[World of Bats] Batman: Year Two

Welcome everyone to the World of Bats, the Batman Book Club! This week we’re going forward a year (only slightly less confusing than comic book timelines) to talk about Batman: Year Two, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Alan Davis and Todd McFarlane!

The Reaper, a diabolical menace to the criminal underworld, has returned to Gotham City after twenty years, and not even Batman can stop him! How far is Batman willing to go to take this murderous vigilante down?

Any thoughts, ideas, and dramatic catchphrases can be said down below. We also have some pretty cool discussion questions:

  • This story has Batman facing off against a dark, murderous mirror of himself in the form of The Reaper. What do you think of this character? Is he a good antagonist for the Dark Knight?

  • The story starts with a frequent collaborator with Mike Barr and art legend in his own right Alan Davis and then finishes with some of the earliest works of another art legend Todd McFarlane. What did you think of the art in these issues? Which do you prefer?

  • To defeat The Reaper, Batman not only teams up with the mob who is equally interested in stopping him but works side by side with mafia hitman Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents! What do you think of this dynamic? Perhaps most importantly, do you like the idea of Bruce knowing exactly who the man is who murdered his parents, or do you prefer it to be a mystery?

  • What do you think of this story overall? Does it feel like a worthy successor to Batman: Year One?

Like last week, DC Universe was nice enough to group the entire story into one storyline collection, which you can find HERE.

If you wish to join the club and see some of the previous book club entries, you can check out the link to our club HERE, and if you have any questions, you can contact me, @Jay_Kay, @AquamonC137 and/or @BatJamags.

Thanks for reading, and looking forward to seeing your thoughts!

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Okay, so before I go into eccentric Mike Barr fan mode here, I do want to say that if I were editor Denny O’Neil, I probably would have stepped in to make a few quick recommendations. To simulate these recommendations, I have made some really slapdash proof-of-concept panels. They’re not meant to be ready-for-prime-time fixes to the comic, but rather conceptualizations of how the changes might have manifested.

  1. Lip Service to Year One

Anyone who knows the backstory to Year Two will know that it wasn’t originally conceived as a sequel to anything, and even though Barr and Frank Miller were actually quite good friends at the time (with Barr even moving into Miller’s old place once Frank found a new residence), there didn’t seem to be much effort to align these narratives beyond a passing reference to Gordon’s previous rank of Captain. Speaking of which:

Denny: “Why don’t we set this story shortly after Year One? The plot will not be substantially altered if Gordon is still a police captain, and Gordon might even have more reason to turn on Batman on a dime when their working relationship is still so new.”

Also, while the mafia is a major component of both stories, there’s a complete lack of overlap in the mobsters. As such:

Denny: “You know, Carmine Falcone is still at large at the end of Year One. What if Batman contacted him in particular to make this arrangement?”

Neither of these changes make for a drastically different story. They just make for an easier transition when reading the stories back-to-back. (And since Year Two’s first issue was released a month after Year One’s last issue, you can see the advantage of doing so.) Of course, we’d also have to drop the yellow oval around the bat symbol.

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So far, “Denny’s” suggestions have been superficial, but the smartest editorial recommendations would probably go toward the structure of the first two issues. Now, Barr’s ideas for this story were going to strike some people as cuckoo no matter what, but a minor adjustment to the progression of Bruce’s behavior would probably “fix” the story for some of its critics.

  1. Re-Ordering the Events

At the end of the first issue, Bruce produces THE GUN in response to nearly being killed by the Reaper. Then, in the second issue, Batman also decides to work with the mob to take down the lethal vigilante. These are two very strong reactions to the same singular incident. So why don’t we pick one for now and save the other for later?

Denny: “What if the big cliffhanger at the end of the first issue isn’t the gun, but instead the plan to team up with the criminal underworld? That’s still a huge, shocking hook for the next issue, but it’s one that feels just a tad less extreme than the gun. Don’t worry: you can still use the gun later on.”

And that brings us to the second issue. Obviously, the parts with Bruce practicing with the gun would have to be cut (or moved to the third issue), and Batman would have to use batarangs instead of bullets for certain scenes in the second issue (which he does in the mob meeting, anyway). However, the major beats of the issue would still be intact, so it’s a less drastic narrative adjustment than it may seem.

The big change would come at the end of the issue, when the mobsters tell Batman that he will have to work with Joe Chill. Since we’ve trimmed out a page already by cutting the marksmanship practice, we have enough room to squeeze in a final page to the story:

Denny: “What if Batman decides to use the gun AFTER seeing Joe Chill at the meeting? That could be the trigger that pushes him over the edge and makes him break his no-gun rule. He starts carrying the gun with the singular intent of killing Joe Chill.”

