Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Batman has upset his dinner of a sandwich, an apple, a glass of milk and a hex wrench.

Released in 1980, written by Len Wein and drawn by the unusual pairing of John Byrne and Jim Aparo (for, at least, the first issue), The Untold Legend of The Batman was the first miniseries which was released by DC Comics starring the Caped Crusader. In its dense and economical three issues, it also goes on to tell the story of the time Batman went crazy and tried to kill himself and why he shouldn’t be allowed to keep doing the stuff he does, if only for his own safety.

The story opens with Batman receiving a package in the mail, which how does that even happen? What’s the address, Wayne Manor Apt 1-B? P.O.Box Bats? Letters, postcards and packages addressed to “Batman” care of “Batcave” and dumped by postal workers in the same furnace where all the letters to Santa go?

Oh sure, criminals are the superstitious ones ...
Whatever the case, Batman opens a care package from a deranged maniac, revealing the tattered and torn-apart Bat-Costume once worn by his father one time in a Silver Age story and about a bazillion times in flashbacks. The Bat-Costume worn by Dr.Thomas Wayne (for a masquerade ball, although he finds the opportunity to bash some crooks while wearing it, thus presaging his son’s future career. We all become our parents, ultimately, I guess), while torn into a tangled and barely coherent mess, is a pretty good metaphor for the story unfolded in these pages, inasmuch as the point of The Untold Legend is to recount the salient plot points of Batman’s Silver Age backstory in a Bronze Age setting.

Batman’s origin is a pretty resilient thing, in part because it’s simple – a murderer orphans young Bruce Wayne, who uses the tragedy to focus his life as though through a laser, becoming the foremost national authority of dispensation of extralegal bat-shaped justice. As an origin, it can take a few additions without completely breaking apart at the joints, and likewise you can pick all the flesh off the skeleton and still leave a handsome skull, both of which sound like modus operandi for Batman villains. Unfortunately, what Untold Legend accomplishes is to line up all the forgettable Silver Age additions to the origin along the same length of twine, and the whole thing starts to snap under the weight. Also an M.O. of a Batman villain, that.

The premise of continuity and coherent mythos is an invention of the late Sixties and onward, and didn’t gel in comics for another decade or so, until the direct market made back issues, reprints and collections a reality. The Silver Age stories often weren’t written with the idea in mind that they might one day be collected and counted upon as immutable fact, they were written to fill pages. Very likely they were never meant to be milestones on a multi-decade journey, that was a product of marketing and fandom.

Batman's confidential street informants all have names like Muppets.

So, as recounted in Untold Legend, we learn that Batman’s origin was never as simple as a boy losing his parents to an act of mindless crime. In fact, what we learn is that the shooter was Joe Chill, a gunman hired by Lew Moxon, a crimeboss whose empire was toppled by the batsuited Dr.Thomas Wayne. Which is still kind of a straight line, if convenient, but it’s not so much that Batman’s origin seems unnecessarily overcomplicated.

No, that doesn’t happen until six pages in, where it’s revealed that young Bruce Wayne’s replacement maternal figure was his uncle Phillip’s housemaid Mrs.Chilton, in actuality the mother of the man who shot Bruce’s parents. Um. That’s preceded by the story, covered earlier, where Bruce Wayne dressed as and called himself Robin a good dozen years before adopting a kid sidekick, which comes complete with its own problems. There’s also cramming a lifetime of conflicting experiences into Alfred’s background, being a special forces soldier turned actor but coming from a long line of butlers just shows up in Bruce Wayne’s and Dick Grayson’s lives one day and won’t leave. Then becomes their most trusted ally.

All of the overcomplicating of the basic character is backdrop for a plot wherein someone with unprecedented access to the Batcave and its contents AND who has intimate knowledge of Batman’s secrets is threatening to destroy the Dark Knight Detective. Naturally, that person is … Bruce Wayne. Driven into a split personality by being an obsessive figure of weird justice, Batman discovers that his own civilian alter ego has formed a fragmentary personality in his mind and is trying to destroy Batman and everything he stands for (e.g. putting his face on his car, coin-collecting on an unprecedented scale, dressing in a scalloped rubber bathrobe and beating up hobos with belt chemicals, etc). Robin saves the day by dressing up as Batman’s dad and beating him insensate, which seems to put things to rights.

I’m not wrong in thinking maybe this should’ve been Batman’s last adventure maybe, am I? If there’s ever a time to hang up the tights, it’s when you unknowingly develop a subconscious criminal alter-ego intent on murdering you. The “Untold” part of “Untold Legend” is apparently his sealed psychiatric record.

Not pictured: Many of Batman's other greatest foes, like Black Cupid, The Mushroom, Rigor Mortician,
The Human Zeppelin, Sweettooth the Candy Pirate, Whistles McSawdust, The Dean of Crime and Mister Farts.


LesMcClaine said...

Two-Face has got a pretty stylin' turtleneck going on there.

neofishboy said...

I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be a pickle on the plate, sitting on a ... pickle bed? Do rich people use pickle beds?

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