about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Review: Steve Englehart's Unpublished Sequel to His "Batman: Dark Detective" Saga! (Part 1 of 2)

UPDATE: The second half is now up!

Today's review was exciting for me as it was bittersweet. It's not often that I get to review the unpublished sequel to one of the greatest Batman storylines of all time, and with the blessings of the writer himself, to boot!

Long-time readers will know that I love love love Steve Englehart's 1978 run in Detective Comics, the one which gave us The Laughing Fish and its perfect take on the Joker, as well as new characters like Silver St. Cloud and Rupert Thorne, plus bold new takes on once-obscure villains like Deadshot and Hugo Strange (whose subplot I reviewed on its own merits). This run has been collected under two unofficial titles, Shadow of the Batman and Strange Apparitions, but Englehart himself prefers to call his saga Batman: Dark Detective. And here's where things get a bit complicated.

Various covers for different editions of Dark Detective, which will henceforth be referred to as "DD1."

Of course, the title of Dark Detective was what Englehart used for the SEQUEL mini-series that he wrote thirty years later, reuniting him with original series penciler Marshall Rogers and inker Terry Austin. Two years ago, I devoted three lengthy reviews to this delightfully weirdo story which brought Silver St. Cloud back into Bruce's life while featuring another all-time great take on the Joker, plus a unique twist on the Scarecrow and one of the most interesting (and bizarre) examinations of Two-Face's psychology that I've ever seen. It was a damn odd story, but a damn fascinating damn odd story, one totally in keeping with the idiosyncratic touches that made Englehart and Rogers' run so great.

Henceforth, this mini shall be referred to as Dark Detective II or DD2. Sorry in advance for the confusion!

At the end of my review of DD2, I mentioned that there was intended to be a third part of the DD saga, but it was canceled (supposedly) due to the untimely death of Marshall Rogers in 2007. The good news, however, is that Englehart sells the scripts over at his website, and thus, after two years of waffling, I finally contacted him to purchase and—with his generous permission—to review the scripts on this very blog. After years of wondering about Stories That Never Were, I've been given to the incredible opportunity to read one for myself!

So how is it? Well, that's not something I can easily answer. As with Dark Detective, I adore it for being a continuation of everything I love from Englehart's Bronze Age work, but I'm not sure that I could recommend it to the casual Batman fan. Perhaps this is one reason why it never got published (although there are several other possibilities, which I'll address later), but just speaking personally, I find that it's also one of this story's biggest appeals.

Immediately following the events of DD2, the third part takes Batman to London where he tries to forget his angst over Silver St. Cloud by facing off against a quartet of classic villains, including one who technically hasn't appeared since 1939! Meanwhile in Gotham, Silver continues to support and care for her ex-fiancée, Senator Evan Gregory, who is still running for governor despite being maimed by the Joker, who is himself in pretty rough shape. And, of course, Harvey Dent also has his role to play, but to describe it would spoil the story.

Without further ado, I shall review this six-part story that never was (and hopefully may be, someday) along with the unfinished artwork by Marshall Rogers, who passed away after finishing the first issue. As with the scripts, this artwork has been generously provided to us by Steve Englehart, whom I cannot thank enough for this rare and bittersweet opportunity. So let's dive into it, shall we?

DD3 opens "just two minutes" after the finale of DD2, with Batman escaping from the Joker's flaming hideout, wearing a makeshift mask after he used his cowl to bandage poor, stupid Evan Gregory's poor, stupid wounds that he suffered in that house of horrors. As you'll recall, Silver St. Cloud had been kidnapped by the Joker, and the two men in her life rushed into that deathtrap to save her, but only Batman was smart and capable enough to survive unscathed.

While all three survived, their relationships all seemed broken beyond repair. Evan lost a couple limbs and begged his ex-fiancée to stay with him, despite the fact that she cheated on him. Bruce took this opportunity to call off his relationship with Silver, telling her to stay with Evan, who needed her. Silver, in turn, didn't take too kindly to being handed around like a prop, and called Bruce out for being an emotionally-stunted jerkface. Let's recap, shall we?

Having thus ensured Evan and Silver's safety, Batman escapes the flaming wreckage to slip into the night, lamenting about how Silver was "absolutely right" about him. Being Bruce, he doesn't even consider trying to change himself, and instead falls back on reassuring himself that Batmaning is a full-time job—no time for love, Dr. Jones—and that he and Silver never had a future together.

"Silver's a wonderful woman... and the best thing she ever did was show me we can't be together! Being the Batman means flying solo!" While I'm not exactly the biggest Bruce/Silver shipper, I like how this fallout showcases the extent of how lousy Bruce is with relationships, putting up walls and justifying his brokenness by focusing on his holy mission against crime. In keeping with the Bronze Age take on the character, Englehart's Bruce Wayne is still human and flawed rather than the cold-hearted perfectionist that we've too often seen over the last few decades.

