Editor’s Note: With new release comics still waiting for a normal release schedule, the staff has decided to look back at a number of older issues to check out some other stories. The format of the reviews is the same, but we will be sure to tell you when the issue was originally released and where you can find it.
Flashback Notes: This issue was originally released in May 1997. This story takes place shortly after the events in Knightfall and Prodigal. Bruce Wayne has retaken the mantle of the Bat from Dick Grayson. You can find this issue on Comixology for purchase, part of the DC Universe subscription offerings, or in back issue bins at local comic shops or online.
Overview: While Batman tries to flesh out Bruce Wayne, a new villain rises to carve himself a place in the eyes of everyone else.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Batman observes three hijackers readying themselves to kill the driver of the truck they’re stealing. The lone unarmed thug notices him, but far too late to alert the others as Batman swiftly descends upon them, disarming them before ordering the driver to run for help. After the rescued man does so, Batman turns back to the task at hand, no longer restricted to pulling his punches, so to speak.
As he finishes the fight, tying them up into a tidy parcel for the GCPD, and heads home, he muses to himself that he is back to full form but needs to put more of an effort into Bruce Wayne in order to find the balance he lacks. It’s a lesson learned from the havoc Bane wreaked upon him and his city.
The next morning, we find ourselves at the West Gotham Post Office, where we meet Joseph Zedno, a letter carrier, and his boss. His boss, who seems to not even know Joseph’s name, informs Joseph that he’ll be out of a job in two weeks, due to too many complaints of undelivered mail.
An already horrible day gets progressively worse as Zedno delivers mail to less-than-grateful customers; being dismissed as nobody important and an inconvenience. With each disrespect, his pain grows to anger, with him leaving and mumbling threats.
At the Gotham Zoo, Bruce Wayne takes Vesper Fairchild on a date. The two flirt a bit, and we find out that their dating mainly consists of daylight quality time because Vesper is a night-time radio talk host.
That evening, Joseph Zedno degrades himself in front of a mirror at his home, which is littered with mail and a couple of barbells. He admonishes his tattoo (‘SOME BODY’, across his chest) as a lie, his body as worthless and invisible, and his overall status in life as a nobody. The only way he’ll ever accomplish anything is by becoming someone else. He covers his head with a fake mohawk, resembling the one sported by one of his ungrateful customers.
As Bruce slips into his comfortable Batman persona for the evening, informing Alfred to prepare a lunch date for himself and Vesper on Friday, Mohawk answers his door to find Zedno, dolled up as his lookalike, telling him that while his parcel is at Zedno’s house, he DID have a message to deliver, and stabs Mohawk through the abdomen with a large knife. Dipping his finger into Mohawk’s blood, he places a photo mockup of Mohawk’s face, with the word ‘Faceless’ written on it, and the message ‘Stop Me Before I Kill Themselves Again’ on the nearby wall. A few minutes later, Zedno continues on his ‘route’, noting how many more ‘deliveries’ he has tonight.
Batman perches on a clocktower, deliberating on the idea of balancing the light and the dark, hypothesizing that if he spends too much time as one and neglects the other, that he’ll lose all control of himself. Batman needs Bruce as much as Bruce needs Batman.
Elsewhere Zedno, now dressed up as Edna (a customer who had dismissed him earlier as ‘just the mailman’) finishes murdering his customer as her horrified husband enters upon them.
Batman notes how slow of a night it has been, completely unaware of the murders being committed down below.
The third customer, readying for a shower, enters his bathroom, and Zedno, a garish mockery of the man who had earlier complained that the mailman was too loud with his door slot and woke him, pops out from behind the shower curtain and tells him that now he’ll be able to sleep for a long time.
Two hours later, Batman responds to the Bat-Signal. Gordon informs him of the four deaths (the three customers and Edna’s husband Irv) the police received from a call from the killer himself. We are told that not only have the victims been murdered, but that the killer has also ‘scalped’ their faces, to be used as masks or trophies. The two toss around guesses to the ‘why’ of the scalping, and Gordon hands over the preliminary reports. Batman promises to look them over during the day before heading out into the city once more.
The next morning, Zedno returns to his day job as a postal worker, as clueless as to who Joseph is as his boss was the previous day, tries to create small talk, reiterating the thankless job of being a mailman. Zedno keeps his answers short and dismissive, except when he alludes to the fact that he still offers night time ‘special deliveries’.
Vesper Fairchild is ordering roses for Bruce at a florist and on her way out accidentally bumps into Zedno, who happens to be the carrier for the florist shop. As she walks away, Joseph grumbles a death threat on her but stops himself because she’s not on his route. The florist, however, IS.
That evening, Batman summons Robin to the Batcave and startles the Boy Wonder by asking for his input on the faceless murders.
The florist is closing up shop for the night when he is attacked by a mockery of himself jumping out from a bed of roses. When asked who he is, Zedno replies ‘I’m Faceless! And so are YOU!’
