Hi there everyone, and welcome back for another installment of Bat Signal, my quest to read every issue of Detective Comics that has ever been published, in random order, and with no real context between issues. An this week we have a story from the weird world of the DC Universe immediately before Crises, when everything was retconned away. You know, so none of this really matters, because it’s all literally going to be erased in just a couple years, and none of it has had enough lasting impact in order to survive into the new continuity. Which leads to some strange things like characters acting out of their normal personalities, and even something as strange as Jason Todd looking completely different. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s jump into a goofy story where Batman fights a living shadow!
The story begins by talking about the various people of Gotham who work the graveyard shift, the folks who spend their nights taking care of other people. You know, like the folks who work on Vicki Vale’s news show so that it’s ready for the next morning, late night radio dj’s, doctors discussing how many stabbings they’re going to have to deal with this night, and of course Batman. The Dark Knight is just on his regular patrols, not really looking for anything in particular, until he gets near the warehouse district. Because inside a refrigerated warehouse that’s storing fur coats something mysterious is happening. A man in a costume that seems to be made of pure shadows is skulking around, muttering to himself about his love for the concept of night. The thief sneaks in, knocks out the guard, and starts looking for the most impressive fur. But, the guard managed to trigger an alarm, just in time to summon Batman, who was passing by. However, he finds it rather difficult to deal with this thief.
The thief is pretty damn hard to see, and he’s also difficult to get a hold of. He slips and slides around Batman, as if he’s made of shadow. Which, makes the battle pretty difficult and frustrating for Batman. And, just as Batman’s starting to get really irritated, the thief grabs one of the fur coats, lunges straight over Batman’s head, and begins rapidly scaling some crates in order to slip out of the warehouse’s skylight. And, along the way he kicks over one of the boxes, dropping it directly onto the unconscious guard. Batman then does the right thing, and chooses to knock the box aside and save the guard, letting the thief escape. He then scoops the guard up, and races him to the hospital from earlier. And, while there he ends up running into a journalist from the news show, looking for scoops. And, when the guy learns that Batman fought someone that night, and the criminal got away, he knows what the scoop is going to be.
The next morning the news and the papers all start gleefully talking about Batman’s failure, leading to a very depressed Bruce. We also learn that Lucius Fox is planning on paying out quite a bit of money for a woman named Ms. N. Night, an employee of an astronomy lab owned by Wayne Enterprises who recently was in a laboratory accident studying stellar light, in the process leaching all pigment from her skin and making daylight deadly to her. But, before we learn any more about that, we cut back to mopey Bruce, who is looking around for his latest ward, Jason Todd, who has chosen to spend the day with a clown he knew from the circus rather than hang out with Bruce, which leads to a very sad Caped Crusader.
Bruce then decides to try and get some joy out of life, and goes on a date with Vicki Vale. The two are cruising around in Bruce’s car, ready to head back to her place, until Bruce begin judging the quality of the liquor they’d be drinking there. So, he pulls over to buy some champagne, and while in the liquor store hears a startling announcement on the radio. The thief he tussled with the previous night has given an ultimatum, asking Batman to come find him and stop a “sparkler” of a crime. Bruce immediately decides that that means the thief is going to steal a famous diamond necklace from a socialite who is on vacation, and he leaves Vicki waiting in his car like a sociopath to go fight crime. Bruce suits up, and makes his way to the neighborhood where the diamond necklace is.
But, when Batman gets there he finds the shadowy thief running in the opposite direction. So, he gives chase, wondering if he’s on a wild goose chase, and ends up encountering thief of a rooftop. They fight again, and it doesn’t go well. Especially when the thief seemingly surrounds himself in shadows, causing Batman to lunge at him. Which, was a bad call, because when Batman passes through the shadows he finds that he’s thrown himself off a building. He catches himself, and finds that this has all been a distraction, because the thief has made his way back to the house with the necklace. Batman attempts to stop the thief, but he pulls more shadowy shenanigans, and slips away. Batman then returns to Vicki defeated once more, and then heads home to learn that Jason Todd is thinking about leaving the Manor, since Bruce doesn’t want him to be the new Robin. Oh, and we also see that the thief, who is calling himself the Thief of Night, is working for some mysterious woman, giving her gifts, and acting as if she were the very personification of night. But, we don’t get any sort of closure on that, because the issue ends at this point.
At the end of the day this is a pretty standard issue that turned out the be the first part in an ongoing narrative. Lots and lots of exposition and build-up, with very little payoff. Which, makes sense, because the people making it weren’t expecting someone to be doing something as insane and dumb as how I read these stories. It all seems to track, I assume this Nocturna is the woman that Lucius Fox was talking about, and that she’s somehow given this Thief of Night a suit which can at the very least blend in with shadows, and possibly give him control of them. That part was never very clear, I couldn’t quite tell if this Thief was supposed to be a supervillain, or just a thief with a cool suit. But, I’m sure we’d get that information in some other issue that I probably wouldn’t find for years. So, it’s a little unsatisfying, but at least we also get to see plenty of other goofy stuff. You know, like a red-head Jason Todd who grew up in a circus, paling around with clowns before thinking about fleeing from Bruce. All of which is really funny, especially because in just a handful of years he was completely retconned into a different character, which still didn’t make people happy. Poor Jason Todd. At least you aren’t sitting in front of a liquor store for three hours while Bruce Wayne plays Batman.
“The Thief of Night!” was written by Doug Moench, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Adrienne Roy, lettered by Ben Oda, and edited by Len Wein and Nicola Cuti, 1983.
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