Detective Comics#662: “Burning Questions,” Written by Chuck Dixon, Pencils by Graham Nolan, Colors by Adrienne Roy
Edited by Scott Peterson and Dennis O’Neil
By John A. Butz
“Still the heat reaches me, steals my stamina. Don’t have any to spare. Have to take Lynns before it’s all gone. Before all of Gotham burns.”
Sometimes a story is so good, that there is very little to say. Burning Questions is a nearly perfect capstone to the three-part arc detailing the rise and fall of Garfield Lynns, also known as the Firefly. The team of Dixon and Nolan picks up the story that Moench and Aparo left them, and run it cleanly into the endzone.
Nolan continues to be one of my favorite artists on the KnightFall roster. His clean lines and sense of motion create wonderful panels. Batman driven to his knees by a gout of flame, the Huntress meting out hard street justice to a trio of the Riddler’s former thugs, and Robin making a daring play to stop the Riddler’s latest scheme are elegant and memorable scenes drawn by a man who knows his trade well.
Chuck Dixon takes the threads that have been floating through the last two issues and twists them up into a weave of simple and surprising strength. The story gives us two parallel conflicts that both echo of classic Batman stories – one part detective, one part action, one part heroics, shaken well and served with a twist.
The story begins with a falling-out between the Riddler and his thugs. It turns out that the grunts are impatient to get the crime started. But Riddler has yet to act, since the messages he sent to the Gotham PD haven’t been read. Fleeing from the angered, gun toting former henchmen, Riddler ruminates on the fact that he simply can’t get the police’s attention with all these dangerous maniacs running around. He needs to find a bigger audience.
Meanwhile, Batman has finally followed the clues that Robin hunted down. The Dark Knight is hot on the Firefly’s trail, and the two men finally meet at the Gotham Park Zoo. Just as the conflagration begins, Robin becomes aware that another major crime is about to play out – The Riddler has infiltrated a major night time talk show and is holding the audience hostage while broadcasting his riddles to the world. Only Robin can stop him.
Even as Batman and Robin work towards victory over their respective bad guys, the Riddler’s thugs break into the Post Office to enact the brilliant crime.
Without the Gotham PD or Batman to track them down with the cryptic clues that their boss is handing out on the TV, the trio of ne’er-do-wells is sure they will succeed.
Batman struggles with the Firefly, using his extensive arsenal of gadgets and specialized equipment to avoid danger after danger, while Robin moves into position to strike at the Riddler, disabling him before he can trip the bomb he is wearing, a bomb that turns out to be little more than chair-legs and electric tape. As the Batman achieves his final triumph over the Firefly, the Post Office robbers are ambushed by one of Gotham’s other crime-fighters, the buxom and battle-ready Huntress, who proceeds to lay the smack down on the disbelieving thugs.
There are a lot of great elements to this story. Batman acts like Batman, for the first time in a while. He has a plan, he has the right equipment, he has good intelligence about his foe, and he uses all of these to defeat the Firefly. It is apparent to the reader that maybe this is the way that the Caped Crusader should have been going at it all along. Why is he refusing Robin’s help? Why isn’t he taking the time to do the job right? Sure, he still has this iron will and he still manages to win, but he is obviously in a very bad way.
Robin’s rash and reckless actions in dealing with the Riddler make a good counterpoint to this argument. For all his bravery and desire to make Bruce proud, Tim Drake is still a young man with very little seasoning. He is likely to act without thinking. With Jason Todd’s death as fresh as it always has been in Bruce’s mind, the reader can see that he just can’t trust Tim to stay safe while facing off with a foe as deadly as Bane.
The subtle interplay of these aspects helps us see why Bruce is consistently going it alone during this arc. He wants to trust Tim and help him become a better Robin. He offers him opportunity to do that, even as Bruce himself is run ragged. And yet Batman still refuses to put Robin into a position of true responsibility because he also doesn’t want to put him in a position of true danger.
The Huntress is the most awkward part of this little story. She appears for a two page spread, beats up some dudes, and vanishes, never to appear in KnightFall again. All this appearance seems to serve is to illustrate that there are other crime-fighters in Gotham. If that is the case, the reader might ask, then why the heck aren’t they trying to help Batman, or at least do something about Bane? The Huntress is a fun character, well employed in other comics and media (I love her in the Justice League Unlimited animated series) but here she just shows that the supporting cast in the Batman comics may be a little too large to really be usable.
The best part is Dixon’s writing. This is a work that showcases his ability to write a direct, simple story with enough twists to be memorable. When I think of KnightFall, this is the issue I usually think of first.
With only three more episodes to go before the end of KnightFall, the sense that the inevitable conclusion is right around the corner can’t be ignored. This vignette ends on a nice clean note that will allow Moench and Aparo to kick off the last party, and in a surprising twist they will do it with a Joker story that I really like.
“The really dangerous ones are still on the street. Scarecrow. Riddler. Joker. How can I stand against them when I can’t even stand up? Who will stand between Gotham and Bane?”
There are nine and sixty ways of constructing a Batman story, and every single one of them is right.
Next Time: The Joker, one angry Batman, a mayor in danger, and did I mention the Joker?