Bat Signal

Issue 864 – “Beneath the Mask, Part One”

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Hello everyone and welcome to another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context. And let me tell you, most issues that I randomly pull don’t really have any context to worry about. For most of Detective Comics’ history it was just some stand-alone stories that aren’t part of long-running narratives. But every now and then I pull issues that just happen to be a piece of a story, and it can be a littler confusing. And immediately, upon seeing that “Part One” was in the title of the issue, I knew I wasn’t going to be frustrated. Although, oddly enough, it wasn’t really the end of the issue that gave me the most grief. I can usually guess how a story will end in the coming issues. Honestly it was the beginning that threw me through the biggest loops. But let’s get to that.

The issue begins with a nine-panel grid of random faces with some mysterious dialogue trying to set a sense of menace. We see an Arkham inmate, a jester’s staff, the Black Mask, several Batmen, and then a trio of random looking crazy people. And once that’s taken care of we cut to a wonderfully odd splash page where we see Bruce Wayne, Nightwing, Robin, and Catwoman fighting with a guy in a Batman costume who is firing guns at them. Not exactly a scene that one would expect. But we do get some context from the narrator, in between some random Velvet Underground references. Basically, this scene is from the past, when Bruce Wayne and the Bat-Family worked together to stop Hugo Strange, who went crazy after they tricked him into believing Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman. Strange then responded to this by dressing as Batman and trying to gun people down. And once the Bat-Family stopped Strange he was brought to Arkham Asylum, which is where we finally get a hang on what’s going on.

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Yep, it turns out that our humble narrator has been Jeremiah Arkham, the administrator of Arkham Asylum. We see that Arkham took a special interest in Hugo Strange, and specifically tried to help him with his issues. However, this was also not the present. Because the real present of the issue features Jeremiah Arkham as an inmate in his family’s asylum. Now, this is where I got a little confused. I’m familiar with Jeremiah Arkham, but primarily as a somewhat shy and ineffective administrator of the Asylum. But it turns out that somewhere around this issue he took on a different role. Jeremiah Arkham apparently became a new version of the Black Mask. I’m not sure how Roman Sionis felt about this, but it seems like Arkham wasn’t a particularly effective Black Mask, him being put in the Asylum and whatnot.

Although, we also see that there’s certainly some darkness hiding behind Arkham. Because as he sits in the cafeteria, trying to mind his own business, he gets accosted by a fellow inmate. Some creepy old guy that Arkham calls the Mortician begins harassing Arkham, telling him that he and the fellow inmates are going to make Arkham’s life in the Asylum a living hell. And, in response, Arkham lets the Mortician know that if he ever messes with Arkham again, he’ll have some men capture the Mortician’s grandson and torture him for the rest of his life. This works quite well, and Jeremiah is quickly left alone. So there’s clearly something going on with Arkham. And, to make things worse, there’s something crazy happening out on the streets of Gotham.

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So yeah, there’s some guy standing in the middle of the street, holding a woman hostage and demanding to see Batman. And Batman is more than happy to comply. He tackles the guy, demanding to know what’s going on. And it’s not good. The man is a prominent investment banker, and it turns out that the Black Mask, be he Jeremiah Arkham or not, recently kidnapped him and had Hugo Strange implant a bomb into his chest, forcing him to trigger an economic catastrophe in Gotham. And now that Arkham has been arrested as the Black Mask, there’s no one to turn the bomb off. So the man begs Batman to head into the Asylum, and figure out the code to disable the bomb so that the man can try to undo the catastrophe.

Batman then heads to Arkham Asylum, and heads into a cell with Arkham. Everyone that works at the Asylum is very worried about this, figuring that Jeremiah’s psyche is so close to being fractured already that this is too dangerous. But Batman ignores them, and starts trying to psychologically manipulate Arkham into telling him what he wants to know. Which isn’t a great plan when dealing with a professional. Our glimpse into Jeremiah’s head, through the narration boxes, show us that Arkham figures out what Batman is doing, and decides to play him along. Until Batman tells Arkham that he was incompetent, and was never able to cure anyone. This gets Jeremiah pissed, and he tells Batman that he actually has saved three inmates that are hidden in a secret part of the Asylum. And he’ll only tell Batman how to stop the bomb if he goes with Arkham to check on the people, and prove that he was a good psychiatrist. So they head into a secret area of the Asylum, and things get baffling. There does appear to be three people, but they all have Jeremiah’s face, and he ends up stabbing them when they start mocking him. And that’s the end of the issue.

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So yeah, this is a weird issue. But sometimes that’s the luck of the draw. I made the stupid rules for this project, so I don’t get to complain when I get an issue that makes absolutely no sense. Just like this one! I legitimately have no idea what’s going on here. I guess Jeremiah Arkham snapped after years of horrible things happening at Arkham Asylum, and became a new Black Mask. Maybe. Some people in this issue seem unconvinced that Arkham actually was this new Black Mask running around. But whatever the truth, Arkham clearly is an evil asshole in this issue, threatening the Mortician’s grandchild. And then there’s that ending. I have no idea what’s going on there. Did Arkham actually have three secret inmates? Were they all in his head? Were they different personalities of his that he just killed? Were they three random people who he imagined were all him? No idea. And I’ll probably never figure it out. The odds that I pull the next issue are not exactly in my favor. Oh well. It’s not exactly a burning question.

“Beneath the Mask, Part One” was written by David Hine, penciled by Jeremy Haun, inked by Jeremy Haun and John Lucas, and colored by David Baron, 2010.

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