Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order and with essentially no context. And we have a pretty fun issue to talk about today, folks. It’s an entry from Paul Dini’s run on Detective, and it’s a pretty solid little story that puts my personal favorite Robin, Tim Drake, on display. Oh, and it’s also a Christmas story, which is a little random, but definitely adds to the surreal nature that this story provides. The issue also informs us that this story apparently took place a bit in the past, happening right after Grant Morrison took over Batman. But, being as I’m not overly familiar with that era of the comics, I don’t know the context of that idea, and it really didn’t seem to mean much to me, or the story. But, I guess it means something to someone, so I figured I’d mention it.
The actual story begins with Tim Drake racing through the streets of Gotham on his motorcycle, being chased by two cars that are firing guns at him. His internal monologue informs us that this is a local group of gun-runner who he’s been staking out, trying to stop from selling guns to local kids. But, everything has gone pear-shaped, and Robin is now trying to lose them, speeding through the snowy night while they continue to send a barrage of bullets his way. Robin manages to crash his motorcycle after being hit by a bullet, and collapses in an alley. The armor in his costume protects him from the bullet, but not the damage, and it seems like he’s in a rough spot. He causes one of the cars to crash by tossing a smoke bomb into their car, but the other car is bearing down on him. Luckily, another car pulls up to Tim, and the driver tells him to hop in. So, not looking a gift-horse in the mouth, he dives into the car. Unfortunately, this is a bad call.
Whoops! Yeah, the person driving the car just so happens to be the Joker. And, before Tim can do anything about this, the Joker sprays him with some knock-out gas, causing Tim to pass out and start dreaming. We see him have a flashback to a time when he was training with Bruce and Dick, talking about the Joker while also discussing their passion for old Marx Brothers movies. But, it’s mainly about Bruce reminding Tim how dangerous the Joker is. And, with that useful little nugget fresh in his head, Tim wakes up from the gas, only to find that he’s bound and gagged, still inside the car with the Joker. But, the Joker seems to be in a jolly mood. He’s singing carols and just chatting with Tim, as if they were old acquaintances who had happened to run into each other. He even tells Tim that, since it’s the holidays, he’s going to call a truce, and even let Tim go.
Tim obviously realizes that this is bullshit, and gets to work trying to get out of his bounds without drawing Joker’s attention. But, it starts to get a little hard to focus on freeing himself when the Joker starts randomly plowing into people with his station wagon, killing them. He starts joking around, implying that it’s all an accident, but Tim starts to realize that the whole point of this little evening is for Tim to sit back helplessly while the Joker kills a bunch of random civilians. All while the Joker is pretending that they’re just having a nice evening together, bonding. And, to make things weirder, he even forces them to use a fast food drive-thru, which ends exactly how you’d expect.
Why would anyone want to live in Gotham? Anyway, it’s at this point that Joker drops all his pretense of holiday cheer, and informs Tim that he had planned this whole thing, looking for a time when Robin would be on his own so that the Joker could torture him like this. He even tells Tim that he’s ensured there’s nothing inside the car’s seat that he can use to free himself, making it clear that Tim’s going to be trapped. So, thinking fast, Tim attempts to take stock of his situation, hoping to find some answer to his plight. And, luckily, he notices that because Joker has been cranking the heat, his hands have become quite sweaty, which he starts to use to hid advantage, trying to slip out of the bounds.
But, to accomplish this, he’s going to need some sort of a distraction. The Joker has started implying that he’s going to keep killing random civilians until Tim begs for death. So, he takes off Tim’s gag, and continues driving around the town, heading straight for a group of children awaiting a Santa Claus. He then gives Robin a chance to say something, and Tim finds his opening. He quotes the Marx Brothers, saying “you can’t fool me, there ain’t no Santy Claus.” And the Joker loves this. He spares the kids, and starts talking about how shocked he is that Tim knows the Marx Brothers. And, to keep him distracted, Tim says that the line comes from The Big Store, when it actually comes from A Night at the Opera. This mistake drives Joker insane, and he starts ranting to Tim about Marx Brothers lore, giving Tim the distraction he needs to finally slip out of his bounds, and attack the Joker. He gains the element of surprise, and manages to beat the Joker up, even spraying him with that same knock-out gas. And, when the Joker is disorientated, Tim pushes him out of the car, right into the path of a semi. The Joker is hit, and falls off a bridge. But, some time later when Batman and the police arrive, the body is missing, and the Joker appears to have survived. But, that doesn’t stop Batman from telling Tim how proud he is for what he’s done.
I have to admit, even though I’m not the biggest fan of the Joker, and specifically the more murderous Joker that we have on display in this story, this issue is a whole lot of fun. And, I think most of that enjoyment comes from how much I enjoy Tim Drake as a character. Tim’s put in a pretty horrible situation in this story, with an almost certain death awaiting him. But, he keeps cool and waits for the right moment to defeat the Joker, using his wits. The idea of Tim tossing out a Marx Brothers reference, but then misattributing it in order to drive the Joker insane is a pretty wonderful idea. And it all is aided by how unsettling this whole issue is, especially with Joker’s unnerving behavior, making the whole situation even creepier and tense. But, Tim Drake is the goddamn man, so of course he finds a way to trick the Joker, even giving us one of those classic endings where it seems like the Joker surely has died, only for him to return, as he always does. It’s just a really fun little story, and I’m very glad I’ve experienced it.
“Slayride” was written by Paul Dini, penciled by Don Kramer, inked by Waynce Faucher, colored by John Kalisz, and lettered by Jared K Fletcher, 2007.
Categories: Bat Signal