As you can see, the remainder of this epilogue/prologue is spent on the Joker, who appears alongside Doctor Double-X, the former D-list-supervillain-turned-clone-expert-because-why-not who was responsible for the Harvey Dent clones in DD2. It's nice to see the return of Englehart's sensible reworking of a forgettable villain as someone who put away the garish Starman-esque costume in favor of a more legal (if ethically suspect) line of work. And of course, it's especially great to get another serving of Englehart's fantastic Joker, however briefly. Last we saw of the Harlequin of Hate (forgive me, I'm in a Bronze Age mood), he was on fire, laughing manically and running into the burning house to look for a mirror, which makes perfect Joker-sense.

That moment's probably up there in the top five Joker non-deaths for me, right up there with... well, with the end of Englehart and Rogers' original Laughing Fish finale. Unlike many of those other non-deaths, however, Englehart doesn't just bring the Joker back unscathed, with the status quo button having been reset. No, he's scathed like hell, covered with horrible burns, his "face and body twisted with burned flesh." In short, this is the Joker, served extra crispy.

To recover, he decided—for no good reason in particular that I could figure out—to hole up at the hideout of Doctor Double-X's place. Of all places to convalesce, why go there? Even Dr.XX himself is baffled, saying that the Joker needs "a burn man and a plastic surgeon," but the Joker says, "Not so. The chemicals... that drew my flesh into a Joker mask... are still infused. As I heal, my body will return to its... abnormal shape." Oh... kayyyy?

First of all, it never occurred to me that Englehart and Rogers' Joker was one whose grin was permanently affixed to his face. I've noticed that many people (including Neal Adams, as I recall) seem to think that the Joker's face was twisted into a permanent grin ala Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, which just isn't true, as the Joker has displayed the ability to frown all the way back to his first appearance! Even besides that, I loathe the perma-grin because it limits his expressiveness, but I'm willing to make an exception for Englehart and Rogers' take on the character. It's a testament to their talents that they can make make perma-grin Joker such a richly charismatic force with just the one facial expression.

Secondly, and more bizarrely, am I to understand that the chemicals actually gave the Joker a kinda-sorta healing factor ability? Not so much in the Wolverine sense, but more like a time-delayed cartoon character, who will eventually snap like a rubber band back to his original form? What I'm asking is, is the Joker Judge Doom?

As delightfully terrifying as that image is, I'm not sure how I feel about this, especially since I dislike the presence of anything supernatural or superpowered about the Joker. As with Batman, I prefer the Joker to be a human being rather than a force of nature or an ~~agent of chaos~~ or any of that bullshit. That said, at least Englehart's implication here would explain how the hell the Joker's survived his many near-death experiences, not to mention how he was able to grow back all the teeth that Batman's knocked out over the years. Despite these regenerative abilities, however, the Joker regrettably sits this story out. This is sad for those of us who adore Englehart's Joker, but good news for the rest of the villains who need the spotlight too.

For instance, there's Harvey Dent, a major player in this story even though he spends the majority of his time off-panel. When last we left Harvey, he'd lost one clone (his good one), been betrayed by another (the evil one), and was left broken both physically and psychologically because it sucks to be him. In keeping with that theme, it only takes one page for him to get screwed over again. No sooner is he healed up enough to be moved than he's attacked and kidnapped by his Evil Clone (as he's referred to in the script), who is determined to continue ruining his "father's" life.

First off, I'm not really sure how much Evil Clone's plan to frame Harvey will really hold water, as it seemed rather obvious to me that he was being abducted rather than rescued. Then again, people in Gotham tend to be stupid, so hey, maybe it'll work. It's not like anyone's willing to give Harvey the benefit of the doubt here. Regardless, what's really interesting about this—besides Harvey's adorably pathetic whining as he runs into the alleyway—is how this further explores the motivations behind Evil Clone and what his actions say about Harvey's own psychology.

When Evil Clone made his appearance at the end of Harvey's story in DD2, I thought the twist of there being two clones was bizarre yet fascinating. On one hand, clones are a silly trope and the idea of splitting Harvey up into "good" and "evil" clones—with corresponding physical appearances to his own face—seems like a campy gimmick, especially for those of us who are weary of seeing Harvey's psychology split into simplistic depictions of his two sides. What made the clones work in DD2, however, was how deceptively rich and complex these clones were in terms of being external psychological mirrors for Harvey himself. For one thing, the "good" clone was arguably not very good at all, depending on how you look at him.

In DD2, the "good" clone was defined not by morality, but rather his love for Harvey. After all, a truly "good" clone that embodied the better parts of the old Harvey Dent wouldn't have attacked a crime-fighter in order to protect a murderer like Two-Face. Harvey commissioned the Good Clone in the first place so that he could see what his life would have been like if he hadn't become Two-Face, but what he got instead was the living embodiment of his embattled self-esteem, just as Evil Clone represents the embodiment of his self-loathing.

