Hello everyone, and welcome back to 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. And we’re getting to talk about a very interesting issue of comics today. It’s from the era right after the epic “No Man’s Land” story where Gotham was being recreated, and so was the whole concept of Batman. Things were changing, evolving, and becoming a new Batman for a new millennium. This led to a lot of different types of Batman stories, and when it comes to Detective Comics we got a whole bunch of really interesting and more noir-oriented stories. Such as what we get to see today. A self-contained crime story that manages to be one of the tensest comic I’ve ever read? Yes, please!
The issue begins by showing us a small family driving towards Gotham City after what appears to be a long road-trip, and they’re all running out of steam. But, before we see what’s going on with them, we cut over to Batman who is aggressively narrating about his failures of the night. Bruce was apparently stuck at a costume party and wasn’t able to get to a gang shooting in time. Four men representing a triad have stolen a bunch of cocaine, and killed two people in the process. Batman blames himself for this, having been too late to stop them, and ends up racing after their car as fast as possible while they speed out of Gotham. Along the way they manage to derail a gasoline tanker, which slows Batman down a bit. And, while they speed away from him, they end up clipping the station wagon of the family from the beginning, sending them careening through a barrier, and out into the sea. But, by the time Batman gets to the place where they went through the barrier they’re long gone, and he doesn’t notice them, too obsessed with his chase.
Batman continues to chase the criminals as they enter a more forested area outside the city, all while we see the family in the station wagon. They’ve woken up, only to find the father’s arm broken, all of them dazed and whiplashed, and their car sunken to the bottom of the bay. And, while they begin panicking, trying to figure out what has happened to them, we see Batman catch up with the criminals. Batman then activates a harpoon in the front of the Batmobile, which launches out and spears into the criminal’s car. He’s then able to run an electrical charge through the harpoon, stunning the criminals, and destroying the car. And, because the driver has been stunned, he loses control of the car, and it rams into a tree, totaling the car, and getting incredibly disoriented. Three of the criminals manage to get out of the car and flee, while Batman’s able to get up to driver and knock him out, before heading off to track down the other three criminals.
Meanwhile, things are not going well in the car. The father realizes that the water has shorted out the car, meaning they can’t roll down the windows. Water is leaking in a rapid rate. Their cellphones aren’t working. The pressure won’t let them open the door. And the temperature is starting to drop rapidly. And while things continue to get darker and darker for the family, we see that Batman is hard at work doing what he does best. Spooking idiots. He chases one of the triad guys into the forest and manages to spring out of the shadows at him, scaring him and managing to take him down. Batman ties the guy up, and brings him back to the wrecked car where the driver is also tied up. But, while dropping the guy off he notices something strange. The paint of the station wagon, the dent in the car, it all makes Batman start to remember things he saw while on the road, that he didn’t pay enough attention to.
While Batman’s busy examining the wreckage of the car we see what’s going on in the car. Things have gotten very bleak. The oxygen in the car is starting to run out, making them all a little lightheaded. The wife has gotten to work getting access to their spare tire, since the husband’s arm is broken. And, once they get that, they take a pen and puncture the tire, sucking oxygen out of it to stay alive. They’re trying to stay positive, but it’s clear that they’re not going to make it unless someone comes to rescue them. But, no one knows that they’re even there. No one except the criminals who ran them off the road. The same criminals who have rushed Batman as he examines the car, spraying the World’s Greatest Detective with a hail of bullets that ends up knocking him out.
The last two criminals smugly walk up to Batman, ready to shoot him in his unprotected face and end his threat forever. But, Batman was just lulling them into a false sense of security. As soon as they get close enough to him he leaps up and starts fighting them, while interrogating them about the car they hit. He manages to take both of the men down, and they finally start to spill the beans. Meanwhile, the family in the car are running out of options. The car is almost completely full of water, and their air is essentially gone. But, right as they’re about to fade away they notice a light approaching them. Batman has arrived, wearing some sort of diving suit. He gets the door open and gives them some oxygen, before swimming them back to the surface. And, as soon as he can tell they’re okay, he starts apologizing, saying he wished he could have been there sooner. But, they point out that if he’d gotten there any sooner the pressure wouldn’t have let him open the door. So, realizing that maybe things worked out the way they should have, Batman heads off, a little less stressed about his abilities.
I really adored this issue. It’s so rare that I can come across issues from the relatively recent past that are like this, perfectly self-contained little crime stories that just kind of does everything a Batman story should. Yeah, we don’t get any grand plots of supervillains, instead we get a very down-to-earth story about Batman’s struggle. Gotham City is a nightmare place, a city where something horrible is happening seemingly at all hours of the day, and Batman has tasked himself with trying to stop all of it. He can’t be everywhere at once, but he tries to do so nevertheless. And, if his attention is caught up with one thing, he may be letting something else slip through the cracks. The ticking clock aspect of this issue, knowing that the family have a limited amount of air and time makes this issue incredibly tense. Because, Batman was always going to save them. That’s what he does. But seeing him run out that clock, knowing that he’s overlooking the fact that people need his help, makes everything that much more frantic. It’s just a solid issue of comics.
“Air Time” was written by Greg Rucka, penciled by Rick Burchett, inked by Rodney Ramos, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Todd Klein, and edited by Bob Schreck and Michael Wright, 2001.
Categories: Bat Signal