Overview: Batman: Urban Legends #2 takes us through four stories around Gotham City, starring Batman, Red Hood, Oracle, the Outsiders, and Grifter.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: Red Hood and Batman in “Cheer” Part 2 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artists Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Julio Ferreira, and Marcus To
Synopsis: Red Hood recoils at the horror of what he has done, and immediately comms Oracle, struggling to explain. The scene flashes back to Jason’s childhood, where his mother gives him some money to buy bread. She advises him to hurry since her drug dealer “Robby” is coming, of whom Jason is no fan. Jason passes Robby in the hall, curses at him, and is immediately shoved against the wall at the point of a knife. Flash forward, and three men in a speeding van hear a voice call out one of their names (“Sydney Paige”). The voice is Batman’s over a hidden microphone, and the van screeches to a halt, spilling out its human contents to face our hero. Batman makes quick work of his foes, and grabs Paige, asking him why he is working for Scarecrow. Then Batman notices the hoodlums are all wearing winter jackets, and Paige confirms that they are working for Mr. Freeze. Paige insists Freeze simply sent them out for groceries, and Batman comms Oracle to send the police to wrap things up. Oracle confirms and then tells Batman she thinks Jason is in trouble.
Red Hood is waiting with Tyler (the young son of the man he killed), and he assures him that he will take care of him. Almost immediately after doing so, Red Hood regrets the commitment, as he wonders how he can possibly honor it. He agonizes over the fact that if Tyler’s mother does not survive her ostensible overdose, he is responsible for making the child an orphan. Yet he thinks Tyler is young enough to be saved. He flashes back again to his childhood, waiting in the hallway outside his mother’s apartment. He never went to buy the bread. Drug dealer Robby emerges, informing young Jason that his mother will be sleeping for a while. As he watched Robby walk down the hall, Jason’s face darkens with anger, and from behind he shoves Robby down the stairs. Jason muses that he (Jason) never really had a chance.
Wearing Red Hood’s mask with the comm, Tyler informs Red Hood that Batman wants to talk to Jason and that he is already here. Red Hood quails but recovers enough to remark to Batman that vampires need to be invited inside. They argue about what Red Hood has done, and despite knowing that it is a mistake, Red Hood provokes Batman into a fight. Red Hood is simply enraged by what he perceives as Batman’s arrogance and sanctimony. Red Hood thinks of Batman as simply another “failed parent.” Just as Batman is ready to administer the final blow, Tyler rushes forward to protect Red Hood. Now it is Batman who quails, bowing his head in the shadow as Tyler embraces Red Hood.
Analysis: “Cheer” continues to be the primary reason to read this collection, especially with the absence of an ongoing Harley story. The flashback to young Jason’s decision to resort to violence as an expression of his anger at his mother’s drug dealer is powerful. In some sense, I do not see this version of Jason as an especially complex character: Anger, violence, guns, and killing are the main themes, and Jason’s behavior and inner monologue map out pretty neatly onto these centers of gravity. Simple or not, the representation of Red Hood is effective, and his anguish and internal conflict are absorbing. The contrasting red/blue tones and sharp lines of the artwork highlight the building tension; I always prefer Batman to be drawn in a realist and Gothic style, and the depiction here really suits my favorite aesthetic. I especially love that Batman simply appears out of the dark twice in the short story, both times surprising his targets with the knowledge that he is already present.
Both the narrative choice and the accompanying illustration serve to intensify Jason’s anger at the figure he sees lording his “sanctimony” over Jason, always present and judging from the dark. The ironic reversal in the final panels is especially effective. Through Tyler’s intercession, Red Hood’s own shock and anguish is turned against Batman, and Batman once again must reckon with what he has wrought in bringing the Red Hood to Gotham – both for Gotham and for Jason.
Story #2: Oracle in “Ghost in the Machine” by writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marguerite Sauvage
Synopsis: Oracle is playing cat-and-mouse with a cyber hacker named “Vi Ross,” who is causing minor mischief as she builds to something larger. Oracle prevails in the latest round, but with every attack, Ross is getting smarter and learning more. Oracle recalls that, as Batgirl, she had vanquished Ross, but the former epidemiologist apparently escaped and went underground. Analyzing her opponent whom she likens to a virus, Oracle designs a fully mobile unit with all sorts of tech on her person. She sets out on the town, and eventually comms her “Bats” for assistance. Spoiler, Nightwing, and a third figure dressed as Batgirl move out on Oracle’s instructions, trying to “inoculate Gotham against this virus.” Spoiler takes down her opponent, who is not Ross but who does manage to infect Spoiler with anthrax. Fortunately, Oracle arrives to administer an antibiotic for the bacterium.
Oracle figures out Ross’s plot and heads to intercept at the Gotham Bank. She trades barbs with Ross, but eventually succeeds in locking down the bank doors and capturing Ross along with her henchpersons.
