Bat Signal

Issue 421 – “Blind Justice… Blind Fear!”

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Hi there folks, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order, and with basically no context. And we’re in for a very interesting story today folks. Quite a while ago I ran into an absolutely insane story about Man-Bat that was written and drawn by a guy I had never heard of, Frank Robbins. I adored the story, because it was super nuts, and featured some wonderfully cartoony art that was unlike anything I usually saw in a Batman comic. And, as luck would have it, I’ve happened to pull another issue from Frank Robbins. And while it’s not as insane as Batman fighting Man-Bat over Las Vegas, it’s still got a certain amount of that weird flair that drew me to Robbins in that story. This is a very strange issue, and much more politically and socially charged than I normally see Batman, which is pretty cool.

The story starts off with a lot of plates already spinning. But I don’t believe that this is the second part of a story, because more or less everything gets explained by the end. I think we’re just dumped into the story in media res. It all begins with Batman doing his best to break into a prison where a hostage situation is developing. We see that the police have surrounded the prison, and are preparing to storm in, guns blazing, to deal with the situation. But Batman doesn’t want thing to escalate to that point, and has convinced Commissioner Gordon to let him slip in and try to calm the situation down. But it’s clear that emotions are high, especially when we begin to learn that the next morning some prisoner is going to be released on parole, and that’s a huge deal. They stay cagey for a while who this mysterious prisoner is, just showing us that everyone is very concerned with his safety. Until we finally get a name.

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Yeah, Carlton Quayle means nothing to me. But that’s okay, because Batman and Gordon are about to explain it all. Turns out that Quayle was a Gotham City Assistant District Attorney, and he’d been taken down after being caught taking bribes. This then uncovered a massive amount of corruption under his watch, but Quayle went to prison never saying who blackmailed him, and who else he may have been working for. This has been a huge black spot on the Gotham City legal community, and Batman is worried that someone is going to take advantage of this prison riot and kill Quayle, silencing him forever. And things get even worse when they learn that the prisoners have taken several guards hostage, along with a few prisoners. And, it just so happens that one of them is Carlton Quayle.

So Batman flies his Bat-copter over to the prison, lowers himself down into the compound, and prepares to break into the prison with the goal of saving Quayle specifically. Batman’s a little confused at how simple it was to get inside, without any of the rioters attacking him, until he gets inside and immediately has guns drawn on him. Several of the prisoners then surround Batman, and begin yelling at him. They seem to be lead by a furious activist called Brother Newley who begins lecturing Batman about racial inequality in Gotham City’s criminal justice system. Batman doesn’t really have anything to combat these claims, and basically just tries to convince Newley that he’s trying to fix the corruption, and a major part will be him protecting Quayle. Which of course causes one of the prisoners who was hired to kill Quayle to move thing along. He tries to attack Batman, causing a huge fight to break out. Batman holds his own pretty well against all of the prisoners, but ends up slipping and almost falling off of the catwalk, only to be saved by Newley.

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But Newley didn’t do this because he thinks that it’s the right thing to keep Batman alive. He did it because he just found his perfect way to escape prison. Newley convinces that rest of the prisoners that he has a plan to make it so the police outside won’t storm in and kill them all, and it revolves around Newyley holding Batman hostage, and using him as leverage. The other prisoners for some reason agree to this, and Newley gets ready to head outside with Batman. But Batman won’t allow this plan to progress without Quayle, and since Newley still doesn’t know who Quayle is, he agrees.

Batman, Newley, and Quayle then leave the prison, and head out into the yard. Which is when Batman realizes that Quayle seems to have at best a major concussion, and at worst some brain damage, and he doesn’t seem to remember anything, making him useless to Batman and Gordon. But Batman is obviously a good dude, so he doesn’t leave Quayle in the prison, and still brings him along. Which is when Newley reveals that things aren’t going to go the way he promised the other prisoners. Instead he’s going to climb up into the Bat-Copter and have Batman help him escape prison. Batman goes through with it, since Newley is holding Quayle hostage, and they end up leaving the prison in the copter. Newley directs them to a waiting car, ready for him to flee. Because he planned this? Eh, whatever, Batman lets him get off the copter, but then immediately swings around and captures him, bring Newley back to prison and taking Quayle to a hospital to try and fix whatever’s wrong with him. And, luckily, he remembers some micro-film, giving Gordon the information he needed.

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This is a very interesting issue. It’s still got that crazy Frank Robbins art-style that I really enjoy. Yeah, it’s not as insane as that Man-Bat issue of his I read, with sound effects being incorporated into speech balloons and some ridiculous Batman closeups, but it’s still a lot of fun to read. But where this issue really hooked me was hos weirdly political it was. That Man-Bat issue is just nuts, Batman hunting down a monster and fighting it in Las Vegas, but this issue tried to really get into some racial injustices in Gotham. Which is something I’m not really familiar with seeing in a Batman comic. It obviously didn’t get super deep, but Brother Newley makes some interesting points throughout the issue, and seeing Batman to struggle defending the racial injustices that the GCPD perpetrates was very interesting. It would have been nice if it dove in even deeper, but that would have become a whole different story. But hey, it’s always nice to see a Batman story that feels unfamiliar.

 

“Blind Justice…Blind Fear!” was written, drawn, and inked by Frank Robbins and lettered by Ben Oda, 1972.

 

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