Of course, I don’t know what Dennis O’Neil told Mike Barr at the time, if anything. And I’m sure that Barr would argue that it’s thematically more effective for Bruce’s decision to use a gun to be equated with teaming up with Joe Chill: “If Batman carries a firearm, he’s no different than the very man who killed his parents!” The thing is, though, most modern readers aren’t willing to sacrifice narrative sense for allegorical sense. (I’ll admit that I am willing to do so in the case of Year Two, but I seem to be in the minority.)

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Petition to make @AlexanderKnox an editor at DC. :smiley:

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I’ll second that!

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Okay, round two of my comments: context.

Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis had worked together on Batman and the Outsiders in the mid-1980s, and when Doug Moench’s run on the Batman titles ended, the duo inherited Detective Comics. Their run is best described as a love letter to the Golden Age, and that spirit continues into Year Two, which takes its inspiration from Batman #47 by Bill Finger (the story that first properly introduced–and killed off–Joe Chill).

Unlike Year One, which was done by someone other than the then-regular writer on Batman (Max Allan Collins), Year Two was written by Barr himself. He repurposed a story that he had previously pitched without success, which would have been called Batman 1980. As he notes in the intro to the Deluxe Edition, “I did not consult with Frank Miller on his story for Year One.” However, he had clearly read it by the time he wrote the third issue of his story, as he begins to incorporate a few motifs from Miller’s book. There also seems to be no bad blood between Barr and Miller, since Miller illustrated a magazine article (about the infamous 1968 DC writing staff firings that had included Bill Finger) written by Barr a year later.

As such, Year Two is less a companion piece to Year One than it is an attempt to modernize details from Batman’s previous continuity, which had most recently been recounted by Len Wein in The Untold Legend of the Batman. Anyone who has read that miniseries (or the comics that it drew from) will know that the Earth-One continuity had such odd details such as Bruce’s brief tenure as the first Robin during his teenage years and his semi-familial relationship with Joe Chill’s mother, who just happened to be Philip Wayne’s housekeeper!

Thus, as far-fetched as Year Two’s premise may seem to new readers, it’s actually a toned-down version of the pre-existing canon (without outright ignoring that canon as Year One had). As in the earliest Detective Comics stories, Batman is seen carrying around a gun, though he actually expresses conflicted feelings about it here, unlike in the early Golden Age. And while Chill’s death in Year Two may be the Extreme 80s version of his original 1948 fate, Barr doesn’t try to incorporate the Silver Age idea that Chill was a hitman hired to kill Thomas Wayne after Wayne had taken out a crime boss while dressed as a bat!

Another thing to note is Barr’s reinvention of Leslie Thompkins, a character who had been introduced by Dennis O’Neil in Detective Comics #457 as a little old lady who helped young Bruce Wayne on the night of his parents’ murder. Barr had previously used the Earth-One version of Thompkins in Batman Special #1 (another story with a violent masked man whose origin story parallels Batman’s), but his new take on the character would remain the template going forward, even on Batman TAS and in the New 52.

This revised, younger version of Thompkins first appears in the prelude to Year Two, Detective Comics #574, where Batman takes a wounded Jason Todd to Thompkins for help. This issue includes two important flashbacks: one establishing that Thompkins helped raise Bruce (in lieu of Mrs. Chilton from pre-Crisis continuity) and another introducing the notion that young Bruce stole Joe Chill’s gun on the night of the murder.

Barr would revisit the Year Two storyline three times. The first story was a 1991 direct sequel with a second Reaper called Full Circle, which was again illustrated by Alan Davis (despite his fallout with DC after the first issue of Year Two was altered without his permission). The second was a 1991 three-parter from Legends of the Dark Knight that explained how Leslie Thompkins discovered that Bruce was Batman. The third was a 2011 issue of DC Retroactive set shortly after Detective Comics #574 and featuring yet another Reaper.

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First: Sorry for missing last week. I actually have a lot to say about Year One, so I might go back there when I’m done here.

One thing I have to say before I dive in: I did not like this when I first read it, but there are things I appreciate on reread (note that this was actually one of the first comics I read, so I think I didn’t notice some of its more subtle strong suits). First, and I don’t mean this in a snarky way, Barr does know when to shut up and let the artist carry the story. Any book that can go a page or two without dialogue and maintain its pacing is on the right track. And the art is quite good. Not quite as good as David Mazzuchelli’s in Year One, but both artists are definitely solid.

I’ll do a compare-and-contrast under the appropriate question, but look at this:



Year 2 3
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be symbolic or meaningful, but if nothing else, it’s just cool and proves that there was some good thought put into this story.

And I’m saying all of this because my responses to the actual questions are going to involve a lot of ragging on this thing, so I want to acknowledge that there are some things that it does very well.

