Bat Signal

Issue 518 – “The Millionaire Contract”

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Hey there everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, with basically no context, and in random order. We have a pretty fun little issue to talk about this week, folks, some quintessential early eighties Batman, full of weird suits, bad hair, and an ever-changing sense of what Batman should even be. This era of Batman comics is one of my absolute favorite, when the book was half in the wackiness of the Silver Age and half in the gritty meanness of the late Bronze Age and after. Which is how we get an issue like this, that as you can see features Deadshot attempting to kill Batman, and that also begins with some sort of vampire nonsense. Which, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s dive on in.

The issue begins seemingly wrapping up the issue before. But, since my ridiculous self-imposed confines make it so that I can’t know what happened in that issue because I haven’t had it randomly selected yet, I don’t know for sure what’s going on. It begins with Batman strapped to a gurney in the Batcave, while Alfred and Robin watch over him, glad that some sort of cure has made Bruce’s apparent vampirism go away. Alfred and Robin then say goodbye to the creepy priest who cured Bruce, as he carts away two confined vampires. But, while they give Bruce a chance to recuperate, Alfred and Dick head upstairs, because Alfred has something strange to tell him. Stranger than vampires. But, Alfred isn’t able to really explain what’s bothering him, other than it involves how Bruce’s girlfriend Vicki Vale has been getting close to figuring out his identity, when Dick heads into the Manor and finds something surprising.

 

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So, yeah, a man who looks a hell of a lot like Bruce Wayne is inside Wayne Manor, with Vicki Vale. Which, raises some red flags for Dick. But, before he cam a fool of himself the false Bruce and Vicki head out for a date, giving Alfred a chance to explain himself. Apparently Vicki Vale had recently started to piece together that Bruce Wayne was Batman, and she came to Alfred with the proof. Alfred said it wasn’t true, and then hired a professional body double to begin posing as Bruce Wayne, in the hopes that they can come up with a plan where Batman and this fake Bruce Wayne can be seen in the same spot with Vicki, so that she’ll stop sniffing around. The only problem is, Alfred apparently hired this man and then didn’t come up with the second half of that plan. Which, seems like poor planning, Alfred.

And, while all of this is going on, there’s plenty of shady dealings going on in Gotham City Primarily in the form of Boss Rupert Thorne, a powerful gangster in the City who is basically running thing. He installed Hamilton Hill as the mayor and Commissioner Pauling as the new police Commissioner so that he can shape Gotham how he wants it. And, part of that plan involves getting rid of Batman. Luckily, Throne has received information that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same, and has hired Deadshot to kill Wayne at a special gala. The same gala that the fake Bruce and Vicki were headed to earlier. But, lucky for Batman, Jim Gordon, who is now a private eye along with a man named Jason Bard, gives him a call with news that Deadshot has gotten out of prison and is on the loose. So, Batman tracks down the local gunsmith who works with Deadshot to get some information.

 

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The gunsmith doesn’t have a whole lot of information, but he does mention that Deadshot was going to some sort of ball. Which, is all Batman need to realize that he’s getting ready to hit the Crystal Ballroom. And that’s exactly where Deadshot currently is, dangling from a wire outside the ballroom and lining up a shot on what appears to be Bruce Wayne. But, as we know, this is actually Christopher Chance, the body double who Alfred hired, who is currently trying to figure out why he’s been hired to impersonate Wayne. But, he is keeping an eye out for any danger, figuring that Alfred only would have hired him if Wayne was in danger.

And this turns out to save his life, because at that moment Batman has arrived, and attacks Deadshot, startling the madman. And, in his panic he lets off one of his bullets, which flies into the gala and causes a chandelier to crash onto “Bruce’s” table. Chance is able to rescue Vicki, while Batman and Deadshot do battle. Deadshot is pretty pissed off that Bruce Wayne isn’t apparently Batman, since he only took this job to get a chance to kill Batman, but now he can do it directly. Batman and Deadshot beat each other up for a while, but Deadshot then decides he should probably kill Bruce Wayne first. So, he bursts back into the Crystal Ballroom where he takes a bead on Chance. Luckily though, Batman shows back up, distracting Deadshot so that Chance could throw some little object into the barrel of his gun, causing it to misfire and knock Deadshot out. Batman then arrests Deadshot, and rather confusedly says goodbye to “Bruce Wayne,” not sure what exactly is going on.

 

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I just really love this era of comics. Batman has had so many different permutations that it can be a real treat to see how the character has evolved over the years. And, as a result, you come across some very strange issues like this that represent the shifting evolutions of the character. By 1982 Batman was certainly heading in the direction that would dominate the character for the next several decades, the moody and dark stories that would be exemplified by Frank Miller later in the decade. But, this still began with Batman overcoming a bad case of vampirism so that he could do battle with a lunatic who straps guns to his wrists. Which kind of gets to my main feelings with dark and gritty Batman. They just never work as well as they’re intended, because at its heart, these stories are always a tad ridiculous. It’s still a story about a man who dresses like a bat fighting costumed criminals. And, if you can just accept the fact that that conceit can just lead to fun stories, without having to tell “mature” stories, the more fun you can have. This issue is a blast, and I wish the character had stuck around in this mindset for longer.

 

“The Millionaire Contract “was written by Gerry Conway and Paul Levit, penciled by Don Newton, inked by Bruce D Patterson, colored by Adreinne Roy, lettered by Ben Oda, and edited by Dick Giordano, 1982.

 

 

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