Analysis: I believe the idea of this arc is to draw out this concept of ‘balancing out’ one’s identity. Batman is attempting to learn from his mistakes leading into Knightfall by trying to breathe life into the mask of Bruce Wayne. As he admits in the issue, his obsession with being the Batman is what caused his failure against Bane, and perhaps what he needs is to even the scales of identity by giving Bruce Wayne an equal and meaningful existence. Vesper Fairchild is an offer of such an opportunity. We see this concentrated effort being played out, and I say ‘effort’ because in my reading the relationship seems to be more of a mission than something organic. Vesper is obviously interested in Bruce, but it appears that Bruce is playing at being interested in her. It appears that poor Vesper is more of an experimental tool to teach Batman how to be a man with more than just a face than as someone to actually get to know.
Joseph Zedno, on the other hand, is struggling with feeling any sort of importance at all. He’s just a boring, ‘nondescript’ man, with a job that, though very public in that he delivers to so many people in the neighborhood and sees more than pretty much any of his customers, is nevertheless almost completely isolated; to the point that his coworkers and even his boss barely know his name. No matter what he does, he gets no recognition and no respect.
Batman needs to become Bruce Wayne in order to achieve his balance; Faceless needs to become ANYBODY ELSE to achieve the smallest amount of self-respect. Bruce puts on the cowl to become his actual self; Zedno puts on another’s likeness to be anything but his actual self.
Bruce Wayne is a celebrity known to all, and Batman, despite being a creature of the shadows, is the dark mascot of Gotham City known to all. Everything he does carries weight.
Joseph Zedno is an invisible man with a lackluster presence in his community, and Faceless, despite rampaging on a horrifying murder spree, isn’t even noticed for his murders until a couple of hours had passed. He even needed to call in to inform the police and point them in the direction of his crimes. Even Batman considered it a quiet night until well after the damage had been done. Nothing he does is important.
The writing here seems somewhat jarring at times. It feels like they perhaps cut out some scenes at points, resulting in an abruptness to the story that I wish had been more fully realized.
For the most part, the art here fits the story. It’s a horror story, and Kelley Jones exceeds at this in his work. Everything is exaggerated and grotesque. I really enjoyed the periodic over-the-panel images where Batman would encompass the panel, his incredibly long cape (that first page….his cape is very nearly a tarp on that truck) draping over the sides. It seems darkly Shakespearean, and it sets the scene for the unsettling narrative that follows.
I did say ‘for the most part’ because there are some details that are questionable. Sometimes the faces would be inconsistent, and at one point Joseph Zedno’s eyes are definitely NOT anatomically correct. I don’t really care too much about that, but the one thing that DID get me was the one scene we get of Tim Drake’s Robin. He looks very inconsistent with the other images we have of him from his solo series, and if this had been my first issue, I would have assumed Robin was a woman of about the age of sixty.
The cover is interesting to look at. It shows Batman ripping off his cowl (or, as the issue implies, his ‘true face’) to a featureless head underneath, obviously in reference to the issue and the villain Faceless. It’s a good narrative in itself as it also asks the question ‘Who is Batman underneath the mask?’, which the Dark Knight himself is also trying to figure out.
Final Thoughts: I read this issue when it first came out when I was sixteen. This particular story arc has always stayed with me and had a strange, unsettling impact on me. I remember thinking first, that I would not like to be a mailman if they get treated like Zedno does, and secondly, that I would start paying attention to the mailman and try to at least greet him whenever I saw him.
Funny thing is… I never saw my letter carrier. Ever. Whoever it was approached my house and deposited the mail and carried out his/her job without my ever seeing him/her, despite my efforts at the time. In this way, I perpetuated the idea that this story tells about the civil service workers around us all the time. And then, eventually, I sort of….forgot to look anymore, only ever really thinking of the mail when, just like in the book, something I was expecting didn’t arrive on time.
Another thing is… ten years later, I became a mailman myself. It was an opportunity that presented itself, and yeah… I thought about this issue when I was filling out the application and chuckled a little bit at the thought.
Revisiting this issue made me chuckle too, mainly because of the depiction of the mail. Having an enormous bag slung over your shoulder is absolutely true, but Zedno’s satchel was overflowing with unsorted letters, and I imagine that walking around like that and having to sift through that mess without organizing it first must’ve been hellish. Trying to envision working in that manner is horrifying. It was so overwhelming to this guy that he decided to just take most of the mail and stuff it into his home, leaving barely enough room to stand in, let alone trying to work out.
There is one scene when Bruce and Vesper are leaving the zoo, which shows two children gathered around an adult who is dangling a puppet Batman figure before them, presumably entertaining them with it. It’s an unsettling picture because you intuit that those kids should definitely not be around this figure. I remember this character being a recurring one throughout the Moench/Jones/Beatty run, but unfortunately don’t remember if it ever led to anything. I had been very excited at the time to see what big story this tease would turn out to be.
Check out the second and final part of the story here.