In so doing, Englehart came up with a fascinating—if offbeat—new way to examine the tormented psychology of Harvey Dent. Instead of representing vague concepts like good and evil, Englehart defined Harvey as being in a constant battle between self-worth and self-loathing, and the only thing that keeps him together and allows him to function is his unwavering, fanatical adherence to capital-f Fate. When Good Clone was killed, Harvey should have been devastated, but he instead reverted back to the idea that everything that happened was Fate's decree. When Evil Clone showed up to spite Two-Face by helping Batman, Harvey lamented that this all happened because "Fate is playing tricks!"

Perversely, Englehart even reinforced Harvey's obsession with Fate by having the coin flip save his life from the explosion that killed Good Clone, whose free will led to him walking into the Joker's trap. Harvey thus had every reason to believe that Fate preserved him even as it then made him its plaything. Just as with the Harvey Kent in the original Golden Age trilogy, Englehart's Two-Face is actually given justifications for his adherence to Fate, which just serves to make him all the more unsettling and tragic.

Which finally brings us back to DD3, and the return of Englehart's Two-Face. On the run from the police and unable to flip the coin, Harvey needs a hideout and a pair of hands to help him out of his manacles. So where does he go? To Doctor Double-X's hideout, naturally! "The clone you made entirely from my evil side—the clone you forgot to tell me about—has put me in this position. You owe me. Get these chains off!" Ah, so we get a bit of follow-up on Dr.XX's involvement in the whole surprise-Evil-Clone bit!

After reluctantly freeing Harvey, Dr.XX is anxious to get rid of his second unwanted houseguest, but Harvey refuses to do anything until he flip for it. "Well, we'll let Fate decide. I've had to go too long on my own! I couldn't flip!" "Coinus interruptus," Dr.XX mutters, which is a terrible joke and I wish I'd thought of it myself. Harvey flips the coin and "Fate decrees" that he leave Dr.XX's place to find another hideout, much to Dr.XX's relief. "Thank you, Fate!" According to the Joker later (who makes his last appearance in an off-panel line at the end of this scene), it would have been a "bloodbath if Fate'd said 'stay,'" but I'm not so sure. Frankly, I would have loved to have seen what would have happened if you put Harvey, Dr.XX, and the Joker under the same roof for an extended period of time.

I smell ♫siiitcom!♫

Before he leaves, however, Harvey flips a second time and decides to forgive Dr.XX for the Evil Clone's creation. I'd still kinda liked to have known why Dr.XX created the Evil Clone in the first place (seriously, was it an accident? Did he do it for science and/or shits and/or giggles?), but alas, no answers are forthcoming. Instead, Dr.XX asks if there are no hard feelings, to which the departing Two-Face flatly replies, "We're all just pawns."

This seems to be the defining line of dialogue for Englehart's Two-Face, and—if one could be permitted to read too much into things—there could even be a meta aspect to his philosophy if one were to read "Fate" as the author who is writing this story. In a very real way, Harvey's not wrong, which just might make his plight all the more tragic. It would mean that Harvey is the only character who truly understands how powerless everyone is, but no one listens to him because they think he's crazy!

It would also be a clever way to deal with the annoying way that Two-Face stories have his coin flip serve the plot, always landing scarred side up as the story demands rather than being genuinely unpredictable. There's a lot of potential for this tragically meta take on Two-Face, especially given how he'd play off with the playful fourth-wall-breaking nature of Englehart and Rogers' Joker, who plays with the very nature of sequential art itself.

Eh, but again, I'm reading too much of my own ideas into this. Regardless of how much Englehart may or may not have intended any of these implications, it's still a fascinating Two-Face that examines Harvey's duality in a powerful, tragic, personal way while balancing it perfectly with his obsession with Fate. That said, there are aspects about Englehart's Harvey that I dislike, but we'll discuss those in due time. For now, it's finally time to return to Batman and the actual plot of DD3.

Election Day is a week away, and with Evan Gregory still in the race ("HE FOUGHT THE JOKER! HE'LL FIGHT FOR YOU, TOO!" a campaign billboard declares) with Silver by his side, Batman does his best to distract himself by punching the Riddler in the face. Sadly, Eddie doesn't appear for more than a couple panels, spouting one joke/riddle—"Why did the dog lick the potato? You've never gotten that one, and now you never w-"—before getting "laid out cold." It's a shame, I would have liked to have had more of Englehart's Riddler, given that he wrote a fun Eddie in The Primal Riddle, another entertainingly weird tale that had been published in Legends of the Dark Knight.