I mean, OK. I’ll admit that the Reaper predates most of the similar-but-more-interesting characters that we’ve seen over the years (though I think Black Spider was actually the first to use the “murderous rival vigilante” gimmick). But… I don’t know. The guy feels like the most simplistic, brute-force way to implement the concept. First, if there had been an earlier, homicidal vigilante before Batman ever existed, you’d think that would seriously color everyone’s reactions to Batman. But alright, this was probably being worked on around the same time Year One was still in-progress, so let’s assume that’s just a minor hiccup. He’s just kind of… ham-fisted. He’s not just a vigilante who kills people, he’s THE REAPER, and he runs around making melodramatic speeches about DEATH, and he has a SKULL FOR A FACE, and he keeps telling people to FEAR HIM. Between that and Leslie Thompkins making her usual self-righteous speeches, it kind of bleeds out any potential for moral ambiguity. And I get that Barr isn’t trying to make it ambiguous, but it just makes Batman look kind of stupid for taking so long to decide against lethal force when the guy Batman is considering emulating is THE REAPER.

Blue Oyster Cult
It also doesn’t help that I get the Blue Oyster Cult stuck in my head every time this guy shows up.

Alan Davis’ art in the first issue is… fine. It does its job. But McFarlane’s art is really good, and it’s a shame he didn’t do more Batman stuff. I mean, look at this:


LONG FLAPPY POINTY THINGS

But in all seriousness, look at the detail in the background there. It’s incredible.

This was really kind of lame. First, Joe Chill is set up as this badass super-hitman, which doesn’t really line up for someone who’s basically the perpetrator of a random mugging. He’s essentially there as a vehicle for heavy-handed symbolism which I’m not sure is actually necessary. And to the extent we get the confrontation between Batman and the guy who killed his parents… once again, any need for Batman to make his own choices is shunted away by THE REAPER.

Well, here’s where my thoughts on Year One come in. Namely, I don’t think it’s that good. The dialogue is revolutionary for the time (relative to comics; I have to assume that before 1986 or so, no comic writer ever watched a movie or TV show, because otherwise I can’t explain the sorry state of classic comic script-writing) and the art is incredible, but the plot is unfocused and disjointed. By comparison, this story knows what it’s about and focuses on communicating that message. It’s just ridiculously ham-fisted and clunky about it. So, I’m not sure what, precisely, would constitute a “worthy successor” to Year One, but between the two, I think I prefer the previous entry, for David Mazzuchelli’s art if nothing else.

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Okay, so here comes the part where I shockingly confess that BY2 is my favorite of the post-Crisis “early years” Batman stories. I prefer it over the Loeb/Sale stories, Matt Wagner’s Dark Moon Rising duology, the various Year One-themed annuals, the Legends of the Dark Knight arcs, the myriad of Year One miniseries for other Batman allies and rogues, and even the Frank Miller stories. (Sorry, All-Star Batman & Robin. You know I love you, you crazy kid.)

Tec 577 panel

One of the primary reasons why I favor Year Two over Year One is that this story is undeniably Bruce’s. It’s all about his temptations to go down a different path than the one he ultimately chooses. Will he become a murderous vigilante rather than a superhero? Will he renounce his vow and live a normal life? Will he come to believe that the only way to mitigate crime is to become a criminal himself?

All of these choices are laid out through the supporting cast, who serve as foils for Bruce. The Reaper’s cause may seem as noble as Batman’s, but Julian is driven mad by his desire for revenge, which he fails to distinguish from justice. Rachel is just as tempted as Bruce is to toss away her own lifelong vow for the sake of love, but she more readily realizes that she cannot escape her calling at the end of the story. Joe is jaded and completely motivated by self-interest, but if Bruce is willing to compromise his ethical code, how long before he grows just as cold and indifferent to the plight of others?

The book’s art (especially once McFarlane takes over) suits Y2’s tone just as well as Mazzucchelli’s art fit Y1. This isn’t a gritty, grounded crime drama. It’s theatre. It’s opera. It’s tragedy. The art grows increasingly surreal and erratic as Bruce plunges down this mad path, culminating in his decision to commit cold-blooded murder in the very place that represents his “beginning and probable end.”

Is it melodrama? Sure. But melodrama is just as much a part of the Batman narrative tradition as “realism” is, if not more so.


Oh, and Alfred’s Golden Age accent is on display here (“Mawster Bruce”), so that earns the book some bonus points. :wink:

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Interesting – has he ever said if there was any big differences between the two?

I always wondered when it was that Leslie went from simply being a doctor working a clinic to basically be Batman’s shrink and conscience. I’ll have to go through that Faith storyline sometime.

I noticed that too when I read it for setting this month up – I took it to mean that all three characters are connected into having a higher calling, who put on a uniform to serve what they believe to be a greater good.

And while we’re on that, I do like the character of Rachael Caspian in this. Of all the attempts at giving Bruce a more “normal” girlfriend, I think she’s one of the stronger attempts.

