure no one really cares, but just in case, the reason I quit reading in 1996 had nothing to do with Moench / Jones. I quit reading comics in general in 1996 for three reasons – I was away at college, the comic book shop I’d been going to faithfully since 1988 closed, and Onslaught sucked so bad that I threw in the towel on collecting altogether until around 2000.

Greg, this is the Batman article I have wanted to read/write for years. I have turned so many people on to this Batman run it’s unbelievable. It’s one of two complete Batman creator runs I own (the other being the legendary Grant/Breyfogle run — see you have a ‘flashback’ post for this one on its way.) I’ve come to have a great fondness for Moench over the years — not only his earlier Batman/Tec work, which is as beautifully dense and pulpy as any books you’ll find anywhere, but ALL the crazy little things he got hired to write (“C.O.P.S. n’ Crooks” comic book tie-in, anyone?) Such a strange voice for the world of mainstream books, and happily makes me feel a little stranger for reading him.

So glad Kelley Jones graced the comments page! All my friends who have attempted to borrow or steal this run from me have been artists who worship at the altar of Jones’ style. Clearly it is not a question of whether Jones is ‘bad’ or ‘good;’ neither is it a question of whether or not his style suits your tastes. It is a question of whether or not YOU, the reader, ‘get it.’ These books were and are genius. Someday, maybe his dissenters will take the blinders off and understand.

Oh, and the dude coming onto a superhero column to whine about not liking superhero books because there are two many novels to read? And then he counts the number of books he’s read this week?

Could someone please smack this guy?

This is one of my favorite runs by any creators, ever. I was lucky enough to buy and read this run month by month as it was happening, and it was great stuff. The mid to late ’90s, overall, were a good time for Batman comics. We had this run, and the great Dixon/Nolan run on Detective.

I really wish DC would do something along the lines of Marvel’s “x-Men Forever,” where Moench and Jones could reunite and pick up their run where they left off.

Just wanted to thank you for this in-depth review of the work Doug, Kelley and I did on our run on “Batman!”

I had some of the best times of my life working with these 2 friends, on “Batman.”

I’m glad to see Kelley dropped in and explained some ‘behind the scenes’ stuff.

We had planned to do more with our run, but as Kelley noted…we got knee-capped a bit when the powers at DC wanted/needed to put the “Batman” book back into the other Bat-books, thus meaning ‘we’ would have to involved into tie-in’s to the other titles.

Love or hate the run, it always spur’s reaction, which to me, means it has a pulse!

I had quit comics completely in 1986 but would occasionally visit my comic store to see how things were. In 1997, I was floored by how good this run of Batman was. I’d been a Doug Moench fan since Master of Kung Fu so I wasn’t surprised that Doug’s writing continued to dazzle, enlighten, and entertain me. Kelley Jones’ artwork was something I took to right away, as it was the perfect visual style for the horror-based scripts. The use of color, particularly in the Scarecrow two-parter was reminscent of EC. I also appreciated the sense of humor in the Killer Croc story and best of all, issue #539, “Dem Bones”, which is my single-favorite Batman story of all time.

Anyway, I quickly bought up the issues I had missed and was crestfallen when the run ended with #552.

This is one of my all time favorite runs on Batman. I remember being so upset when it finished. Loved Kelly’s take on Batman and Doug’s writing just knocked it out of the park!

Also nice to see Kelly and John commenting on the series! I would LOVE to see all 3 return for another mini focusing on what they had planned for year 4 – like the puppeteer!

This is one of my favourite superhero comic runs of all time!

Didn’t anybody ever ask Doeg Moench what he was planning with the mysterious puppet master?

thank you so much, i want to read all of these issues asap!

I dont live near any comic shops so i dont get to read many comics, but last month mybrother for some reason, bought a box of assorted comic books from a second hand shop both new and old, a bunch of captin america comics a few iron man comics some JLA and a whole lot of avengers and for some reason spawn. any way thear were only 5 batman comics in the whole box,the cover art was completly absurd from any piont of veiw, so i delayed reading them for a while, but when i did i was..well imagine your a child, and your opening a christmass present from your aunt, who sends you an itchy weird sweater “every” christmass and instead of an itchy sweater you find a paid trip to outer space! except you find out you havent gone to space, you have gone to neverland! it was completly ridiculous his cape was insanely swirly and..twirly,scarcrow reminded me of a dancing marionet! and batman was like and old bat..yep it was one of the best comics ive ever read. i especially loved the interaction between alfred and bruce, very sweet, and somehow nostalgic.. The only sad thing is that i cant send kelly and doug fan mail.=(

Just started re-reading my old books and when i came across this run, i felt something special and googled for some reviews. Thank you for your article. And to see all the love on these comments, such a beautiful connection.

Best Batman EVER.

“the negative mail was only several per issue.”

I’m glad to see verification that more people were actually buying those issues, as it seems the haters are most vocal. It’s a shame you don’t see this work reprinted, but the books are still out there and to this day it is really the only Batman run I ever recommend to anyone. This is how Batman should be.

But for some reason I can’t fathom, even though you moved product at Superman levels when Superman was hot, nobody even tries to follow your lead.

A real golden age for the comics…but who is The Mystery Marionette Man?

Apparently DC is finally going to be publishing this run in TPB, starting next year!

DC is finally giving us this run in hardcover edition! After 15-16 years! I own all the back issues and I’m so hyped about this being collected! Hopefully after they are released and get good sales, Moench and Jones will be offered more work on the bat. A mini with the puppeteer would be so fucking cool. So nice to see Kelley and John commenting here!

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