Overview: In Batman #134, Batman finally meets Red Mask face-to-face, and now he must stop a plot that threatens to destroy the multiverse.
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: “The Bat-Man of Gotham” Part 4 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Mike Hawthorne
Synopsis: Batman #134 begins in the cavernous abyss beneath Gotham City, as Selina Kyle leads Batman near where Red Mask runs his operation. After telling Batman that Red Mask is five miles down into the subterranean city, Batman assumes Selina isn’t coming with him. When she asks how he knows this, he reminds her that he knows her from another world and knows that she can do good for Gotham. He tells her to help people, then descends into the madness below.
The Arkham Asylum beneath Gotham is huge. Batman passes Lex Luthor in a cell, as well as The Flash, who is undergoing some sort of break from reality. Batman concludes that Red Mask must be experimenting with the multiverse. Before he can finish his thought, Red Mask greets the Caped Crusader, unmasking and revealing himself to be Darwin Halliday, this world’s Joker.
When Batman asks if this is about the multiverse, Darwin admits that it is. He tells a story of how he spent his youth building up a pharmaceutical company, always tinkering and growing and expanding. When a chemical accident infected him, he saw himself as he should be out in the multiverse. “There are threads through the multiverse that connect us all to different versions of ourselves, and I saw who I was meant to be. Elemental. Uninhibited,” Darwin says.
Darwin locks Batman behind a force field. He tells Batman that he’s been bringing as many people from the multiversal as possible to his Arkham Caves, so he can get all the multiversal energy he can. As Darwin runs off, Batman uses an explosive device to free himself, then prioritizes shutting off the Crane Brain, which has been replaced with multiversal poison.
Batman calls Jewel and Selina, telling Jewel to get as many people to Athena Tower as possible. It’ll be safe from the gas. He also tells Selina that he believes in her and that she’s the best.
Just then, Ghost-Maker arrives, and like all of the other associates of Halliday in this world, “Ghost-Breaker” is also juiced up on venom. Knowing that he can’t take Ghost-Maker in a fight, Batman leaps past his frenemy only to get stabbed in the back by a katana. Batman removes the sword and prepares to duel “Ghost-Breaker,” using his knowledge of past fights to guide him.
The two plummet further below, where “Ghost-Breaker” releases some convicts to fight Batman. One of them is a brainwashed Superman. As Superman prepares to blast Batman with heat vision, Batman uses a thunderous voice to scare Superman away.
Outside, Jewel and Selina lead people to Athena Tower. Inside the tower, Alfred calls Leslie Thompkins, who is at her clinic trying to save people infected with multiversal poison.
Beneath Gotham, Batman makes it to the poison supply only to find Ghost-Maker waiting. The two spar and Batman uses his advantage of knowing Ghost-Maker’s ego to trip the venom-powered rogue up. Batman succeeds in stopping the release of the gas, but above Gotham, Red Mask has a backup plan. He orders the release of Leatherwings, an army of gas-toting Man-Bat creatures who descend upon Gotham to finish the job.
Analysis: In Batman #134, Batman’s suspicion in the last issue is confirmed. Darwin Halliday, this Elseworlds Gotham’s Joker, is also Red Mask and the mastermind behind everything wrong in this city. Somehow, Halliday has been locking up heroes and villains who stand in his way, as well as experimenting with the multiverse on victims drawn to this world. For reasons not very well explained, Halliday is gassing Gotham with multiversal poison, and only Batman can leap into action and stop the rogue.
Batman #134 is an action-heavy issue that primarily features a battle between Batman and this world’s Ghost-Maker (who goes by “Ghost-Breaker”). The battle scenes are fun, and Mike Hawthorne’s pencils, paired with Tomeu Morey’s colors, are exciting. What works well in this issue is the combat paired with Batman’s inner monologue. Chip Zdarsky and the art team at fleshing out a fully realized Batman that balances the analytical detective and the expert martial artist well.
The overarching narrative suffers, but there are some hints that things could get exciting in the next issue or two. One idea is this concept of “threads” that Darwin Halliday yammers about. After suffering a chemical accident, Halliday sees who he is meant to be across the multiverse, and he’s been working to recreate himself in that image. The how’s and why’s of his plan involve multiversal energy in a very “comic book” explanation that also serves as a means of bringing Batman back to his own world. However, if this idea of “threads” is congruent across all characters, it brings up some interesting ideas.
For starters, does this mean that there’s never a universe where Joker can be a good person? Secondly, will these “threads” serve as a means to bring Alfred Pennyworth back, since he’s been hanging out in the background of this Elseworlds tale the entire time? Third, will the climax of this storyline somehow reshape the Batman universe and have some sort of greater effect on the Dawn of DC alignment currently happening with comic titles?
Another idea that’s been playing out in the background of this storyline has been Bruce Wayne’s relationship with this universe’s Selina Kyle. In each issue, he’s constantly reminded himself that it’s not his Selina, and in Batman #134, he tells her that he believes in her and knows she can help people. Batman is clearly trying to get Selina to be her best self, but the repetition might be teasing at a possible reunion between Batman and Catwoman once he returns to his world. The fact that he can’t get her out of his head is telling, and it would be a pity to leave this obsession on the cutting room floor for Batman comics going forward.
Going back to Alfred, readers have seen little of him in this storyline. However, what has been shown of Alfred is a man finding himself in the middle of an emotional tug-of-war. Seeing Bruce rekindled Alfred’s fatherly love for the man he raised. At the same time, Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ dedication to Alfred has been toying with his heart. He loves her, but he clearly is a man who is missing her, sidelined for the greater good. Not only could this push him away, but it goes back to this notion of threads that Halliday was highlighting. Much like his relationship with Bruce in other universes, in this one, Alfred is sidelined for the greater good. Instead of Batman running out in the middle of the night, leaving Alfred at Wayne Manor, it’s Dr. Thompkins.
All in all, Batman #134 is an interesting issue that, while it’s not the most exciting read, certainly has ideas. Hopefully, readers will get some more answers soon, and hopefully, the creative team will run with these interesting concepts and story “threads.”
Story #2: “The Toy Box” Part 4 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Miguel Mendonca
Synopsis: Back in the main Gotham City, Superman, dressed as Batman, keeps up appearances in Gotham. He stops Killer Moth, then heads back to the rooftops to meet with Robin (Tim Drake). When asked if he can help, Robin tells Superman that this world needs him here and that there are spare Robins, so Tim is free to descend into the multiverse.
Back at the hideout of Mr. Terrific and Toyman, Robin checks in on their progress. Toyman was able to follow a multiversal signature and locate where Batman might be, and Mr. Terrific upgraded Robin’s special suit. Robin leaps back into the bleed, traveling through the multiverse.
His mind focuses on his mother, and Robin is transported to her in another world. He spends a moment with her, telling her about his life and his mother and father in his world. The two bond, and then Robin heads back into the bleed to find Batman.
Analysis: The tender moment between Tim Drake and his mom is nice, but this backup issue feels like a filler issue. Instead of finally finding Batman, Tim is off to yet another universe. The moment of the heart is weakened by a clear decision to delay Robin’s reunion with Batman.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.
Batman #134 is an action-packed issue that has more big ideas than excitement, but there’s much promise as to what lies ahead.