Fun fact: While I can’t find the source for it now, but I remember back when it was being made that the character of Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins was originally written as Rachel Caspian. I guess Goyer changed his mind when he realized it might give fans the wrong idea of what her character was?

Seriously, name a couple more iconic than Todd McFarlane and ridiculously long, flowing capes.

I kid, I kid. :stuck_out_tongue:

Seriously, while I can’t go THAT far, I do get what you’re saying, and I think your knowledge and passion about it is making me warm up to it a bit more. :slight_smile:

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It’s actually the other way around. She started off as a social worker in Denny’s original stories. Barr turned her into a doctor.

Not that I know of (though I’ve only read part of the Barr/Davis interview in Back Issue #73 that discusses their run on 'Tec). You can see it briefly discussed here, but there are no actual descriptions of the changes Barr made.

He did discuss Year Two again in Back Issue #95, and I do have some scans for that one. He doesn’t mention his original pitch at all in this interview.

Back Issue 95 p1

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You’re a freaking walking encyclopedia for all things DC. Literally impossible to follow up after any of this…

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I think @HubCityQuestion is the encyclopedia.

Maybe I’m the multi-volume dictionary. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Even though I don’t have much input on the past few story’s, I really enjoy getting to expand my Batman library with some really awesome and enjoyable comics. Year 2 has honestly been my favorite so far, more so since it does focus on Batman. Reaper is cool as a villain, but all in all I’d put this up there with knighfall.

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Sorry to ask a stupid question, does year 2 take place right after Batman Year one? I was thinking of reading it.

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No worry, not a dumb question at all! It is in that it is chronologically after, but there’s really nothing in the story of Year One that connects to Year Two and there’s nothing you need to have read before it.

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Ok, Thankyou, I was just wondering.:slightly_smiling_face:

Not right after it. Certain things have happened in the interim:

  1. As teased at the end of Year One, Batman faces the Joker for the first time.
  2. Leslie Thompkins discovers that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
  3. Gordon introduces the Bat Signal and becomes police commissioner.

It’s fair to assume that BY2 occurs close to the end of Bruce’s second year.

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Okay, like was just said, no real way to follow up on this discussion, but I’m going to give my thoughts regardless 'cause I’m just like that.

But first, thank you for all that great information and insight on this one, @AlexanderKnox. Good to see that Grant money was well spent. I’m not a fan of this story, but reading your comments has me at least appreciating it more than I did.

I don’t find anything interesting about this character. He’s just so flat, there’s nothing there for me to relate to, and I wish we had more backstory. As it is, he’s just a really simple foil to Batman, and, while that may work conceptually, it doesn’t make for a very engaging tale.

I prefer McFarlane. His work on Batman is always cool.

Hey, I don’t suppose anyone wants to buy me the Batman Black & White statue based on his art? Anyone? No? Okay, moving on then…

I’m fine with Batman knowing who did it, but working with the guy? Nope, doesn’t work for me, not in a million years. Really, none on Batman’s decisions make much sense to me here. The gun thing, the working with the mob thing…it’s all just sudden without any real reason for him to go there. Especially the gun.

Year One is a classic that I’ve re-read at least a dozen times over the years. Year Two is something I read once and then again for book club.

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  • This story has Batman facing off against a dark, murderous mirror of himself in the form of The Reaper. What do you think of this character? Is he a good antagonist for the Dark Knight?

Look wise, he’s pretty great – pretty 90s, sure (and a feat for it being late 80s), but looks deadly and formidable. Character wise…he’s not all that. The idea of him being an older vigilante that Bruce can look at as his fear of what he could become has potential, but overall, eh.

  • The story starts with a frequent collaborator with Mike Barr and art legend in his own right Alan Davis and then finishes with some of the earliest works of another art legend Todd McFarlane. What did you think of the art in these issues? Which do you prefer?

I might be the odd man out and go with Alan Davis. I mean, I like McFarlane’s work overall, but it doesn’t feel quite as strong as later books he would do like with Spider-Man and Spawn.

  • To defeat The Reaper, Batman not only teams up with the mob who is equally interested in stopping him but works side by side with mafia hitman Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents! What do you think of this dynamic? Perhaps most importantly, do you like the idea of Bruce knowing exactly who the man is who murdered his parents, or do you prefer it to be a mystery?

The two working together, while kind of goofy in terms of how it comes out, is interesting enough – I enjoyed the tension that went throughout.

As for Bruce knowing who killed his parents, I’m honestly rather agnostic about it. I think the fact that there’s one mystery he’s never solved can help make him feel more driven to solve the other cases he does every day, to give others the closure he never had. On the other, I think it says something good on the character that he isn’t doing it just to find the guy who killed his parents, but to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

  • What do you think of this story overall? Does it feel like a worthy successor to Batman: Year One?

Is it as good? Not to me, no. But I think it’s still a solid story despite some of the goofier elements to it.

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