Hi there everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with essentially no context. We’re taking a trip into the years immediately post-Infinite Crisis this week, and right after Batman: Year One re-contextualized Batman’s standing in the DC Universe. Which, can only mean one thing. This comic is weird as hell! We’ve talked about a few issues from this time period, and they’ve all been rather unique. Frank Miller’s take on the Dark Knight would quickly become the dominate one at DC, and Crisis had kind of been a mission-statement that things were to get more dark and serious at DC. But, there were a few stragglers who hadn’t quite caught the memo, and were continuing to put out some downright tonally mismatched comics. Which, I’m not going to lie, is kind of my jam. Such as today’s issue, full of killer surgeons and Batman calling Robin “chum.”
The issue begins in the slums of Gotham City, in the apartment of a man named Schuyler Reems. Reems used to be a criminal, but has been trying to live on the straight and narrow, but times are tough. He’s trying to provide for his wife and young daughter, and this has seemingly caused him to make a shady deal. He hasn’t explained it to his wife, other than the fact that it’ll set them up for life. Reems’ wife isn’t quite down with these mysterious jobs, especially when two massive men dressed as hospital orderlies arrive to take Reems away with them. He has a brief change of heart, but the men make it clear that that’s not going to be an option, and they take him away from his apartment, and to a special medical clinic ran by a man known as Dr. Thorne. Thorne is some sort of criminal doctor, and he’s currently preparing some sort of procedure for a mob boss named Big Moe McAllister. He’s also cooking something up with a mysterious man known as Mr. Janus, who certainly seems familiar.
Damn that Riddler.
Meanwhile, we see that Dr. Thorne has sent some goons out to rob a local bloodbank in order to get the rare blood type of McAllister. They are able to accomplish this theft pretty easily, until a standard Gotham City complication occurs, and Batman and Robin arrive. Batman and Robin swoop in from the ceiling, cracking jokes and calling each other “chum,” and begins beating the shit out of the goons. Which of course results in several of them getting covered in blood, which is just charming. But, after taking everyone down, they see that only one goon has been left conscious. Some little guy named Herkey that Batman and Robin seem to be familiar with. They intimidate Herkey a bit, and Batman comments on his recent gunshot wound which seems to be healing nicely, making Batman assume that he’s working with Dr. Thorne, the Crime Doctor. Herkey won’t spill the beans though, and he’s brought to the police station to get arrested.
Batman and Robin chat with Commissioner Gordon a bit, and discuss the fact that Herkey usually works for McAllister, who they’re aware is trying to flee the country rather than be arrested. But, there’s also rumors that McAllister is seeking some sort of heart procedure, and is too sick to flee. So, Batman and Robin decide to track down that lead, and decide to make a quick stop by the office for Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Robin distracts her by getting an examination, while Batman uses her computer and learns that McAllister is on a heart-donor list, and has a very rare bloodtype. He checks the people in Gotham who has he same blood–type, and discovers the link with Schuyler Reems. So, Batman and Robin head off to chat with the Reems’, and discovers his wife and daughter there, terrified of what has happened to Reems. Batman tries to get some information, but finds that Mrs. Reems just doesn’t know anything. But, Reems’ daughter does have some mud that was tracked in by the orderlies, and hucks it at Robin’s head. And, using that, Batman’s able to identify what part of town the Crime Doctor’s base must be in.
Meanwhile, we see that Doctor Thorne and his orderlies are getting ready for surgery. It seems that Reems has agreed to a deal where he’s going to donate his heart to McAllister in exchange for quite a bit of money for his family. Reems is getting checked over to make sure things are good to go, while Thorne makes sure that McAllister and his goons are willing to play by the rules. Which, does require for him to have his muscle, a massive nurse named Rench, to beat the hell out of McAllister’s goons after they try to pull a gun on Thorne. But, once everything is understood, Thorne gets ready for the surgery. The fact that the goons didn’t come back with extra blood from the blood bank is frustrating, but he figures they can get by with what they have. But, things become problematic when the power to the building suddenly cuts out.
Batman and Robin have managed to track down Thorne’s building, deducting it’s the only place near where the mud came from that could possibly be holding a mini-hospital, and get to work taking it down. Robin begins taking apart the generator powering the place while Batman begins pumping anesthetic gas into the building’s HVAC system. People start getting light-headed, and Dr. Thorne immediately assumes that Batman has arrived to ruin things. He send his orderly/goons out to fight the Dynamic Duo. Robin breaks the generator, largely using Nurse Rench’s head, and Batman begins stalking the halls, running into McAllister who becomes so scared that he literally has a heart-attack and dies. Batman then tracks Thorne down, and the two begin fighting, Thorne using a series of drug-laced scalpels. Luckily though, Reems shows up, and with a change of heart ends up bashing Thorne in the head with a fire extinguisher, before smashing the surgeon’s beloved hands. Batman’s then able to take everyone in, and Reems gets to go home to his wife and daughter without selling his heart to a mob-boss.
This issue is kind of nuts. But, in a way that I find myself appreciating. Like I said earlier, we’ve tackled a few issues like this, where is almost feels like the folks making Batman and the folks making Detective Comics were telling stories about two very different characters. Batman was becoming dark and gritty, but in these stories he’s still going to run around and crack jokes, use all sorts of goofy gadgets from his utility belt, and generally feel like a more Silver or Bronze Age Batman. But, he’ll also stand by while a mobster dies of a heart-attack, a killer surgeon gets his hands pulverized, and Robin smashes a lady’s head into a generator. It’s weird. It’s all over the place, but it’s kind of fun. It’s like, the summation of Batman. Caught in this crossroads the character gets to be goofy, campy, gritty, and dark. It shouldn’t work, and it arguably doesn’t, but I found myself getting on this issues wavelength, and enjoying it quite a bit.
“The Crime Doctor’s Crimson Clinic” was written by Mike W Barr, penciled and inked by Norm Breyfogle, colored by Julianna Ferriter, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Dennis O’Neal, 1987.
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