With the Riddler subdued, Batman must face a far deadlier threat! Oh, wait, never mind, it's just Killer Moth. Seriously, though, I will say right away that this story features one of my favorite takes on the character, one that makes him both pathetic and sympathetic, although our first impression of him suggests that he might be more of a threat than you'd think, as the evening news shows him flying above London, blowing shit up Green-Goblin-style, robbing armored trucks, and issuing a boasting letter to Scotland Yard reading, "I am the kingpin of British crime. I love a land with no Batman!"

I had intended to try cobbling together an image of Killer Moth's head on Wilson Fisk's body and have him drinking tea with scones, but it just became too much work, so pretend I did that.

No one is more shocked by this proclamation than Killer Moth himself, who responds to the news with "What the flaming hell—?! I didn't send that letter! I've got my biggest heist ever</b> right around the corner! Somebody's screwing with me!" That's right, the real Killer Moth went to London to get away from Batman and commit a few crimes on the fly, only to have someone frame him and issue a great big "HEY BATMAN, COME GET ME, NEENER NEENER!" overseas. At first, I kinda wondered if there would be two Killer Moths, one for Cameron Van Cleer and the other for Drury Walker, but no, there's a whole other plot at work here to make Mothy's life hell.

Rogers' concept art for an unknown project, which some have mistakenly assumed to be Dark Detective III. As you'll see later on, Rogers was to have reused this design for Englehart's Mothy.

Embracing the opportunity to get out of Gotham, Batman heads to London in hopes of forgetting all about Silver. There's a nice moment with Alfred where he can tell that Bruce is just trying to distract himself, no matter how much he wants to admit it, and when Bruce snaps at Alfred to keep any advice he has "to yourself," Alfred snaps back, "Sir! I have known you all your life and I know that you are hurt by Miss St. Cloud and I will not be silent when you are hurt!"

I never, ever tire of seeing Alfred politely, lovingly, verbally smacking some sense into Bruce. It's especially nice in this instance, as Bruce backs off and apologizes, another thing we don't always see from modern Batman. Regardless, he maintains that Silver St. Cloud is "a cross I have to bear," because to be in love with Silver or anyone else would be irreconcilable with the "solemn oath" that Bruce made to become Batman and avenge his parents' death. Notably, when Alfred suggests that Thomas and Martha Wayne would have preferred that Bruce settle down with a nice girl rather than put on a costume and punch the mentally ill, Bruce agrees with him, but says that he made that vow for himself, not for them, a rather poignant distinction that had never occurred to me before.

It's touches like this which I love about Englehart's Batman work, even when he's treading ground which has been covered by others over the decades (many of whom are following the tropes that Englehart himself introduced). Even with a theme as oft-told as Batman being alone because of his mission, Englehart still manages to find new angles and wrinkles that make it feel new, at least to fans who are willing to appreciate the details. I don't blame anyone who wouldn't see anything other than the same old, same old here, but to me, it reads like a fresh take on a classic theme.

After seemingly settling the matter of Silver, Batman heads out into London (which, it should be noted for the sake of foreshadowing, has been suffering from an outbreak of Bird Flu) for a Moth hunt, only to run into a most unexpected ghost from his past: Dala, who first appeared alongside the Mad Monk in the classic Golden Age story, Batman Versus the Vampire, written by Gardner Fox with atmospheric art by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff. In that story, she was a vampire assistant to the Monk, a hooded vampire who tries to drink the life of Julie Madison, Bruce's first love interest, whom Bruce recalls as being "the girl I couldn't love then."

Despite the story's deserved reputation as a classic, neither of the villains were really characters, just standard Dracula/Bride-type vampires who had no backstory (why was he a monk? Is there a story there?) nor motivation beyond drinking blood. They just showed up to be spooky and dangerous until they were killed by Batman, who infamously shot them both with silver bullets! If you're thinking "Hey, silver bullets don't kill vampires," don't worry, Englehart is way ahead of you, which is why she's still alive (or rather, not undead) in the first place!

Englehart isn't the first writer to use Dala since that story, but he's the first one to use the original Dala and to treat the original Mad Monk story as canon. Both characters have been reimagined for new continuities, most famously in 2006's Batman and the Mad Monk by Matt Wagner, who turned Dala into a gothy groupie/cultist who hoped to get turned into a vampire by the Monk. Basically, instead of being a Bride of Dracula, she was a murderous Suicide Girl who worshiped a blood-drinking cult leader who may or may not have been a real vampire. While she's totally my type (in appearance, I mean, less so with the murderous fanaticism), I'm not really a fan of this take or the story in general. Despite Wagner's talents, I found this to be a rather bland remake that disregarded the more interesting aspects of the original.

