Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with basically no context. And this week we’re taking a trip back into the No Man’s Land! We’ve hit a couple issues from this enormous story over the years that I’ve been doing Bat Signal, but in case you’re unfamiliar with it, No Man’s Land was a long-running story-line that ran across all the Bat-Family books for all of 1999, where Gotham was devastated by a massive earthquake, and instead of helping the city the US government basically just decided to destroy all bridges to it, making Gotham City a crime-infested prison-island, where the various villains took over small neighborhoods in insane gang-wars while the everything got positively post-apocalyptic. It’s an insane story, and you would think that taking a random stab at it would lead to a pretty incomprehensible installment of Bat Signal. But, against all logic, we get to talk about a pretty fun and self-contained little story.
Everything begins with Batman and Alfred hanging out in their hideout beneath the streets of Gotham. It appears that Batman has just recently returned to the city after trying in vain to get the government to help out using the powers of Bruce Wayne. So, he’s come back to see if he can save the city as Batman, and it’s not going that well. The city has gotten extremely bad, and Bruce is struggling to figure out his new place in it. But, he’s decided the best course of action is to play the new game in town, and he attempts to get back into the swing of things by using the same methods as his villains, becoming a street gang. Which, means Batman’s going to have to go around town, in the dead of night, tagging various buildings with his bat symbol. And, the next morning, Gotham reacts. The lone gang of law and order, run by Commissioner Gordon, don’t take to kindly to it, assuming it’s either someone messing with them, or Batman has actually returned and isn’t directly helping them, which makes them even more mad. But, there’s one person in Batman’s line of fire that’s really not happy with the appearance of his symbol. The Ventriloquist.
We haven’t talked about the Ventriloquist nearly enough on Bat Signal. He’s one of my favorite insane Batman villains, and it appears that he and Scarface have managed to carve out a little niche in No Man’s Land, getting together a small band of terrified Gotham citizens, falling under his rule. And, when it appears that Batman is back, and sniffing around his territory, he gets pretty riled up. To the point where Scarface kills the man on guard who didn’t notice who put the tag up on their wall. And, with everyone nice and terrified, Scarface goes on a rant about how powerful he is, how he controls all the guns and ammo in this part of the town, and how everyone needs to fall in line. He sends his men out to continue cleaning up their little piece of the city, while keeping an eye out for bats.
And, that night Batman heads back out into the city, and sees that people just don’t respect him anymore. Gordon painted over his tags, and he finds the corpse of the man Scarface killed. So, he decides to up the ante, and sneaks into Scarface’s domain, in order to start rescuing people. But, even though Batman’s able to sneak into the home of one of Scarface’s citizens, he finds something shocking. The guy doesn’t want to leave, and actually seems terrified of Batman. He starts yelling, and a man with a gun arrives, shooting a single shot at Batman. The Dark Knight manages to escape from the building without being shot again, and flees into the night. He returns to Alfred, realizing that he’s really misunderstood this whole situation. The people of Gotham have forgotten him, have given up, and need to be reminded in hope again. Alfred suggests that maybe they should help build up the police again, but Bruce refuses, saying that it’s Batman who will inspire the people, he just needs to get them to believe in him again.
Bruce begins trying to figure out a plan of action, and ends up realizing that the reason that Scarface is able to establish dominance is that he’s the only one controlling ammunition in his kingdom. He gives each of his men a single bullet, keeping them from overthrowing him, which gives Bruce an idea. The next day he heads out as Matches Malone, walking right up to Scarface’s domain with a bottle of soda that the Ventriloquist is partial to. He ends up chatting up the guard, and after establishing some rapport he manages to get a meeting with Scarface himself. Bruce tells them that he has a massive cache of ammunition, and is willing to trade with them. So, Scarface brings Bruce into his inner sanctum, and they come up with a deal. Bruce will leave the crate of ammunition in a designated spot, and there will be an exchange of goods.
But, obviously, this is a trap. Scarface and his men arrive at the location, open the crate, and are hit with a smoke bomb and a phosphorous grenade, causing them to become blinded. Batman then arrives, and beats the shit out of them, specifically ripping Scarface off of the Ventriloquist’s arm. He then starts slapping the Ventriloquist until he establishes enough dominance, cementing the idea that he’s in charge. Alfred ties the criminals up, and Batman returns to Scarface’s kingdom, where the next step of his plan is ready. He starts walking through the streets with a bullhorn, telling everyone that he’s in charge now. There are still a handful of men with rifles though, and they all take a shot at Batman, hitting him several times. Luckily though, none of them had armor-piercing rounds, and Batman is relatively fine, but as far as everyone else can tell, Batman is back, immortal, and furious. This convinces everyone to throw down their weapons, and join him. He leaves the kingdom in the hands of one of Scarface’s lieutenants, making him promise to keep people safe, unless Batman were to return and reestablish dominance. And, just like that Batman has gotten a foothold in No Man’s Land.
This issue is a pretty fun time. I’m a big fan of No Man’s Land in general, one of the more insane and ambitious Batman stories ever pulled off, but it’s nice to come across a story like this that manages to feel important to the ongoing narrative while also being rather self-contained. It reestablishes Batman’s role in No Man’s Land, sets up his ongoing turf-war with the various criminal factions of Gotham’s new social order, while also just giving us a pretty fun little story. The Ventriloquist and Scarface are the perfect villains for this story, essentially Batman’s tutorial into No Man’s Land, realizing that such a ridiculous villain isn’t keeping people controlled due to fear, but due to perceived protection, and the realization that he’s going to have to show people that he’s better at protecting them if he’s going to save them all. The whole idea of having Batman show the town what a powerful symbol he is again is great, even if he has to go neighborhood by neighborhood, getting shot and showing people that he’s mighty. It’s a fun little story, and a nice taste of No Man’s Land, which I really hope we continue peeking in at every now and then.
“No Law and New Order, Part 4: Language” was written by Bob Gale, penciled by Alex Maleev, inked by Wayne Faucher, lettered by Willie Schubert, colored by Dave Stewart, and edited by Dennis O’Neal, Jordan B Gorfinkel, Darren Vincenzo, and Joseph Illidge, 1999.
Categories: Bat Signal