Overview: In Batman: Urban Legends #5, Jason Todd reveals the identity of Cheer, the Batgirls team up to solve a case, Tim Drake infiltrates a cult, and Grifter finishes his long con.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: Red Hood and Batman in “Cheer” Part 5 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artists Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Diogenes Neves
Synopsis: The first story in Batman: Urban Legends #5 sees Red Hood awaken outside, while Mr. Freeze and some thugs are loading a frozen Batman into a cargo van. Red Hood manages to engage, but Mr. Freeze is directed by the boss – a man wearing a smiling clown painted on his face — to blast a barrier.
Jason flashes back to an encounter with Riddler, who states that he wants to see if the new Robin is up to par. Batman is chained in a soundproof case, and Riddler sets the task.
Flash forward, and Red Hood is not having any luck cracking heads in the search for Batman. He decides on a different approach and returns to Dr. Romero’s home out of uniform and with an apology for his previous behavior. He begins to really take notice of his surroundings and visits the bathroom, where he notices a large number of prescription antidepressants for a “Silvanio Romero.” Over tea, Dr. Romero begins to cry and confesses that her marriage to her husband “Sil” has hit a rough patch.
The scene switches to an ice cave, where a trussed-up Batman tries to convince an obviously euphoric and hallucinating Mr. Freeze to free him so that he can join Mr. Freeze and Nora. The man in the clown mask checks Batman’s efforts and dismisses Mr. Freeze. This man is the creator of cheerdrops, and Batman addresses him as “Cheer.”
Flashing back to the Riddler challenge, Robin doubts himself as the tank begins to fill with water. He considers dismantling the trap by force but returns to the riddle and eventually solves it. Batman is freed, and he tells Robin that he never doubted him.
Flash forward, and Jason infiltrates the offices of Catropharm, a pharmaceutical company for which Sil works as a chemist. Dr. Romero revealed a lot to Jason, and he identified a motive for the possible manufacture and distribution of cheerdrops – Sil’s jealousy at what Olivia Romero had managed to create using Scarecrow’s fear gas. An executive at Catropharm confirms that a number of shipments of raw materials intended for Gotham University had been delivered “off-campus.”
The scene switches to the ice cave, and we get confirmation that Cheer is in fact, Sil Romero. Batman argues with him, but Cheer places a gas mask over a helpless Batman’s face while informing him this particular version delivers not only happiness but incredible satisfaction in a finished job.
Analysis: As we hone on the completion of this story, Batman: Urban Legends #5 really revs up the action and pushes the narrative forward. This is my favorite installment since the beginning of the arc, as it breaks the mold a bit in character development, especially for Jason. He realizes that to help Batman, he needs only return to the standards to which he aspires, but interestingly, also manages to accept the idea that he cannot be a detective in the way that Batman detects. He can only hunt for clues as to Batman’s whereabouts by being himself, which, of course, is all Batman ever wanted Jason to be.
It is equally interesting to see Mr. Freeze as a mere tool, as even his frozen heart is movable by the application of cheerdrops. Since the revived Nora apparently wants nothing to do with Mr. Freeze, in a sense, his visions are hallucinations within hallucinations. That is, he must hallucinate not only her presence but also her love, which is an engaging commentary on the stories we tell ourselves…
Despite the ways in which part five seeks to break out of some of the at-times typical themes and character representations in “Cheer,” the villain’s ultimate plan is extremely well-represented in TBU, as greater rogues have with some frequency sought to remove Batman from the scene by creating a fantasy world which he would never wish to leave (Batman: The Animated Series does a particularly nice job with this theme in the thirtieth episode, Perchance to Dream).
It is satisfying to learn the identity and motivation of the architect behind the cheerdrops crisis, and I am looking forward to seeing how the arc finishes, as well as what this might mean for Red Hood going forward.
Story #2: Batgirls in “Wildcard” by writer Marguerite Bennett and artist Sweeney Boo
Synopsis: The second story in Batman: Urban Legends #5 sees Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown playing video games in what used to be Wayne Manor. They argue playfully until Oracle chimes in over the system about the “Red Card Case.” She tips them off to a location at the condemned convention center by the waterfront, and Cass and Steph go check it out. They discover a “Red Villain” behind the scenes, and Steph engages while Cass uploads some data from a thumb drive to Oracle. The “Red Villain” successfully dodges every blow and Steph ends up striking a mirror and getting glass shards in her fist. Cass notes that only the aggressor was harmed, as the woman in the red jacket launched no offense of her own. Oracle instructs the Batgirls to let the woman go.
Oracle instructs Cass to show her the red card on the table, which bursts into flames as Oracle realizes the woman in red did not so much create a crime scene as reveal one.
Analysis: I was super excited to get a “Batgirls” story in Batman: Urban Legends #5 with Cass, Steph, and Babs all playing their part, but this rendition is disappointing. Most of it reads more like a Silver Age story, and while it’s okay to see the Bat-Family relaxing and enjoying each other’s company, here it makes deep, rich, and beloved characters like Cass and Steph seem almost silly and superficial. Admittedly, Cass and Steph are teenagers and are entitled to behave like teenagers, but they’ve also seen and done more in their tender years than most do in a lifetime, and I think it’s a difficult balance for a writer to strike in showing their playfulness while maintaining the appropriate gravity.
