The Secret Parts 1 and 2
We’re having a two for one special here at The Batman Universe so get your discount cards ready and make sure you swipe your I.D. correctly! OK, we haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but it’s a digital planet so who knows what the future brings. Fortunately, this review is free and you still get your two for one! Although if you don’t like it there is no getting your money back!
There is a new adventure on the docket for Supes and Bats and the storyline is provided by Joshua Hale Fialkov with the pencils in the first issue by Adriana Melo and Tomas Giorello in the second.
Our story starts with very lucky Jimmy Olsen snapping pictures of a lovely lady when a body washes up on the shoreline behind her. (I guess Jimmy gets his own two for one special.) The “DB” turns out to be a reporter friend of Perry White’s named Remington who was working on a story exposing the identity of the Batman for the Gotham Gazette. White figures it was the Bat that did the dirty deed and sends his best reporter, Clark Kent, to Gotham to get the story and nail Batman “to the wall.”
Kent goes reluctantly and arrives in Gotham to the whispered welcome of Batman that his super hearing picks up. It’s not long before an argument ensues with Kent telling Bats he wants to help and Batman telling Kent to basically get lost and this is his town. I like the way Fialkov sets Bats and Supes against each other right away. Batman always has an edge but these two are supposed to be friends right? Well, Batman is a little edgier than usual with his identity on the line and he fires a one liner at Kent telling him this story is “below his pay grade”.
Batman should know better that Kent isn’t going to walk away from a big story, especially one involving his “best friend”. So the course is set for the two to proceed with their own investigations. This is also a nice touch by Fialkov because it sets our two heroes at odds even though they are pursuing the same goal. No doubt their efforts will dovetail but at what cost?
Kent goes to the Gotham Gazette while Batman heads off to Remington’s apartment to look for clues. Batman is a little rattled with his identity on the line and ends up burning the room with the police hot on his tail. Conversely, Clark Kent proceeds like the more calm and cool detective that Batman usually is. As Superman, he even seeks advice from Jim Gordon but gets the cool brush off there also. I guess there is no "Welcome Wagon" in Gotham.
Superman intercepts Batman as he is fleeing the cops he nearly torched and berates him for being “sloppy and reckless”. Batman confesses he missed something along the way but lucky for him Superman has been more thorough and presents him a box of Wayne Tech parts including one that still has a patent number on it.
This is the vital clue that ties Wayne Industries, Bruce Wayne and Batman all together and may even provide evidence of fraud on the part of Wayne. This "one in a thousand” mistake has shaken Batman to his very core. So badly that he refuses the help of his best friend and able partner Superman. Can you imagine being so shaken by your errors that you turn down the help of the one person most capable of solving them? It represents a different angle on Batman. Not the one of the Batman with the gruff exterior who needs no help because he is literally infallible. But a one that is very human and so shamed by his mistake that he spirals deeper into a solitude that even Superman can’t penetrate.
Part two of this interesting study of DC’s greatest heroes with their roles slightly reversed picks up with Batman swinging his way through the dark of Gotham musing on his self-inflicted misfortune. He reveals the depth of his insecurity by hoping it was Lexcorp that penetrated the normally impenetrable veneer he’s set up to protect himself. It’s hard for him to fathom this was the act of a single man. But larger than this, that single man was silenced. Is someone trying to protect Batman?
Someone else knows what is going on and this chills Batman even deeper. Why protect Batman and to what end? Altruism, or the more likely blackmail, or is it something worse?
Batman regains enough of his senses to start acting like a detective again. He susses out some clues from the Gotham Gazette that Remington was a drinker and if he is a drinker he has a favorite watering hole. Batman knows where there are drinks and people, there is talk.
Before we move on I picked up something I thought was strange and this pervades most of comics. The editor of the Gazette, Martin Mayne, lectures Batman on being a supposed “good guy” but who elected him and made him sheriff? In our world we have heroes but no “super” heroes. In the land of comics super heroes abound yet we still get resentment from the average Joe. Really? You’d think they’d be used to them by now? There is an alien flying around in tights with powers far beyond that of mortal men and whether they attract super villainy or it exists independently I can’t imagine anyone grousing about it now. Would Mayne rather have the heroes leave? It boggles the mind.
Batman swings off to the drinking establishment in question. Mayne takes one last swing at Batman philosophically about the truth. Batman says there is no truth just the fight. “And whose fault is that?” retorts Mayne. I wonder if this book’s writer, Fialkov, really want to tackle that age old question if a world would be better off without superheroes. I just can’t help but think that question would be superfluous in a world where they’ve always been there.
Kent goes off to Wayne Industries where he confronts Lucius Fox. Astoundingly, Fox lectures Kent in much the same fashion as Mayne did to Batman. Fox asks Kent if he is such a truth seeker why he wants to bring down the one man, Batman, that diligently protects the truth. Here, Fialkov explores the other side of the coin. Simply, superheroes exist and serve a vital function; do you really want to eliminate them? Either Fialkov is a poet philosopher or he is torn by the same existential crises we all wrestle with and he is working them out in the pages of a comic book.
These are all valid questions to be sure and I will be very interested to see if Fialkov come up with any answers in the conclusion of this three part series. It will be more instructive than the question of who really is protecting Batman and why?
Batman takes on the guise of Matches Malone at the Bar and learns there is a communal “drop box” where super secrets are shared with some unknown benefactor where the risk is probably not worth the reward.
Meanwhile, Kent waxes philosophically with Mayne about the cost of doing business and the price the pursuit of truth extracts from us all. What are you willing to do if there are mouths to feed and what is the cost?
These truths give pause to both heroes. (Superman even goes off planet to the moon and stares at his adoptive home. Is he questioning his right to be there?) Batman finds the drop box that actually bites him back when he reaches into it. It’s a calling card from the Joker. Stuck to it is a clue that Gazette editor Mayne is a part of the whole conspiracy and is basically feeding info to the Joker knowing that all this will spiral out of control. But that sells papers and selling papers feeds his family. I guess we know which side of the philosophical argument Mayne has come down on.
The story concludes with Kent bent over a dimly lit typewriter. He’s struggling over whether to print the truth for its own sake or stifle it to protect the greater good. As if to hammer home this point (pun extremely intended) the Joker is about make the decision for Kent. As seen in the frame below this will reveal another secret as the mallet will soon shatter upon impact. Superman’s identity will be known to the Joker and Superman will be faced with his own dilemma of whether the life of this man will be worth keeping his own secret safe.
Philosophy 101 concludes in part three of this series in about a month. Will Fialkov have the courage to address these questions or will we get the standard comic book ending wrapped up in a tidy super hero bow?
See you then.
Posted by Dave Healey
*Author's Note: It looks like DC is going to answer that age old comic book question of whether the world is better off with or without superheroes in the pages of Justice League #1 out August 31st. We get a panel from DC Comics “The New 52” where up until five years ago they didn’t exist! This would validate the resentment by Gotham Gazette editor Mayne about having them around. As Fialkov’s answer is already “in the can” we’ll have to see if he agrees with DC’s new philosophy.