I preferred the Dala who appeared in the 1980's by writer Gerry Conway and artists Gene Colan and Don Newton, who introduced her as a seductively mysterious love interest for Dick Grayson. In Gerry Conway's version, she was once was the cruel sister of a plantation owner before they both were turned into vampires by a vengeful Haitian slave, a twist on the characters that I'd be interested to pick apart some other time. Like, why would a vampire plantation owner from Louisiana decide to become a monk? Ultimately, she and the Monk nearly succeed in turning both Batman and Robin into vampires before they're stopped by Alfred and a Van Helsing-style vampire hunter, who captured them "alive" and took them prisoner to some unknown location, with no explanation about what he planned to do with them. You can read a great and comprehensive overview of Gerry Conway's Dala/Monk arc here in five parts.

My point is, neither of these Dalas were, strictly speaking, the same Dala from the first appearance. I think it's interesting that Englehart has decided to bring her back given that Conway's 80's run largely served as his own sequel to Englehart's DD1 in the 70's, with one of the main subplots focusing on the returns of Rupert Thorne and Hugo Strange, a storyline which also featured the grand return of DD1's take on Deadshot, who will be appearing alongside Dala in DD3!

As such, it seems fitting for Englehart to be the first to bring Dala back to her roots by directly following the original Gardner Fox story and expanding upon its long-term effects on Batman. Most importantly, Englehart is the first writer to not ignore the fact that Batman used a gun to kill vampires! "Dala wasn't human," Batman recalls, "but when I saw the light go out of her eyes, I swore never to kill again-- and that's another vow I've kept!" In a neat trick, Englehart manages to retain one of the more troubling Golden Age moments and finds a way to tie it into his "no killing" rule.

Despite the flashback to the Monk, that character never appears, nor is any mention made of him again. If Dala survived the silver bullets, then surely the Monk must have too? This unanswered question bugged me.

Anticipating Batman's arrival after "Killer Moth's" message to the world, Dala decides to seduce Batman into becoming her vampire consort, or so she claims at first. But after a few pages of them fighting and her flirts and taunts (as she can tell that Batman's recently been hurt by a woman), Batman realizes that what she really wants is for Batman to finish the job he started in their first appearance.

That's right, there's apparently a vampire rehab clinic in London! As so, Dala reluctantly agrees to give Batman's offer a chance, checking herself into the clinic to get off the man-sauce. There's no true cure for vampirism, seeing as how she's undead and all, but the treatment involves five blood-free days of drug treatments and gradual exposure to sunlight.

When I learned that Dala would feature prominently in DD3, I hadn't expected that hers would be an arc of redemption, much less one that is explicitly the vampire version of recovery from substance abuse: "Take it one dawn at a time." The metaphor is more text than subtext, something that would surely impress the Garth Marenghis of the world, but such bluntness is rather refreshing.

On her second day of recovery, we learn a little bit about Dala's past as a 26-year-old spoiled aristocrat from Hungary in 1200 AD, and how much she loved being a creature of the night before it all became boring and pointless after eight hundred years. Dala is uncertain about the treatment, still preferring that Batman just kill her and be done with it, but we start to see some glimmers of hope when the sunlight doesn't hurt quite as much as it did the day before.

Unfortunately, the seeds of her eventual doom are present even in this scene, as it's clear that she's dependent on the support of Batman, whom she still desires as a lover and/or snack. In either case, the last thing Batman wants is to "get involved with another woman," and thus he opts for the route of cold logic, letting her lean on him while mentally preparing to give her the "I just got out of a bad relationship and I'm not ready to commit to a lifetime of eternal darkness, sorry, can we just be friends" speech. If you think that this is all heading to disaster, you're right.

And speaking of disaster, the next scene gives us the big confrontation by Killer Moth, who Batman finds thanks to the meddling impostor, who releases a swarm of moths nearby where the real Killer Moth is trying to have a nice, quiet, private break-in at a jewelry store. When Batman arrives, Mothy reacts with an understandable "Dammit! DAMMIT!" and denies ever sending that dare to Batman in the first place. "That was someone trying to screw me! So now I have to screw you."

… Y'know, there are many reasons why I'm sad that this comic never got made, but I'm especially disappointed that I'll never be able to post that panel out of context on Tumblr.

During their battle, Mothy waxes aloud on his motivations for becoming a criminal in the first place. Just like Bruce Wayne, Mothy—who I'm assuming to be Cameron Van Cleer—was a child of wealth and privilege, but he was bored with life until he discovered Batman's existence and became a strange kind of anti-fanboy, studying the Dark Knight's methods so that he could become the perfect anti-Batman! "Unlike so many who want to simply replicate what their idols do, I wanted to create my own field. You had law and order, so I took crime." It's a cool new spin on the classic version of Killer Moth before he was considered a joke. Assuming there ever truly was such a time.

On one hand, the text describes him as a formidable foe. On the other hand...

It's interesting to think that he's a evil fan (like Syndrome but without the bitterness) rather than just an opportunist who saw a racket in being the Batman of the underworld. It makes him both pathetic and pitiable to think that he had such a hole in his life that he dedicated himself fully to emulating and defeating Batman, which has the simultaneous effect of making him somewhat formidable. "Whoever challenged the Batman in my name is going to learn why that name's Killer Moth!"

