Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
Writer – Doug Moench
Artists – Art Adams, Terry Austin, Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Paris Cullins,Karl Kesel, Joe Kubert, Steve Leialoha, Rick Leonardi, Steve Lightle, Bruce Patterson, George Pérez, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ken Steacy, Tom Sutton, Ricardo Villagran.
In the fall of 1986, Batman celebrated his 400th issue anniversary and did it in style. Horror writer Stephen King penned the introduction to this issue:
“Maybe the real reason that Batman appealed to me more than the other guy [Superman]. There was something sinister about him. That’s right. You heard me. Sinister. Like The Shadow and the Moon-man of the pulps, like a vampire, Batman was a creature of the night.”
“I’d like to congratulate the Caped Crusader on his long and valiant history, thank him for the hours of pleasure he has given me, and wish him many more years of heroic crime-busting. Go get ‘em, Big Guy. May your Bat-Signal never fail, your Batmobile never run out of the nuclear pellets it runs on, your utility belt never come up fatally understocked at the wrong moment. And please, never come busting through my skylight in the middle of the night. You’d probably scare me into a brain hemorrhage… and besides, Big Guy, I’m on your side. I always was.”
This 60 page Anniversary issue had a painted wrap-around cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, but the back cover was simply the front cover without the logo and credits. Batman #400 was neatly divided into twelve chapters, each drawn by different artists.
The Batman received a cryptic note warning him to “Know Your Foes!”. The note is from Ra’s Al-Ghul who has orchestrated the destruction of Arkham Asylum, freeing all of the Batman foes housed within his walls. And by Batman foes, I mean all of them: Black Mask, Black Spider, Calendar Man, Captain Stingaree, Catman, Cavalier, Clayface, Cluemaster, Crazy Quilt, Dagger, Deadshot, Doctor Double X, Doctor Phosphorous, Joker, Killer Croc, Killer Moth, Mad Hatter, Mirage, Mister Freeze, Night-Slayer, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, Riddler, Scarecrow, Signalman, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and Two-Face.
Interestingly, in chapter 2, Killer Croc vows to “break the Batman’s back”, which of course would be a feat accomplished by Bane a decade later.
Ra’s Al-Ghul then turns to the liberated villains and offers them $10 million to kill Batman. He then confronts Batman with an offer to join in him reshaping the world. If he would agree, Al-Ghul would help him kill his enemies, freeing him of any obligations to Gotham City. However, Batman turns him down flat using the old adage that killing them would make me as evil as they are.
However, Moench tapped into that underlying theme during a discussion between Alfred and Robin (Tim Drake):
“So many brilliant vital minds wasted on crime… and all the master has ever done is put them behind bars… which never hold them for long. (…) he has convinced none of them [except for Catwoman] to see the world as he does. In a sense then, his repeated successes in jailing them are in fact failures.” But, wraps up with some hope in the Dark Knight who “is a complex man, who realizes the world be better still with no need for bars.”
“Time after time he has faced and overcome them all … never really stopping their evil, merely suspending it at best … yet what is the alternative?”
It almost seems as if Moench was asking the question, wondering what else the writers could come up with? This issue was also raised by Alan Moore a few years later in Batman: The Killing Joke.
In the end, Batman faced off against this horde of foes and took them down, assisted by Catwoman and Talia. Perhaps this was Moench’s way of showing that Batman was having a positive, reforming effect? The Batman then faced off against Ra’s who had, for the first time, submerged himself into the Lazarus Pit while still alive. Batman defeated Ra’s by throwing him into the Lazarus Pit once again while the Windmill in which they fought was coming down around them. Batman left Ra’s for dead and returned to the Bat Cave to celebrate his victory.
Art Adams’ (inked by Terry Austin) and Bill Sienkiewicz’s chapters really stood out and caught my attention, but also the chapter by Rick Leonardi reminded me how much of a great artist he is. And of course, the last chapter and epilogue drawn by Brian Bolland were amazing.
There’s a four page Batman portfolio at the end of the issue, spotlighting Mike Grell’s, Mike Kaulta’s, Berni Wrightson’s, and Steve Rude’s take on the Batman. I was disappointed with Byrne’s splash page as it seemed shot from too far away. Unfortunately, Byrne didn’t contribute anything other than that first page.
Unfortunately, the quality of the paper failed this issue and really watered down the work of these great artists. Interestingly, as far as I’m aware, this issue has never been reprinted, and unfortunately in this new 52 world, it won’t be.
Batman #400 was the final pre-Crisis issue as the Legends Event in the new post-Crisis universe would kick off in the following month. So while it was an anniversary issue, it was also a fitting send off for the old school Caped Crusader.
Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.