The narrative is a bit confusing at times, and it also feels a bit more like a “Case of Mistaken Identity” narrative whose main purpose is to introduce the woman in the red jacket, whom Oracle names “Wildcard.” As drawn, the character is fairly obviously Ryan Wilder, who is Batwoman on the eponymous television series.
The story ultimately isn’t terrible, but it does feel like a bit of a letdown, especially when DC is signaling that we are finally going to get “Batgirls” comics centering on these three weighty and important characters.
I also did not particularly care for the Batgirls variant cover by Mimi Yoon, as Steph and Cass appear to be posing more for an Instagram shot than doing superhero stuff, but perhaps that is the point and I am just old (“kids these days”).
Story #3: Tim Drake in “Sum of Our Parts” Part 2 by writer Meghan Fitzmartin and artist Belén Ortega
Synopsis: The third story in Batman: Urban Legends #5 sees Tim Drake tied to a chair, and a man and a woman enter the room. Tim came to the location looking for Bernard and the other kidnapped teenagers, but the woman states that she doubts he is really ready for what is being offered.
In a flashback, Robin and Spoiler are arguing about their break-up and what they want. Robin leaves and discusses the situation with “Conner.” After questioning Bernard’s friends and learning that he had welts all over his arms and legs, the scene flashes forward to the apparent cause of those welts: tied-up Tim being struck with a chain by the pain cultists whose lair he has apparently penetrated. The cultists ask Tim what he wants, and he answers correctly – that he has no real idea. They smile and tell him that he can wait on the roof for the final portion of the interview.
Flashing back one day ago, Robin has infiltrated Detective Williams’s car, looking for clues regarding Bernard. Detective Williams catches him in the act but is friendly and willing to talk shop. They are apparently looking for a pain cult known as the “Children of Dionysus” who are apparently connected to the Chaos Monster.
Robin is on the roof, giving himself a Stuart Smalley-style pep talk. The scene then switches, flashing forward to Tim out-of-uniform, who connects the dots just as the Chaos Monster and his minions appear. Tim realizes that each Chaos Monster encountered in the kidnappings is a completely different cult member just as the present version informs Tim that he is in time for the sacrifice.
Analysis: Although I love Tim Drake and found his turn in James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics to be especially great, it is quite unfortunate that Stephanie Brown and his break-up happened off-page in the Batman Universe. Given the significance and complexity of their relationship, in my view, the audience deserved more than simply being notified after the fact that the romantic relationship was officially off. The rest of the story is engaging, and it is interesting to see Tim voluntarily give himself up to the Children of Dionysus to discern what happened to Bernard and the rest of the kidnapped teenagers. This is a technique Batman has used many times. I know many readers are tired of cults in Gotham, and some recent efforts, such as Peter Tomasi’s uninspired “Cult of Two-Face” arc in Detective Comics #1020-1025) have done nothing to revitalize the genre. But personally, I love a good cult (story), so I’m more interested in seeing it done well than seeing it gone.
Story #4: Grifter in “The Long Con” Part 5 by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Ryan Benjamin
Synopsis: The final story in Batman: Urban Legends #5 starts months ago, Lucius Fox sees a familiar character at the party, questions him, and is unceremoniously shoved into the bathroom. Two thugs from Leviathan enter and refer to the “known” party as Max, Cole’s apparently deceased brother. Just as they prepare to kill Lucius, a gun fires, and Grifter acknowledges to Lucius that he had been working undercover at Leviathan.
Flash forward, and Cole is thrown out of Wayne Tower by security. The voice over the comm informs Cole that zhe (sic) has an idea. Cash willingly enters Leviathan headquarters, and though his life is threatened, he lays out a plan for regaining Lucius Fox’s trust.
With Leviathan’s assistance, he enters Wayne Tower, but they immediately change the plan and invite Cole to come along or die. He takes them out, but narrowly escapes death by falling when he uses a thug as a cushion. A figure appears and it is … Nightwing! Batman subsequently appears, and they argue for a bit. Grifter indicates that he needs to get back into the building to protect Lucius.
Grifter is still chatting with the voice over the comm. He banters with Nightwing as Batman facilitates entry. He subsequently locks Batman and Nightwing out of the building and proceeds to rescue Lucius inside his office. Cole seems to switch allegiances every minute, but eventually he inserts a thumb drive into the Wayne Towner computer system and identifies the voice over the comm as “Max.”
Leviathan bursts through the door and Lucius prepares himself for death until Grifter’s squad bursts onto the scene from behind (in?) the computer system. These are WildC.A.T.S. and they defeat the villains and save the day. They depart, but not before Grifter confirms that “we’re the good guys.”
Analysis: Mercifully, this arc comes to a close. The final installment is marginally more interesting, especially with the cameos of Batman and Nightwing. Their banter is amusing, but the audience is still left with no real idea of what Grifter was actually doing, nor for whom he works and the nature of his objectives. It is unfortunate to name the story “The Long Con” without ever explaining to the audience of what the con consists of. Apparently, Cole Cash’s brother Max is alive and the point of the entire story is to facilitate the appearance of WildC.A.T.S. They burst out literally from nowhere – the art makes it appear that they were all hiding in the computer mainframe.
I remain unconvinced that Grifter is interesting enough to carry a story on his own, let alone lasting for five parts. The final page promises more from the WildC.A.T.S., but I am not sure Gotham needs another squad given the much-anticipated Outsiders title arriving in fall 2021.
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.