Batman In Print: Batman #402 (1986)

Batman #402 (1986) Written by Max Allen Collins, Illustrated by Jim Starlin

By Jonathan Kemmerer-Scovner

A black and white nighttime cityscape, Gotham in silhouette.

He prowls the rooftops, clings to the dark, loving the night, looking for trouble.  Not just any trouble.  The random violence of a Gotham street is not his mission.  Like a heat-seeking missle, this Batman has a specific target.  A human target.

Except this is not Batman.  How do we know this?  Because when he grabs the would-be mugger on page 4, fitting his head into a vise-like grip, we get the sound effect: KNUCK! and the mugger’s eyes go lifeless.  Dead.

“Batman!  What the hell did you do to Spider?”

“Nothing.  Just broke his neck is all.”

Suddenly, the GCPD is after Batman – not for the first or the last time – now that he has apparently become a killer.  And they’re not fooling around.  No sooner has Batman landed on the rooftop of the GCPD, having been lured by the batsignal, than an entire swat team opens fire on him.  It is up to the real Batman to find out the truth behind this apparent doppleganger and expose him for the imposter that he is.

Collins spends a good deal of time in this issue on the point which is central to the Batman’s identity:  Why doesn’t he kill?  Even Jason Todd asks him at one point, “What would  be so wrong if you did?” which leads Bruce into, perhaps, a typical answer: Being no better than the killers they lock-up.

What was not typical – I felt – was when Jason then says of the two murdered muggers, “I’m glad those guys are  dead,” Bruce puts his hand on his shoulder and answers, “Me  too.   But I’m not proud  of it.”

Its a slight nuance, but I was glad Collins added it in.  This is a Batman who wants to kill – sometimes desperately so – but cannot bring himself to commit the act.

After some detective work – which I always appreciate – and some late night chats with Commissioner Gordon – who still believes in him – the the  killer’s  identity  is uncovered.  It’s a disgraced  cop  named  Tommy Capra who was  not  only  obsessed  with Batman, but truly believes that he actually is Batman.   Its  not  just  an  act,  its  a  psychosis.  It has destroyed his family and destroyed his career.

A well-illustrated 2- page  fight sequence ensues when the two finally meet, both dressed  in identical Batman outfits.   Finally, Batman gets in a good hook and knocks Tommy to the ground.

Batman and Robin stand over the crumpled form of their Batman-clad  foe.  Robin wonders why Batman took his time,  why he didn’t punch him out sooner.

“Robin,” he answers, “Somehow it was hard to swing at him.  After all, who am I but just another guy who thinks he’s  the Batman?”

In a good sequence, the killer Batman drops a bad guy off the side of a building.  However, before we splatters on the pavement, the real Batman swings by and catches him at the last moment.
“What did you drop me for, if you was gonna save me?” asks the bewildered criminal.
Batman angrily shoves him down and yells, “Shut up!  Saving your life is the most disgusting thing I’ve done in a long  time!”
There are nine and sixty ways of constructing a Batman story, and every single one of them is right. 

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