Batman: Second Chances (2015)
Reprints Batman #402, 403, 408-416 & Batman Annual #11
Written by Max Allan Collins, Jo Duffy, and Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Chris Warner, Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, Dave Cockrum, Kieron Dwyer, Mike DeCarlo, and Jim Aparo
Batman: Second Chances collects the issues just before and following Frank Miller’s iconic Year One arc. The stories here focus mainly on establishing a grittier tone for the post-Crisis Batman while developing Jason Todd, who served as Robin. The result is a jumble of small arcs and one-offs that aren’t brought together for any thematic purpose. Instead, this is just a means to collect some stories that would never have a place otherwise. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it as a historical artifact, a record of what Batman comics felt like in the late 1980s before other creators like Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon became the architects of a new Batman mythos.
Max Allan Collins was already established as a pulp crime & action writer by 1987, and he seemed like a good fit for a street-level character like Batman. For the most part, his work is solid but doesn’t feel like it takes note of Miller’s Year One in any meaningful way. Collins’ opening two-issue arc focuses on ex-cop Tommy Carma, who has developed an unhealthy obsession with Batman, leading to the man dressing and behaving as the hero. His psychological disconnect is so strong he believes he is the real Batman and that the genuine article is an imposter. It’s a decent story, but more like a one-off, you might have come across during the Bronze Age, not feeling like a stylistic difference from anything pre-Crisis.
When the series returns from Miller’s Year One story, the cover bears a slightly new title, “Batman: The New Adventures.” The first story seeks to correct some pre-Crisis elements surrounding Dick Grayson’s retirement as Robin. Most of Grayson’s character arc on this matter happened in the pages of New Teen Titans and was never really touched upon in the pages of Batman. Collins quickly provides a retcon that has Grayson getting wounded during a fight with the Joker. This dangerous moment leads Batman to discharge Robin as his sidekick. Then one night, while on patrol, Batman comes across young Jason Todd trying to jack the wheels off the Batmobile. He’s impressed with the kid’s fire but hands him over to the seemingly innocuous Ma Gunn and her orphanage. Wouldn’t you know it? She turns out to be training kids to steal and rob, so Batman has to intervene and bring Jason on as his new ward.
This leads to a story that continues Batman’s training of Jason and reveals that the new Robin’s father was killed by Two-Face. We recap Two-Face’s origin while Batman briefs the new Boy Wonder on his rogues’ gallery. Robin learns of the villain’s connection to his father and goes out seeking revenge while Batman plays to the boy’s better angels and succeeds. We get a single issue introducing the new villain, The Mime, who would never appear again aside from an Arkham Asylum mini-series published sixteen years later. All of these stories never quite feel modern, as with the work being published in Detective Comics at the same time. It was clear that DC editorial wasn’t as sure what they wanted to do with Batman post-Crisis as with Superman and Wonder Woman.
Jo Duffy pens a decent one-off about a set of samurai armor that seems to come to life; it’s illustrated nicely by Kieron Dwyer and Mike DeCarlo. Still, it’s the following issue where the post-Crisis Batman really begins to take shape. In Batman #414, Jim Starlin permanently takes over as writer. He begins his run with the first chapter in an ongoing story where Batman is hunting down a serial killer. The murderer’s methods always involve using a knife to kill a young woman and leaving her body in an alleyway dumpster. A woman Bruce Wayne meets becomes his next victim, which sparks his drive to find and take down the man. Jim Aparo also steps in for art duties, and I appreciate his work. When I was younger, there was something about Aparo style I did not like, but I find returning to it, the penciling is very well done. I think he can be a little redundant with faces, but it’s good overall.
There is a crossover with the horrible Millennium event that isn’t as bad as you think. What redeems it is the subplot with Jason Todd. Starlin takes a leap to the present, aging Todd up from the thirteen-year-old he was in Collins’ origin stories to make him around 15/16 years old. Instead of being a carbon copy of Grayson’s lighthearted sidekick, Todd is much more prone to violence and doesn’t respect Batman if he feels his mentor is wrong on an issue. Todd tracks down Scarecrow and, in the ambush, poisons the villain with his own fear gas. The Dynamic Duo has to use the infirmed Scarecrow to break into Arkham as part of the Millennium story, and it is actually an entertaining read.
Batman #416 contains one of my all-time favorite stories where Batman is only a supporting player. Jason has been staking out the cartel bringing cocaine into Gotham. During his stakeout, he crosses paths with Nightwing (Dick Grayson), who is visiting Gotham. This is the first time we get to see these two interact and their clash of personalities is very well written by Starlin. We eventually get a confrontation between Batman and Nightwing, resolving all the unspoken tension that started when Grayson was let go. He’s frustrated that Batman adopted another partner so quickly and planted the seeds that Nightwing is a version of Batman who worked through his trauma and came out better on the other side.
The collection ends on a bizarre note with a story written by Max Allan Collins for a Batman annual. Like Collins’ other work, it doesn’t tonally match what Starlin was doing and feels more like the Silver Age. The Penguin is released from prison and falls in love, but it ends with his supposed redemption not sticking. I noticed Alan Moore’s main story from the same annual about Mr. Freeze was not included here (you can find it in a collection of Moore’s DC work). I loved seeing more of Norm Breyfogle’s early Batman as he illustrated the Penguin tale. Overall, this is a very mixed collection. If you’re a Batman completist, you’d love it, but there isn’t much here if you are someone looking for the high notes and the significant events. I think Batman #416 is a story everyone should read, but you have a good amount of luck coming across it in the dollar bins at your local comic shop.