Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 361: Batman #426
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Batman #426, which was published by DC and is cover dated December 1988. Enjoy!
Batman #426, which is the first issue of the four-part “Death in the Family” (which title DC keeps referring to, as the latest Bat-crossover attests to), was the first comic I ever bought. It was, apparently, enough to hook me, because I kept coming back for more! After several re-reads, it’s not that good a comic, but I guess the idea of people voting on whether to kill Jason off or not was so intriguing I wanted to find out what happened, and after four issues, I was sucked in!!!!
This famous issue is obviously drawn by Jim Aparo, but it was written by Jim Starlin, which is kind of weird. Starlin is not the most notable writer to take on the Caped Crusader, but he just happened to be writing the book when DC decided on this “Should we kill Robin or not?” stunt, so he got the honors! So here’s the synopsis: Jason is acting angrier and angrier, so Batman puts him on indefinite suspension. Jason, of course, doesn’t like this, and then he discovers that his mother wasn’t his real mother and that his real mother might be alive. All he knows is that her first name began with an “S,” and there were three women whose names began with “S” in his dad’s address book (which is little and black, yes). So he tracks all of them down – luckily they’re all based in the Middle East area – and in this issue, he finds the first one, who of course is not his mother. Batman, meanwhile, is tracking the Joker, who tries to sell a cruise missile in this issue to a Lebanese terrorist (it explodes when the buyer tries to fire it). The Joker escapes, of course, and he’ll vex our two heroes for the rest of the arc (he vexes Jason with a crow bar, to be precise). Starlin sets up the remaining issues pretty well – Robin is going to check out Shiva Woosan in Beirut next (Lady Shiva had been around pre-Crisis, and I can’t find out if she had shown up post-Crisis yet, but if she had, wouldn’t Batman mention to Jason that she’s a trained assassin?) and then head to Ethiopia to check out Sheila Heywood. Of course, Starlin ends the issue with the Joker buying a ticket to Addis Ababa, so we can figure out that his path will cross the Dynamic Duo’s once again. Oh, it’s so tense! I wonder what the phone callers will decide to do with Jason????
Obviously, if this is my first comic, it’s also my first exposure to Aparo’s artwork, and I wasn’t terribly impressed. I’ve grown to appreciate Aparo’s artwork a lot more, but I still don’t think his late 1980s/early 1990s stuff is anywhere near as good as his 1970s work. We’ve debated this before – whether it was the fact that he didn’t ink himself (Mike DeCarlo inked this) or that in the 1970s, he wasn’t drawing monthly comics and so could take his time a bit, or just that he was getting old, his work in this time period just isn’t as good as earlier. He gets the job done, however, and back when I started getting comics, I was much less interested in the artwork, to the extent that I often ignored it as long as it got the job done. Here Aparo uses an obvious patch for Panels 1 and 4 – Robin’s facial expression is even the same – but unlike later artists, he actually drew the panel, so it’s not too awful. He doesn’t do a lot with the page layout, but it’s easy to read and we can see that Aparo has solid storytelling skills. The furrowed brow on Robin works much better in Panel 4 than in Panel 1, as in the later panel he’s in more of a snit. I do like how Aparo and DeCarlo shadow his face in Panels 2 and 3 – foreshadowing? It’s certainly possible. We can see some of Aparo’s weaknesses – all his “normal” men look essentially the same (the Joker is an exception). Jason looks like a smaller (not younger) Bruce Wayne, and they both resemble the dude at the bottom who’s waiting in the airport – the only difference, of course, is that Aparo gives him a mustache. Jason looks nothing like a young teenager – he could easily pass for 18 or 19, and he’s not that old in this comic. Meanwhile, even as I have learned to like Aparo’s pencil work, I can never deal with his long-chinned version of the Joker, and the fact that Adrienne Roy colors him as a regular white dude (he’s in disguise) is freaky. At least when his skin is chalk-white and his hair is green, Aparo’s version is a bit easier to take. That final panel is downright weird, man.
Still, this is an important comic, both in DC’s history and in my own life. Starlin does a good job summing things up and moving things forward, which is not a bad thing for the final page of an issue. I kept buying Batman (for quite a while, in fact – I think I stopped during the Gotham earthquake), and the rest is history!
Next: The first appearance (sort of) of one of my favorite villains, even though he’s been used so much that I lost interest. Isn’t that always the way? But his first battle with this classic hero is pretty awesome! I know you’ll be able to find more comics with this hero in the archives!