Tuesday 25 December 2012

The Best of The Huntress: The Brave and the Bold #184 Review

Title: The Brave and the Bold #184
Story: The Batman's Last Christmas
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Batman
Creators: Mike W. Barr (writer), Jim Aparo (artist)
Publication Date: March 1982
Available In: Print

Summary: The story opens with Batman doing the Father Christmas gig by anonymously dropping off some toys at a local orphanage, which brings smiles to the children residing there. Meanwhile, in another part of Gotham, Commissioner Gordon waits alongside the Bat-signal for Batman to arrive. His officer is sceptical of the likelihood of his showing up that night and is quickly silenced by Batman's timely arrival.

Once inside, the commissioner informs Batman of the high chance he'll be released of his position by the newly elected mayor, Hamilton Hill. Batman reassures him that he has nothing to worry about as he has outlived worse administrations before. Gordon then informs Batman of some stolen records that were supposed to be turned over to the police by an unnamed accountant, and has named local crime boss, "Spurs" Sanders, as the perpetrator. Batman goes out in search of the gunsel who retrieved the records for Sanders and tracks down a man in a Santa suit.

While Batman chases after the man in the Santa suit, Earth-2's Helena Wayne arrives in her Huntress costume to the Earth-1 version of Gotham via the Justice League's Transporter Tube (a technology that allows travel between parallel worlds). Deciding she doesn't want to spend the holidays alone this year, she goes out in search of the Earth-1 Bruce, thinking about what to get him for a present along the way. Back to the scene between Batman and the gunsel in the Santa suit, Batman is quick to disarm the man and retrieve the stolen records, but is shocked to learn that the man who has been funding Spurs Sanders' criminal activity all these years was none other than his own father, Thomas Wayne. The gunsel notices Batman is taken aback by this discovery and uses the opportunity to try and shoot him, but is subsequently rescued by the Huntress who had tracked Batman through his Justice League communicator.

Bruce takes Helena back home to his penthouse where he discusses with her the shocking discovery that he made. Helena expresses worry over Bruce, but reassures him that this can't be all there is to the story and to do the one thing he does best: investigate. Bruce then thinks of visiting his father's old accountant, Amos Randolph, for answers.

They both arrive at Mr. Randolph's house two days before Christmas and find him in an ailing state of health. Bruce introduces Helena as his "cousin" and exchanges a gift with him before asking for his father's financial records. Mr. Randolph's caretaker hands the records over to Bruce and Randolph himself expresses suspicion over the large withdrawals Thomas Wayne made every month, stating he never knew of these withdrawals. Bruce and Helena set on to investigate as Batman and Huntress.

Their investigation leads them to the house of Spurs Sanders himself who plays for Batman a recorded conversation between Thomas Wayne and Spurs himself negotiating funds. Batman is unnerved to hear his father's voice and Spurs makes a deal with Batman offering to protect Thomas Wayne's reputation in exchange for the records he has in his custody. A disheartened Batman leaves with Huntress but asks to be left alone in order to cope with the news he had just learned. Huntress finds her way to the cemetery Bruce's parents are buried in only to find him renouncing the Batman after expressing his distress. This causes Huntress to think of her own father on Earth-2 and the circumstances that led him to hang up the cape and cowl for good. Bruce decides to frequent some night clubs, thus leaving Huntress to fend for his city all on her own.

Later on in the day, the gunsel from earlier is seen leaving a store with his son, having bought him a Christmas present. He is almost murdered by one of Spurs' henchmen wanting to tie up loose ends, but is rescued by the Huntress. Bruce witnessing the whole thing has an epiphany that the Batman existed for more reasons than just avenging his parents' deaths: he also existed to spare other children the distress of losing their parents at a young age, even if those parents were themselves criminals. This inspires Bruce to take up the mantle of Batman again and asks Huntress to accompany him to Wayne Manor in order to tie up loose ends of their own.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce deduces that the "Thomas Wayne" in tape is really Amos Randolph himself imitating his father. The one thing that gave him away? Randolph's nervous tapping is heard on the tape. Bruce (as Batman) decides to pay another visit to Randolph to confront him on his criminal activity, while Helena (as Huntress) collects the tapes from Spurs Sanders' home for evidence and delivers those along with the records (gift wrapped!) to Commissioner Gordon. The story then ends with Batman visiting his parents' graves reassuring them that his faith and his cause have been restored thanks to the Earth-2 Huntress. Helena then asks to stay with Bruce for the holidays as a gift to him.

Review: Given that the holiday season is here upon us, I couldn't have chosen a more appropriate story to review than The Batman's Last Christmas, which will always remain a classic.

One of the things I absolutely love and miss about the pre-Crisis continuity is the charm, the sincerity, and the quality of its stories for its time. With modern comics often resorting to a grimdark tone, gross depowerment of its characters, and extreme violence as a way of delivering a compelling story, it is always refreshing to read a story where good things actually happen to good and bad people.

Part of what makes The Batman's Last Christmas a compelling read is the special relationship that exists between the mainstream Batman and his Earth-2 daughter, Helena Wayne. As established in an earlier story, the Earth-1 Bruce loves and accepts Helena as "the daughter he could have" and he immediately bonded with her upon meeting her. She is also almost always Bruce's immediate partner for every JSA-JLA crossover event, and the great thing about this pair is that they always work together on equal-footing. Huntress is never a replacement sidekick for Robin and is treated with respect as an independent heroine of her own right (something that follows through in this story as well).

Within the context of the story, the Earth-1 Dick Grayson has by this point started living his life independent of Bruce, and outside of Alfred, Bruce falls short of any meaningful human interaction. On the parallel world of Earth-2, Helena faces a similar dilemma. Despite being close friends with Power Girl, the Earth-2 Robin, and the whole of the Justice Society, she does miss spending the holidays with her family whom she misses a lot. Deciding not to spend the holidays alone, she fills that void by providing companionship to only other loner she can think of: the Earth-1 version of her father.

Another part of what makes The Batman's Last Christmas an excellent read for the holidays is the fact that it's something more than just a father-daughter team-up story. It is ultimately a very humanistic story about self-discovery and self-realisation (Bruce Wayne), reassuring the people in your life of their importance and worth (Batman to Jim Gordon, and Helena to Bruce), giving the people who made bad choices in life a second chance (both Huntress and Batman to a hired gun), and making someone else happy (Batman to the children in the orphanage).

All in all, The Batman's Last Christmas is among the best of DC Comics' Holiday Specials and a great one to read every year if you're a fan of Batman and the Huntress. :)


No comments:

Post a Comment