Analysis: Yikes. Many fans have not been pleased with Castelluci’s efforts with Batgirl, and in this writer’s view, she does not fare much better with an Oracle adventure in Batman: Urban Legends #2. The dialogue is absurd, reading for all intents and purposes like a Golden Age comic. (I mean, the endgame is a Gotham Bank robbery!). This could be an effective callback in some contexts, but here it falls flat and reads as odd, contrived, and out-of-place. As an aside, someone should probably tell Castelluci that analogizing people to pathogens has an extremely problematic history and should be avoided at all costs. It does not matter that the writer has the villain owning the title herself; that remains a choice of the writer’s and she is accountable for it.
Babs is an amazing character and Oracle deserves better; take a look at either the current arc in Batman or the “Cheer” arc in this very collection for examples of how to treat the character with care and respect.
Story #3: The Outsiders in “The Caretaker” Part 2 by writer Brandon Thomas and artist Max Dunbar
Synopsis: Black Lightning is dragging Metamorpho through a forest. They discuss an implant all of the Outsiders have, and note that Katana’s just went active ten minutes ago. The scene switches to Katana, fighting off a horde of demonic-like sword wielders. Shiori appears and Katana is overwhelmed and captured; Shiori demands to know why Katana has lost her son’s soul. They converse and eventually Shiori becomes convinced that Tatsu seeks to replace the Soultaker Sword Maseo’s soul with Black Lightning’s. Tatsu tries to explain but Shiori plunges the sword into Tatsu’s thigh. Black Lightning and Metamorpho appear before the building where Tatsu is being held. The army of demonic warriors stands before them. Black Lightning explains to Metamorpho that he and Katana had been spending a lot of time together in training, and Metamorpho picks up on the innuendo. The fight begins.
Analysis: I do not read the Outsiders, but the second chapter was significantly easier to follow than the first. Katana is an awesome character, so even as a non-regular reader, I enjoyed the Katana-centric story. If you like the Outsiders, and/or if you liked the first chapter of the story, you’ll definitely want to read this story.
Story #4: Grifter in “The Long Con” Part 2 by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Ryan Benjamin
Synopsis: Cole Cash wakes up in a hospital bed. Lucius Fox is conversing with someone outside, who assures Lucius that the procedure went better than expected. Lucius enters the room and explains to Cash that he survived because the Wayne Foundation partnered with Halo to use Halo biotechnology to save Cash. Lucius also reveals that Cash’s brother did not make it in part because of the limited supply of Halo product and because Cole was deemed the better candidate.
Flash forward, and Cash and Lucius are in the front seat of a car that has just been smashed by a truck. Cash dons the Grifter mask and readies his weapon as he clambers out of the vehicle. He is immediately fired upon by a suited man, and he returns fire with precision and kills the assailant. More men rush up and Grifter begins to take them out as he converses with someone over the comm. After all of them are down, Cole helps Lucius out of the smashed car, but Cole has sustained a neck wound and collapses. Paramedics show up, and Cole forces Lucius to go to the hospital first by holding an EMT at gunpoint. Private security for Wayne Enterprises shows up and tries to cuff Cole. Just as they do so, a second ambulance arrives and informs Cole that they are in fact the first ambulance to arrive.
Inside the first ambulance, Lucius is strapped down to a stretcher, and the “paramedic” informs Lucius that Leviathan no longer plans to be gentle with him. Lucius realizes his predicament and shouts for help, which arrives in the form of Cole literally jumping through the front window off of a motorcycle. Cole rescues Lucius, who notes the neck wound has already healed. Subsequently, in the hospital, Cole exchanges sly banter with an attractive woman who subsequently introduces herself as Chance Adibi, head of global security for Wayne Enterprises. She works for Lucius, which means that she is Cole’s boss. Lucius warns Cole against mistreating her, but also offers him the opportunity to stop lying, grifting, and have an honest future.
Some time later, Cole is sitting alone at a train stop. A man who calls himself the “Toyman” sits down, and they chat. Their conversation ends abruptly when Red Hood arrives and tells Toyman to leave. Then Red Hood and Grifter fight. Grifter prevails after Red Hood gets hit or somehow incapacitated by an oncoming train. Red Hood comes to with a note pinned to his head indicating that Superman has taken his gun. Next to Red Hood, Toyman lies dead, with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Analysis: The Grifter story in Batman: Urban Legends #2 is just confusing. There’s way too much packed into a short story, and it moves around from scene to scene at breakneck speed in the overall story. Red Hood showing up makes absolutely no sense at all, and the writing obfuscates the rationale for their fighting to begin with. Red Hood tells Toyman to take off because he wants to chat with Grifter but immediately initiates a fight with Grifter while saying “My business isn’t with you …” What did I miss? Too much, apparently. And Superman? Why? Is that a grift? Who knows? The character of Grifter is mildly interesting but not nearly interesting enough to sustain an entire storyline in my opinion, and I’d already lost both the thread and the interest about halfway through.
It’s not a terrible story, but it’s desperately in need of the “Wrap It Up” alarm (from Chappelle Show). The artwork is fine but, like the story itself, nothing special. I cannot really recommend the arc unless for some reason you’re taken with Grifter; there’s also no follow-through with Nightwing this time, sadly.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic digitally and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue either through Comixology or Amazon.