Bat Signal

Issue 837 – “Honor Among Thieves”

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Well here’s a weird installment of Bat Signal! Not only is it the most recent issue of Detective Comics that I’ve pulled for the series, not only is it the first tie-in to a larger event we’ve had (this one apparently tying into the panned Countdown to Final Crisis event), but Batman’s barely in it! That’s right, Batman has little more than a glorified cameo in this comic. Which made me kind of wonder about picking a different issue and ignoring the number generators pick. Because when I put in the parameters I keep out the first 26 issues of the series, before Batman arrived, and generally ignore the other parts of the older books when the Batman story is just one facet of the comic. I don’t feel the need to keep you abreast of the latest developments of the Martian Manhunter or the lame television detective that often backs up the Batman stories in the Golden Age books, because this series is about Batman, not them. So when I realized that this was actually a Riddler and Harley Quinn two-hander, I kind of considered skipping it. But then I read the comic, and loved the damn thing, so I’m giving it a pass. Yeah, this probably should just be about Batman, but I don’t care, this comic was a hell of a lot of fun, and I want to talk about it.

Right from the beginning I knew this one was going to be different when it opened with narration from the Riddler. Now, this is from a time period that I’ve heard about, but have never read before, where the Riddler has more or less reformed himself, and is operating as a private detective in Gotham. Which is wonderful. I’m on record as a huge fan of the Riddler and private eyes, and I think having him transition from being a villain to a hero for hire is great. But as the story opens, he’s kind of struggling. People aren’t that psyched about hiring an ex-con who has held the city ransom to be their private eye so business isn’t going that great. And it probably doesn’t help that he’s still wearing his Riddler outfit. But I guess you have to stay on brand. Anyway, things take a turn when a great job comes sauntering into his office. Bruce Wayne

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That’s right, Bruce Wayne himself has shown up at Nigma’s office to offer him a job. Seems a woman working at Wayne Enterprises named Lisa Newman has gone missing. And what’s concerning is the fact that she’s been working on some super secret drug research that seems to be trying to create a super-solider like drug. So Riddler starts investigating, and after checking her computer is able to surmise that she’s fled town and headed to Metropolis where she’s staying at some sort of weird commune/cult that’s styled after Amazonian culture. So he heads over to Metropolis to talk to a contact of his at the local Athenian Women’s Help Shelter, Ms. Harleen Quinzel. Yep, apparently Harley has stopped working with the Joker around this story and is working at a Metropolis branch of a weird women’s organization. Sure, why not.

And after some initial reticence of being seen with Nigma, fearing that that will tell the other women in the shelter that she associates with criminals, Harley decides to hear him out. So they go for coffee and chat about what life is like as a reformed criminal, and agree that it’s pretty damned hard. We’re also treated to a lengthy flashback where Harley explains that she gave up being a criminal after parting ways with Joker and having a horrible time with the Secret Six. There may be another run of Secret Six that I’m not thinking of, but I was a big fan of the team featuring Bane, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Catman, and Ragdoll, and it was interesting to see this little story where Harley joined them to protect some rich heiress during a Carnivale type festival. It all goes to shit when Harley gets in a fight with Ragdoll over their costumes and accidentally pushes the heiress off her float and into the hands of her kidnappers. Hey, it’ll happen to the best of us.

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And after that little interlude Riddler finally explains why he’s in Metropolis, and asks Harley’s help in tracking this Lisa woman down. Harley recognizes her, and the two head back to the shelter to try and figure things out. Riddler isn’t allowed into the building, so Harley heads out to confront the woman she thinks is Lisa all on her own. Which turns out to not be that great of an idea, since this is a woman who has stolen a briefcase of experimental super-steroids, so when she realizes Harley’s onto her, she just shoots up and starts beating the hell out of Harley.

The two have a drag-out fight in the shelter while Harley actually does hold her own pretty well. Which I guess makes sense. Joker isn’t exactly the most physical villain Batman has, but I’m sure to survive in Gotham’s criminal world you have to at least know how to take care of yourself. And as she mentions, she’s held her own against Poison Ivy and Catwoman before. But the tides start to turn when Lisa just keeps shooting up, getting more and more powerful. Which really turns out to be a bad call when Harley kicks her into some sort of magical whirpool thing that actually comes from Amazonian magic. And if there’s one thing we know, science and magic don’t really jive that well, which results in Lisa turning into some sort of crazy monster. And the monster form is too much for Harley to handle, so things start to look pretty grim. That is until Riddler shows up and just clocks Lisa over the head with a barbell, stopping her. So the cops come and arrest Lisa, we get some weird scene where the head of the shelter reveals that she was the one who wanted to buy the drug for some nefarious purpose that I assume came back in crisis, and Riddler heads back to Gotham to cash his check. At which point we realize that this was all some sort of elaborate test Bruce concocted to see if Riddler was on the level. Since Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective, he figured out the truth about Lisa easy, but wanted to see if a) Riddler could solve the case, and b) was trustworthy enough to give the drug back when he found it. And he did. So Riddler’s an ally. Right on.

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Like I said earlier, this issue felt a little out of the wheelhouse of this project, but I really liked it. Not having the story start Batman was a little odd, but hey, the Riddler as a private eye is the next best thing. I’m a fan of any story that features the Riddler, and I really do think it was a great idea to have him reform and become a detective. His whole deal is that he’s convinced that he’s smarter than Batman, who unironically refers to himself as the World’s Greatest Detective, so it makes sense that he would put his money where his mouth is and try being a detective in his own right. And there was actual detective work going on! Which can be surprisingly lacking from Detective Comics. Riddler does some serious gumshoe work in this story, and successfully solves the case. Yeah, it of sucks when you realize Batman already figured the case out and was using it as a test, but whatever, Riddler still did his job! Hell, even the Harley stuff was a lot of fun in this issue, which is shocking since she’s a character that I typically don’t care for. Which may have been because this was a solo Harley story, where she wasn’t with the Joker. I know this is an unpopular opinion on the internet, but I really don’t like Harley and Joker, and am kind of disgusted by the people who draw fanart or them as a cute couple, or couples who cosplay as the two of them. That’s just twisted. But Harley works pretty well when she’s separated from the Joker as much as possible, and she was an interesting partner to Riddler in this story. Overall, I just really enjoyed this issue, and am really psyched to read more comics from this era when Riddler was working as a private eye. That just a great premise for me.

“Honor Among Thieves” was written by Paul Dini, drawn by Don Kramer, and colored by John Kalisz, 2007.

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