Bat Signal

Issue 628 – “Hearts”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with very little context. And we’re taking another trip to the weird and moody world the the early nineties this week, folks. When I first started this project the early nineties were probably the time-period I was most nervous about covering, since by and large it represents some of my least favorite aspects of comics as a whole. But, I’ve made some decent luck so far with the few trips to the source of BuzzFeed’s power. Nothing too objectionable. But, we may be ending that streak this week. Because this issue is really weird. But, they can’t all be winners.

The story begins with a group of Gotham City police officers and a professor of ornithology meeting up in a large mansion that appears to have been a hideout for the Penguin. Penguin is in jail, and the police have tasked professor Dennis O’Donnell with cataloging his collection of rare birds before they get shipped around the world. O’Donnell is awe-struck with Penguin’s collection, and his apparent natural skills as an ornithologist, and gets to work examining all of the birds. The police then leave O’Donnell behind, and as soon as they leave another group of men enter the building. They’re led by a man named Abattoir, a villain I’ve never even heard of, and they’re here for some less than wholesome reasons. Abattoir and his men start intimidating the professor, telling him that they don’t care about any of the birds, except for the doves. Specifically, two thousand doves, which Abattoir plans to rip the hearts of out. But, before he can explain himself, his men kill the professor, and get on with their dark deeds.

 

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And, as you might have guessed, this crime doesn’t go unnoticed. The next morning when the police return to the building they find all the mutilated birds and the body of professor O’Donnell and call in reinforcements, along with the Batman. And Batman has to admit that he has no idea why someone would do such a thing. But, in order to get some leads, he decides to head to Arkham Asylum to check in on the Penguin. And, to his shock, the Penguin has actually become a model prisoner since his last arrest, tending to birds and generally becoming a sweet man. So, when Batman marches into his prison cell to tell him that two thousand of his doves have just been ritualistically killed, the Penguin is more than a little upset. The Penguin begs Batman to find the killer of his birds, and the Dark Knight heads out of the Asylum, with no real hint at to what’s going on. And, as he leaves he chats with one of the doctors running the asylum who ensures him that no patients have been sneaking out, right as they pass the cell of Abattoir, who is indeed inside, laughing to himself maniacally.

Almost as soon as Batman and the doctor walk by though, Abattoir springs his plan into action. Some lackeys dressed as custodians open his cell, and let him free, while one of them stays behind and puts on a wig to replace him. Abattoir and his men then head downstairs where they meet up with a laundry truck who carts him out of the Asylum to get more evil deeds done. They then head out to a giant dairy outside Gotham where they can accomplish the second phase of their plan, which involves killing four thousand cows. Along with all the workers. But, one of the workers is able to sneak off and call the police, getting Batman onto their trail. Bruce asks Alfred to find some sort of link between dove and cow sacrifices, and then hops into the Batcopter to track them down. And, as he gets there he finds that Abattoir and his men are getting ready to transport all the cows out of there, commandeering milk trucks. Batman attacks the trucks with his copter, but they’re able to avoid him, destroying the Batcopter in the process. And, as Batman climbs out of the wreckage, they speed off with their ill-gotten cows.

 

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But, the night ends up not being a complete bust. Because when Batman returns to the Batcave he finds that Alfred has had a breakthrough. Apparently the ancient Arakhan people of Myanmar had a legend about a ruler who sought to use some magic gems to gain impossible power. But, the gems were through to be cursed, unless purified with the hearts of two thousand doves, four thousand cows, and six thousand humans. The ruler killed all the necessary beings, and then tried to use the gems, resulting in his death. So, it’s not the most sane plan, but Abattoir was an Arkham inmate, so they figure that tracks. And, since Batman saw Abattoir at Arkham, he knows that he has a way out. Batman then starts investigating any possible escape route, and ends up locating the laundry worker who Abattoir has been working with. The man is terrified of Batman, and freely admits that Abattoir told him to avoid a very specific train. One that often holds several thousand people.

Batman then calls the police, hoping that they’ll be able to stop the train before it leaves for it’s route. But, no such luck. So, Batman is forced to hop in the Batmobile and race towards the train, and specifically the large bridge that it crosses. Which is where Abattoir and his men are, waiting to blow the bridge up, crashing the train and killing the necessary amount of people so Abattoir can complete his insane mission. Batman leaps from the Batmobile onto the train, only to find that the engineer has lost control, and is unable to slow them down or stop them. So, Batman springs into action, moves everyone to the back of the train, and unlatches the passenger cars from the engine, saving the passengers. The engine then crosses the bridge, triggering the explosions. Batman then leaps from the wreckage of the bridge, gliding down to the location of the criminals. He makes short work of Abattoir’s goons, before turning on Abattoir himself. He yells at him, mocking his weird goals, causing Abattoir to apparently have a heart attack or something. I’m not sure, he just falls to the ground, and the issue ends.

 

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I don’t know, this issue just didn’t do much for me. Which is fair. We almost have 1,000 issues of Detective Comics, it would be crazy if I liked every single one of them. And this one just doesn’t fall into my wheelhouse. I’ve never encountered this Abattoir before, and it seems like he never amounted to much, but I’m not much of a fan. Partly because he’s willing to kill twelve thousand living beings, but also because he did it for no clear reason. I mean, they talk about the ancient legend, but it’s not like he has the weird gems. He was just killing things to become powerful? I feel like he was missing an important factor. I mean, he is a lunatic, so I guess I shouldn’t be delving too deeply into the inner-workings of his master plan, but I would at least like to see my supervillains trying to pull off a scheme that makes an even remote amount of sense. It was just a strange issue, full of weird little plot elements that didn’t track that well. I’m not sure what the deal with the huge aerie from the beginning of the story was about, because it appeared to belong to the Penguin, but was being run by the Wayne Foundation, Abattoir’s plan made no sense, and I don’t understand how he was defeated at the end. Maybe things would make more sense if I knew who Abattoir was, or if I had more context over the what was going on in the comics prior to this. But, that’s against the insane rules I’ve set for myself during this project. It’s still not a really great issue though.

 

“Hearts” was written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by Jim Apairo, inked by Mike DeCarlo, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by John Costanza, 1991.

 

 

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