Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Batman: Life After Death by Tony S. Daniel

Now that Batman is dead, Dick Grayson, formerly known as Robin and Nightwing, has taken over the role of Batman. But with the death of Bruce Wayne, new problems, led by some old villains, have arisen to plague Gotham. The first is the villain known as Black Mask, aided and abetted by his new allies/henchmen, the False Faces. The second is the return of the Falcone crime family, one of whom may be tied to the Black Mask by her actions.

Unlike before, this time some of the False Faces seem to be fine, upstanding citizens. But how is the Black Mask controlling them? Dick takes the gas mask one of the dead False Faces was wearing. Even though he didn't find any trace of chemicals in them before, he's going to try again. In the meantime, he contacts Selina Kyle. She's been running with Poison Ivy, who once worked with Black Mask. Maybe she knows where his current hideout is...?

Selina agrees to try, but not without significant payment. She might have done it for Bruce out of love, but from Dick, she'll require 25 large wired to her secret Swiss bank account. When he comes through, she meets him and says Ivy doesn't know, or says she doesn't, and Selina would be a fool to press her. But she did find an uninhabited mansion in Gotham that is showing signs of someone being there.

Dick checks it out to find that the Falcones are using it as their base of operations. With them is Kittrina, a minor member of the family who has accompanied them to the city. But she isn't planning on staying around. Meanwhile, the Black Mask is working with a man named Doctor Death, and they have plans for Doctor Gruener... plans that involve a scythe he used to wield. Meanwhile, Dick and Bruce's son Damian take down another set of False Faces who have stolen an Ambulance, and lots and lots of pills of all sorts, but mainly ones that affect the mood, like Xanax.

The next day, Dick and "Bruce" attend a party of the city's movers and shakers. "Bruce" is actually an impostor, and Dick is going with Helena, the Huntress. Also at the party is Edward Nigma, formerly known as the Riddler, now retired from crime and pursuing business as a private eye. And so is a young girl that Oracle wants Helena to follow. The girl sets off an explosion that hurts Nigma, but Helena is hardly injured and follows the girl. Meanwhile Dick learns that "Bruce" made a donation to the Arkham Asylum, and that Dr. Arkham is using it for research. But he, too, follows the girl to learn who she is and what she is doing. He stops to question a street youth, only for the young man to be shot in the head right in front of him. But he does learn that the girl has been seen working with the former Penguin's goons.

Batman tracks down Penguin and gets him to tell her about the girl, whose name is Kittrina. As far as Penguin knows, she's just a street girl who does odd jobs for him. But she had to leave because of some family thing. Back at the Batcave, Damian discovers that the pills in the stolen ambulance may look like ordinary, over the counter pharmaceuticals, but they are actually mixes of all the anti-psychotics. The Black Mask is drugging his men to keep them in line and sane. Dick arrives and tells Damien that he discovered that already, but he'd like Damian's help with the gas masks, and finding out exactly what they do.

Meanwhile, he finds that Doctor Singh, the owner and head of a company named Gene-core, has been working with the girl Kittrina, who he says threatened himself and his family for some information and to use his lab. Batman returns to the place that he encountered the Falcones and discovers that the girl is Kittrina Falcone, a relative of the Falcone family. He thinks that Penguin and the Falcones are working together to bring down Black Mask, with the intention of taking his place, but as Selina Kyle discovers when Kittrina breaks into her place to steal back the maps that Catwoman stole from the estate where the Falcones have been holing up, Kittrina has an even more ambitious plan. She wants to capture Black Mask and claim the $50 million bounty on his head, and she wants Catwoman to come with her as backup.

The question is, will Selina abandon Dick to side with the girl, and what is Black Mask really up to and what does he want? How is he controlling his False Faces, and can Dick and Damian, the new Batman and Robin, find, defeat and unmask the Black Mask and end his reign of terror in Gotham? Or will that task be beyond them this time?

Well, I have to say that this was a startling book to read. Is it becoming Batman that seems to suck every single iota of fun or a sense of humor out of the people who take on the job? Bruce Wayne had no sense of humor, and neither did Batman, but Dick Grayson did have a sense of humor when he was younger. What happened to it? Where did it go? I am assuming that he pretends to be as humorless as Bruce because he wants Batman to seem like he never died, but does that humorless mask spill over into everything else, too?

Okay, maybe it's a side-effect of losing Bruce and having to deal with Damian (that asshole kid can suck the fun out of anything. No, I don't like him, why did you ask?), but he comes across as pretty unrelentingly grim in this book. As a whole, the story is well-told, and I didn't figure out who the Black Mask was until pretty late in the book, but still before the reveal. I did like the addition of Huntress, Oracle and Catwoman in the book and their interactions with the new Batman- different from Bruce Wayne, but at the same time strikingly similar.

Black Mask is a credible villain, and the way he controls the other villains around him is surprisingly scary, or at least I found it so, and I ended up enjoying it. Personally, I think the Batman canon has changed a bit too much for me to enjoy these newer stories as much as I did some of the older ones., but that's okay, too. Stagnation is bad as well.

Recommended, but not especially highly. Dick comes off as a retread Batman, with the same abilities, but without a lot of the things that made Bruce Wayne interesting in his own right. It felt a bit pale for me where character was concerned.

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