Aw, he's cute, isn't he? As if to drive home just how far Mothy is out of his league, Englehart next brings Deadshot back into his universe for the first time since he and Rogers revitalized the character back in their original 1977 run. Up to that point, Deadshot had been only a minor one-off villain who briefly worked a protection racket by pretending to be a vigilante. He might have remained obscure if an odd scheduling issue at DC hadn't necessitated that Englehart and Rogers squeeze in an additional part to DD1, wherein they made ol' Floyd here relevant for the first time in thirty years!

After his comeback in DD1, Deadshot made a couple appearances in Batman comics by Gerry Conway and Double Moench over the next decade, until his personality was ultimately defined by writer John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell in the pages of Suicide Squad. Notably, Englehart's version seems to ignore Ostrander's entirely in favor of writing Floyd in a manner more in keeping with the '77 appearance, and while he's entitled to do that with the character he himself revitalized, it's jarring read as the two Deadshots read like totally different characters.

For one thing, you would never see a smarmily smiling Deadshot in Ostrander and Luke McDonnell's Suicide Squad. That's more Captain Boomerang's personality.

Ostrander's Deadshot is a cold-blooded, amoral shell of a man with a death wish. I almost hesitate to call him a villain, as he takes no joy from killing and he's never cruel when he doesn't have to be. He's more akin to a professional hardass like Richard Stark's Parker than an assassin like Bullseye, and he's capable of performing good deeds, even if it's just for the sake of practicality. Still, I doubt you'd ever see Deadshot the way he's introduced in DD3, kindly giving a lost ball to a little girl and saying, "Don't cry, sweetie. Here you go." This is the first indication that we're not getting the Post-Crisis Deadshot we all know and love, but rather a version of the character who hasn't been seen since the Bronze Age.

Deadshot meets up with the mysterious main villain of DD3, who turns out to be none other than the Penguin, another returning rogue from the original Englehart/Rogers run! The idea of Floyd and Ozzie's partnership may seem strange to those who remember that first story, considering how the latter screwed over the former during their sole interaction, but I suppose that both are professional enough to let bygones be bygones. No need to dwell on "Who stole whose laser-beam monocle," or "who ditched who to rot in prison."

Turns out, the Penguin had framed Mothy and lured Batman to London in the hopes that Killer Moth would eliminate the Dark Knight, a plan which seems optimistic at best and stupid at worst, since Batman probably wouldn't have thought to go to London in the first place! Englehart acknowledges this later on, explaining that the Penguin had hoped to torment Batman with the knowledge that he'd been distracted with chasing Killer Moth while failing to prevent the Penguin's schemes from unfolding. Ah, hubris: ever the downfall of many a villain. There's a lot more to Englehart's take on Ozzie to come, but for now, let's look at this twist on Deadshot.

With Moth out of the picture, Penguin opts for Plan B: hire Deadshot to fail to kill Batman. Of course, we all know how that'll go, but what's interesting is how Englehart uses this as a chance to develop Deadshot's motivations, depicting him as another anti-Batman just like Killer Moth! Just as with Mothy, Floyd was a rich kid who was bored and found new excitement in Batman's existence. Instead of seeing Batman as a role model, however, he saw Batman as the perfect competition, and thus he chose to "strip myself of all my privilege. So I can make my living by skill and wit. So I can play for stakes of life and death. So I can be-- Deadshot."

The idea of the Batman villains being mirrors to Batman is nothing new, certainly, but I like the parallels which Englehart is drawing here, as it's cool to see what Cameron and Floyd took away from Batman while missing the point entirely. In their own ways, they saw Batman as something to bring excitement into their stagnant lives, making them both fanboys of a twisted sort. Considering how many awful, cruel fanboys today seem to miss the point of the heroic characters they claim to love, there's a certain resonance to these new takes on Mothy and Deadshot.

Unlike Killer Moth, however, this Deadshot has a twisted moral code. In a later scene, he stalks and kills a mugger who attacked an old lady, all while narrating about how even a consummate crime-fighter like Batman doesn't understand how "these days, everybody's a crook. Kids download mp3's, the government tortures people. All the same idea. Everybody's gettin' theirs, and morality's just for show."

While it's a fine idea to update characters to reflect the real-world events of the time, this particular mentality seems like it would have felt dated even by 2006 or 2007. I'm not sure how one could have Floyd express the same sentiment in a more timeless fashion, but either way, Englehart's Deadshot is a Floyd Lawton whose justifications are borne out of Bush-era cynicism, mixed with a philosophy of Ditko-style absolutism: "Good people should be helped, bad people should be killed. Don't agree with who's good and who's bad? Get your own gun."

