Overview: The finale of this holiday arc sees a group of Norsemen meet their maker.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox dodge just in time as the Viking’s ax swings down and into the floorboards where they had been standing mere seconds ago. There’s hardly any time to recover before the ax swings down once more. Bruce catches it as it bears down towards his head and runs towards a live wire still humming through the wreckage of the podium. The Viking readies himself for another deadly swing as Bruce back-flips over the wire, causing the Viking to smash down into the wire, electrifying the ax, and catapulting the villain away. The police arrive, and Bruce feigns fatigue, so he and Lucius can get back to Wayne Manor and the Batcave…. but not before plucking a strand of the Viking’s hair for later analysis.
Later that evening, Bruce examines old Nordic manuscripts and deduces that the recent crimes were related to the pagan blood eagle sacrifice for the winter solstice.
At Saint Anthony’s Hospital, two guards are joshing each other until they hear a metallic clanging in the room beside them. They open the door in time to be attacked by a pair of flaming chains, which down them both.
Back in the Batcave, Bruce examines the hair sample and eventually identifies the Viking as Soren Rinsdale, someone with barely any record at all. He does discover, however, that Rinsdale disappeared in the final week of December. He immediately jumps into the Batmobile to return to the scene of the first crime, the Botanical Gardens. Batman realizes two things: first, that the edges of the symbol in the snow have melted, and secondly that the nearest tree not only has no snow stuck to it but it is also warm to the touch. This is all he is able to gather before a flaming chain snaps around his neck and he is swung to the ground. A group of torch-bearing people taunt him, chanting for sacrifice. Batman, in their language, calls the group murderers, and the elder, dragging a hospital patient to a tree, orders one of the group to send him to Hel. As the elder recites a sacrificial prayer, the patient wakes up. Though groggy, the patient (none other than the Viking himself, Soren Rinsdale) recognizes the elder and demands to know what happened to his head. Batman begins to recover but not soon enough. The elder continues to recite his incantations and opens Soren’s mouth so forcefully that it rips. Batman swings a chain around the elder’s neck and yanks him away only to see that the damage has been done, and from Soren’s mouth, a grotesque being emerges, declaring that their god has come to bring Hel.
Batman works to find a weakness in this creature with no success. The creature does, however, reveal itself as not any god nor demon from Norse mythology but as one of many beings that open doorways through group-think using the names as keywords to open portals. As Batman tries desperately to stop the attack, the creature grasps and devours the elder (whom we find out to be an actor, Jack Elder), thus closing the gate and returning Soren to his natural state.
Our story ends with Bruce closing out his audio case file. Soren had been drugged by an elder but had escaped. Through hallucinations, he believed himself to be the harbinger of Yuletide, thus becoming the catalyst to the cult’s demise. As for the creature, it seems to have had its way and returned to wherever it came from.
Analysis: The main cover shows Batman tied to a stake, being burned, which is reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials. While the only fire in the issue was seen on burning chains and a few torches, the idea of the cult collective-consciousness is clearly present with the masked onlookers eagerly waiting for the Batman’s death.
The variant cover seems to be at least reminiscent of Batman: Noel, which lines up with more of the ‘holiday’ theme than anything actually taking place in the issue. The art is gorgeous here, being heavily detail-focused.
This issue itself now gives sense to the main cover of the previous issue, which shows a horrifying creature looming behind Batman, the same creature which is only revealed about halfway through THIS issue. It’s difficult to appreciate the artwork on the cover of Detective Comics #1018 because it’s a spoiler for the story as a whole.
While this latter half of the story reveals why Soren Rinsdale murdered the victims from the first half (he being under the influence of hallucinogens), Peter Tomasi seems to forget the first few pages of #1018, which shows events that had happened centuries ago. I had half-expected that Viking to have been the same one terrorizing present-day Gotham. There is no tie-up with that scene at any point in either issue. Honestly, I would have preferred that idea to the one of a cross-dimensional being who used people’s beliefs as a physical doorway through which it could enter for a meal. It just seems like WAY too much effort to put in for such a short time.
I did enjoy the fight at the tree lighting, using a small spark of electricity to bring the big man down. Mostly I enjoyed seeing Bruce and Lucius trying to act their way out of police attention. Lucius still has some hours to put in, it seems. I do wish we’d spent more time with the backstory of Jack Elder, a washed-up actor who created a Nordic cult that would actually perform sacrifices. Some stories are too long, but I believe this one would have been enhanced by another issue or two. The hospital Soren is taken to is Saint Anthony’s of Gotham. Saint Anthony is the saint of the lost, and I wonder if Soren’s memory loss is indicative of Saint Anthony. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.
The artwork is very good, and the entire time I was reading this, I thought it could have been an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Godlewski’s style fits very well with that type of animation.
Final Thoughts: This is still not my favorite Tomasi. With a little more relationship work between some of these characters, the impact of the story may have hit a little deeper.