Bat Signal

Issue 593 – “Diary of a Madman”

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Hey everybody! Ready to hear about a bummer of a comic? Yeah, I’m not psyched to talk about it either, but this is the number I pulled, so this is the issue I’ve got t talk about. This is just so not the type of issue that I enjoy reading. I know that there are people who like their superhero stories full of darkness and death, but that just isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m reading a noir or sci-fi comic I like some darkness, but superheroes just don’t work for me when they’re dark. I mean, there’s a man running around in a blue cape dressed like a bat in this comic, along with some straight up murder and cannibalism. That doesn’t give anyone else cognitive dissonance? Whatever, it’s inevitable that I’m going to pull comics from this era when writers were convinced that they needed to one-up each other when it came to needless grittiness and violence, so there’s no use complaining about it, let’s just dive on in.

Turns out the issue is part-two of a story, so we’re missing a bit of context, but I was able to figure it all out in the end. We start off with some poor old guy tied to a bed-frame in a gross apartment while some skinny creep with a knife is threatening him. The issue is narrated by the skinny creep, who we learn is Cornelius Stirk. Now, I recognized the guy from the Knightfall series when I read that as a kid, and after looking him up I realized that he wasn’t really used beyond this story, and that one. Stirk is a patient of Arkham Aslyum who has a telepathic power to make people believe he looks like other people. And he uses that power to trick people, kill them, and eat their hearts because he believes that that’s the only thing that can keep him alive. Yep! That’s where we’re starting off! So Stirk kills the old guy, carves him up, starts boiling his organs and heads out to dispose of the body.

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Lovely. Anyway, Batman is hot on the trail of Stirk, because I guess he managed to use his power to make the doctors at Arkham think he looked sane, and then got released. And once he was out, he just started this killing spree. So Batman’s trying to track the guy down, which is hard because he’s apparently not leaving any great clues, and is purposefully leaving the bodies in random places to confound the police. But Batman’s the best at what he does, so he manages to find the gross apartment that Stirk is holed up in, and breaks in, hoping to catch the serial killer. Unfortunately when he gets there Stirk has just left with the corpse of the old guy, so Batman decides to wait around in the gross apartment, hoping to surprise Stirk when he gets home. Oh, he also makes the mistake of checking inside the boiling pot. Bad call, Batman.

And Batman doesn’t have to wait too long, because Stirk is finished dumping the body of the old guy in a construction field, and has already picked up a new victim. Because as he’s leaving he’s spotted by a cop, and decides to make the cop see him as a beautiful woman. So Stirk invites the cop up to his place, and like a moron the cop agrees. But things take a turn when they open the door and find Batman waiting for them. Although Stirk has some good luck, because apparently Batman doesn’t know what Stirk looks like, so when the “woman” says that the cop is the killer, Batman just beats the hell out of him, before Stirk shoots him in the leg. And with Batman incapacitated, Stirk decides to torture the hell out of him.

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So now that Batman’s all strung up, Stirk starts explaining some stuff to him. He tells Batman all about his powers, and how he uses them to trick people, before explaining that he does what he does because he thinks hearts keep him sane, especially hearts that are full of fear. So that’s why he tortures people. And he thinks that if he can get Batman’s heart full of fear, and eat that, he’ll be unstoppable. But that only problem with this plan is that it requires finding something Batman is afraid of. Which is no easy feat. But Stirk gives it a shot and starts making Batman see him as a giant demon.

This didn’t work obviously, so Stirk realizes he’s going to have to work harder than he normally does. He starts to use his powers to dig into Batman’s mind, trying to find something that scares the Dark Knight. And he starts to hit some pay-dirt when he makes Batman believe he’s in a dark alley, being attacked by formless beings. It isn’t enough though, so Stirk adds the idea of Batman being unmasked and discovered. But, as Batman explains, that doesn’t scare him, it just makes him disappointed in himself. So Stirk digs a little deeper and finds some memories of Batman’s parents getting killed in Crime Alley. But Stirk misinterprets this as Batman being scared of innocents dying, and decides that he’ll kill that cop from earlier in front of Batman, and that will get him the fear he needs. But Stirk isn’t in luck, because all this does is infuriate Batman enough to beat himself out of the bed-frame prison and knock Stirk out in one punch. So he drags Stirk out of the apartment and back to Arkham where he can live out the rest of his life as a lunatic.

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This was a rough one folks. Honestly, there are a few things I like about the issue, like the idea of Batman not really being afraid of anything, and really only caring about the idea of protecting the innocents around him, but it was surrounded by a rotten little story that was just needlessly dark. It seriously featured a villain who wanted to make people feel fear, so he could eat their hearts. That’s ridiculous. That may seem edgy and bad-ass to a highschool student, but it just feel juvenile. It was just an ugly comic, in basically every respect.  I’m glad that Cornelius Stirk didn’t really stick around in comics, because what a ridiculous and awful villain. I’ll just never see the appeal in having a superhero fight something like this.

“Diary of a Madman” was written by John Wagner & Alan Grant, penciled by Norm Breyfogle, inked by Steve Mitchel, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by Todd Klein, 1988.

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