While this mentality isn't too far off from Ostrander's Deadshot, what really sets this Floyd apart is how he sees himself as the hero, the one guy who sees and accepts the world for how it is, whereas Batman is little more than "a deranged hall monitor" who deserves to be killed for standing in "the way of the world." Under Englehart, Deadshot becomes a sort of cynical anti-Anarky, someone who sees Batman as a well-intentioned meddler whose brand of crime-fighter impedes true justice. It's not a bad take, but the handling is the a bit muddled, since I'm not sure how one can reconcile "there are good people and there are bad people, A=A!" with "everybody's a crook, Donald Rumsfeld and Napster!"


And yet, despite his callous view of the world, this Deadshot is capable of remarkable kindness, protecting innocent old ladies and helping a little kid find her ball. Where do the "good people" fit into his "everybody's a crook" mentality? Are they crooks too? I guess the idea is that, to Floyd, everyone is guilty of something, and everyone is entitled to decide for themselves who is good, who is evil, and who should be shot. Or maybe in Floyd's world, there are simply good crooks and bad crooks. As with his takes on Two-Face and the Scarecrow, Englehart's Deadshot isn't my ideal interpretation of the character, but he's interesting and complex enough that I want to see more.

First, though, let's go back to Killer Moth. The beleaguered rogue uses his detective skills—which he totally has!—to learn that the Penguin was behind the frame-up, and the two briefly clash before Mothy discovers that he's out of his league. In a great scene, these two unloved, unappreciated villains duke it out, with the Penguin always managing to get the upper hand. "I have ever been underestimated, Moth," the Penguin gloats, which is sadly true for people both inside and outside of Batman comics who think that Ozzie is a joke. Granted, there are more convincing ways of disproving that than by defeating Killer Moth, but if that's good enough for Batgirl, I say that's good enough for the Penguin.

But this isn't the only case that Englehart makes for the Penguin being a legitimate threat. Ozzie threatens to kill Mothy if he even thinks about tipping Batman off on the Penguin's plans, and in this moment, Englehart describes the Penguin appearing "as evil as he can be—which isn't as evil as the Joker, but our still looks very intense about this," and that "we begin to think we've underestimated him," which might be more impressive if he were trouncing someone other than Killer Moth. The Penguin then suggests that Killer Moth return to Gotham to "carry out your mid-level plots" after backhandedly praising Mothy as "a fine specimen of a mid-level villain." Ouch.

Thus defeated by the Batman and ruined by the Penguin, Killer Moth tucks his wings between his legs and starts packing for home, lamenting how "nothing has gone right since I came to London! To hell with it!" Poor Mothy. This isn't the first time that he's tried and failed to avoid the Bat-family by leaving Gotham to commit crimes in another city, since there was that one Bronze Age story where he went to Washington D.C., home to then-Senator Barbara Gordon. Gee, maybe he really HAS been a loser for longer than I'd thought!

I bring this moment up because this story was written by none other than Steve Englehart, in his sole published use of Killer Moth! I like that Englehart's characters have their own consistent traits and themes throughout his stories, even if the average fan wouldn't notice. It adds a unique sense of continuity to his work, or at least it would've, if DD3 had ever been published.

With Killer Moth's story seemingly over, the story goes back to Deadshot, who gets Batman's attention by shooting a gorilla at the zoo. Incidentally, the gorilla was named "Bobo," and while I know that was the name of a famous real-life gorilla, I can't help but imagine this as a tragic crossover between Batman and Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's a rather cruel way to draw Batman out into the open, but it proves effective nonetheless, and the two engage in a fierce battle that lasts about six pages, all of which would have been amazing to have seen as fully depicted by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. In lieu of that, have a scan of this cover of a DD1 reprint featuring most of the relevant characters!

The fight, of course, ends in Floyd's defeat, but not before Batman happens to spot another news headline about "BIRD FLU!" and finally comes to the horrific realization of who Deadshot's employer is and what he has planned. That's right: the Penguin is going to expose all of London to a pandemic of bird flu. This twist is rather charmingly dated, especially given how the story treats bird flu as a far deadlier disease than it actually turned out to be, a plague so dire that both Batman and Deadshot are appalled that the Penguin would go over the edge like this. As foreshadowed by Englehart's direction of how "we may have underestimated" the Penguin, this story attempts to challenge what we know about Ozzie, starting with a whole new origin.

In what may be the first instance of the Penguin explicitly being depicted as British ("to the manor born"), we learn Ozzie is the black sheep of a wealthy and once-respected family who turned to crime in order to rob from the high society types who mocked and excluded him all his life. Because of his appearance, Ozzie's "crapulous contemporaries" never let him into any of their clubs and derided him as "needle-nose" and "waddle-bucket," and thus he now steals "their treasures for my own delectation." This is a fascinating new motivation for the character, and certainly one of the more sympathetic reasons for him to have become a thief, which then blossomed into full-blown supervillainy once he found a worthy opponent in the Batman, "the only fitting foe, if I may say, for a gentleman."

