Bat Signal

Issue 662 – “Burning Questions”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And we’re taking another trip back to the weird world of Knightfall this week, the famous story that culminates in Bane breaking Batman’s back. We’ve actually already talked about that issue over the course of this project, and a couple of the other issues from the larger story, and I’m usually pretty happy whenever we get one from this era. I quite like the Knightfall story, what with Batman getting a crack as essentially all of his villains after Bane lets them all loose from Arkham Asylum. And, this week we get a double dip of villainy, including a villain that we’ve actually never talked about before. So, let’s dive on in!

The issue begins in a great way, with the Riddler standing in a hideout, guns pointed at his head, rapidly trying to bullshit his way out of an early death. But, in a turn of events, the people pointing the guns are actually some henchmen of the Riddler’s, who have grown impatient with his schemes. He apparently came up with a pretty great heist now that he’s been freed from Arkham, but he’s not letting them pull it off until he comes up with all the requisite riddles. So, deciding that they actually just want to commit crime and not play an intricate game of cat and mouse with Batman, they figure they’ll just kill the Riddler and take his plan. But, he’s a slippery bastard, and the Riddler is able to sneak out of the hideout, before stumbling onto the perfect answer to his need to send riddles out to Gotham as efficiently as possible. Television!

 

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But, while all of that’s going on, we see that Batman and his crew are quite busy. Tim Drake is hanging out in the Batcave, complaining to Alfred that he did all the legwork finding one of the escaped villains, Firefly, but wasn’t allowed to actually go with Batman to take him down. Alfred however points out that it’s maybe not a bad thing that Robin isn’t dealing with a psychopathic arsonist. But, it doesn’t help Tim, who wishes that he could be aiding Batman at the local Gotham City zoo. Because for some reason Firefly, Garfield Lynns, has decided that he’s going to fly around Gotham City and burn down all the fun places he wanted to go to as a kid, but which his parents didn’t let him.

He’s burned down a handful of other locations, but thanks to Tim’s legwork, they’ve tracked him down to the zoo. Batman has come prepared, wearing a flame-proof suit, ready to take Firefly down, while Robin ends up learning about something he can do to entertain himself. Because the Riddler has just taken a live talk-show hostage, seemingly wearing a bunt of dynamite around his chest while he barks riddles at the live cameras, and ends up inviting himself to be one of the guests on the show. Tim races off to deal with the Riddler, while Batman follows the screams of terror from the various animals in the zoo. And, sure enough, he comes across Firefly, who is laughing in glee at the carnage he’s created.

 

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Firefly is not pleased to see Batman, and ends up immediately torching the Dark Knight, hitting him with everything he’s got. Which, isn’t actually enough. Because Batman has come prepared, wearing a flame-retardant suit and an oxygen rebreather which keeps him from suffocating. And, since he’s doing fairly well after a douse of flame, he leaps at the Firefly, knocking them both into a leopard exhibit. And, while Batman deals with Firefly, Robin has made his way to the television studio, along with the Gotham City Police. Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya are taking point, setting up a sniper to take the Riddler out, when Robin suddenly leaps onto the stage, hits Riddler’s hand that’s holding the bomb trigger with a powerful epoxy so he can’t set off an explosion, and takes the villain down. Which ends up earning Robin a talking to from Bullock, admonishing the young crime-fighter for being too cavalier and risky. Especially because it turns out that Riddler didn’t even really have a bomb, and it was just a fake to get attention.

And, speaking of risky, Batman is now currently fighting with a bunch of leopards who are ripping his suit apart. Firefly manages to activate his jet pack, fleeing the exhibit in terror while Batman is about to be eaten by a jungle cat. Thankfully, he’s able to use some fire extinguisher gas that he had meant to use on Firefly to stun the cat long enough to flee from its home. And he manages to snare the Firefly, hanging the villain upside down above a crocodile exhibit, so that Batman can collapse in exhaustion. And, while Batman naps, we see that other people are picking up the slack, because those henchmen that double-crossed the Riddler earlier are picked up by the Huntress, who is apparently out patrolling and helping Batman’s cause. but, even with that help, Batman finds himself at his wits end, emotionally and physically exhausted, but knowing that nothing is going to stop Bane from coming, eventually.

 

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Like I said up top, I really enjoy the Knightfall story, primarily because it ends up being a self-indulgent parade of Batman’s greatest foes, all hitting him at once, leading up to the grand introduction of a memorable new villain. Which, is a pretty hard thing to pull off. Plenty of stories, like Hush, end up straining credulity, and feeling a tad too self-indulgent, while Knightfall has always worked for me. Which, could certainly be heaping helping of nostalgia. But, I’ve always been a sucker for these earlier issues from the story, before Bane really comes into the picture, and is generally just lurking around in the shadows, letting all the others villains hit Batman one after another, stretching him to his limit. And, this issue is a lot of fun, giving Batman the chance to wax poetic while dealing with a lesser member of his rogue’s gallery, but still one that I find kind of fun. There probably aren’t too many great Firefly stories, but I think he makes for a fun little guest villain every now and then. And, you all know how I feel about stories featuring the Riddler. Even though I’m a little disappointed to see him so pathetic in this story, just limping around and acting completely toothless with his riddles and fake bomb. It kind of feels like this is maybe from the era where the Riddler was a joke, one of the gimmick villains who hadn’t quite found his footing in this more gritty time period. But, it still all works for me, and ends up serving as a fun peak into the insane tapestry that this story ended up weaving, through multiple books, of a Gotham City on the brink of collapse, with everyone just doing their best.

 

“Burning Questions” was written by Chuck Dixon, penciled  by Graham Nolan, inked by Scott Hanna, lettered by John Costanza, colored by Adrienne Roy, and edited by Scott Peterson and Dennis O’Neal, 1993.

 

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