Unfortunately, no sooner is this fascinating new motivation introduced than it gets subverted by showing how the Penguin has inexplicably decided to cross the line into "pure evil" territory by deciding to unleash the deadly plague of bird flu (just go with it) upon the city that refused to accept him. In a plan reminiscent of Batman Returns, he outfits an army of penguins with eggs that—once hatched at the push of a button—will unleash the plague, and once that happens, no man will ever mock him again, and the name "Penguin" shall no longer be used as a tool of mockery against him.

United by their horror at the Penguin's scheme, Batman and Deadshot arguing about who gets to take Ozzie down before deciding to team-up for great justice. Or rather, Batman goes ahead to visit to the manor of Lady Lucretia Cobblepot, only to find Deadshot there waiting for him. "We're partners on the Penguin hunt, aren't we, old buddy?" Before Batman can protest beyond a taciturn "no," they are both ushered into Lady Cobblepot's sitting room, where we get a bit more insight into the Penguin's shameful status in a family which would prefer that he would just be locked up in prison to rot and be forgotten.

Despite her disdain, Lady Cobblepot understands Oswald, and explains that as he is "the last in a long line of gentlemen," and that "outlawry is simply a great game to him. He means no real harm." While Batman has to then correct her on that count and explain how the Penguin has "lost it," that scene made me wish that Englehart hadn't gone the bird flu route and instead developed this neat take on the Penguin as a gentleman and gamesman who enjoys the sport of facing off against Batman as much as he likes to exact some semblance of justice against snooty high society.

By going the route of attempted genocide, Englehart abandoned what could have been a charming and sympathetic new take on a much-misunderstood and unloved rogue. For instance, Englehart even manages to redeem one of the grosser aspects of the Penguin from Batman Returns, having him choose to live in a sewer due to a romantic attachment to the caverns in the Arabian Nights tales, as we learn via Lady Cobblepot. It's a beautiful idea on Englehart's part, and part of the Penguin's personality which I wish had been explored rather than used as a jumping-off-point for his descent into monotonousness.

Still, Englehart uses that descent as a way to develop Deadshot's own character arc. While discussing the Penguin case with Batman, Deadshot reflects how he—just like Bruce, Mothy, and Pengers—was rich, and could have enjoyed the idle life, but he desired something else entirely. And just like Mothy and Pengers, he used Batman as a twisted inspiration to become something corrupted and empty, which he only now comes to realize: "I could have done anything. But I shoot people. I set out to be like you, but each of us is different — I faced different realities, I made difference decisions. Pretty soon I was nothing at all like you."

Again, there's nothing innovative about the concept of Batman's rogues being twisted mirrors of the Dark Knight, but usually, those stories seem to be focused on Batman's perspective and how these villains represent how things could have gone differently for Bruce if circumstances had been different. It's amazing to see the other side of that, to examine how these villains might have become better people if only they'd made better decisions with the cards they'd been dealt. The pathos and regret from Killer Moth, Deadshot, and the Penguin really sell this theme in an effective way, and I only wish that Harvey himself had gotten in on this too, as few other villains represent the tragedy of being Bruce's dark mirror as Two-Face can.

Going back to Deadshot, Batman points out to Floyd that he isn't just the cynical nihilist he pretends to be, that "you'll fight for innocents." How Batman knows this is beyond me, as I don't recall any evidence of Batman witnessing Deadshot protecting innocent people (Bobo not included, apparently), but it allows him to tweak Floyd by pointing out that "Maybe there's a hero trying to get out." Floyd rejects this idea, because of course he would, but I've always loved the idea that Deadshot had a moral center which he refuses to consciously acknowledge. It's one of the things which made him so goddamn fascinating in Ostrander's Suicide Squad, so it's great to see it explored here, even in Englehart's unique take on the character.

This seems like a good place to stop for now. Sorry for meandering around more than usual, folks. Click HERE to read the second half of DD3, wherein I'll try to focus more on the actual plot details as we ramp up to the grand (but frustrating) conclusion of DD3! Will Batman and Deadshot stop the Penguin in time? Will Dala be released from the Betty Ford Vampire Clinic with a new lease on unlife? Will Killer Moth manage to get a flight back to Gotham at a reasonable rate, and if so, what will his in-flight movie be? And, hey, wasn't Silver St. Cloud supposed to be in this? Have I been entirely ignoring her subplot with Evan Gregory to save it for next review? Yes, yes I have.

In the meantime, if you're interested enough to read the scripts for themselves, you can purchase them directly from Steve Englehart himself over at his website!

(Disclaimer: All comic art, including the unpublished pencils, are © DC Comics)
Tags: batgirl, deadshot, dick grayson, don newton, dusty abell, gerry conway, joker, killer moth, marshall rogers, matt wagner, penguin, riddler, steve englehart, stories that never were

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