With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in long boxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written by Alan Grant; Artwork by Jim Fern, Steve Leialoha, Adrienne Roy
In 1991, DC Comics ran a crossover that spanned over a dozen titles worth of Annuals plus various minis, it was called Armageddeon 2001. I can already hear La Bamba from the Tonight Show Band warbling the infamous “in the year two thousand… in the year two thousaaaaaaaaaand“.
The premise of Armageddeon 2001 was that a time traveller named Waverider came back 50 years from the future to discover the identity of the hero that would become the tyrannical despot Monarch.
The story opens with Bats preventing the torture and murder of a homeless man and with a simple outstretched hand to help the bum to his feet we are thrust a decade into the future to glimpse “The Last Batman Story”. Here the Joker is declared sane and given a talkshow, Killer Croc is a washed up pro-wrestler, a street hardened Catwoman is still prowling rooftops, and the rest of Bat’s rogues gallery are being bumped off in the most grisly of ways. Literally hot off the heels of 86’s The Dark Knight Returns we find Tim Drake has retired as Robin to run for political office leaving a graying Bruce Wayne and an aged Alfred alone continuing the good fight in an even darker, ever brooding Gotham City.
With Batman as the prime suspect of the rash of villainous murders things go south fast for the Dark Knight Detective when The Penguin takes a nasty spill off of a fire escape during a foiled heist. Cobblepot dies in the street leaving Batman with his only choice but to turn himself in for the Penguin’s Murder. Its a race against time as Catwoman, Drake, and Anarky go out of their way to try to free or prove the vigilante’s innocence, and Joker left to his own devices utilizes his just as crazed but more public-friendly persona to get Batman to unmask on his talkshow before his date with the electric chair. The former Clown Prince of Crime, during a phone call requesting the interview, taunts Batman with The Penguin’s last words prompting Bats to agree to it.
With a quick costume swap with Anarky before the interview and Tim Drake’s return to the mantle of Robin, Catwoman discovers the Joker is behind the entire plot and begins to face off with his goons that have been behind the murders and the frame up of Batman. The newly reunited Dynamic Duo race to Joker’s offices to find Catwoman being overwhelmed by the Joker’s minions who happen to be (prepare yourselves) a pair of government grown Mutant Babboon Commandos.
Batman and Robin make quick work of Catwoman’s attackers, and in her dying moments Selina reveals all that she learned before sharing a dying kiss. Bats declares “This is it, Joker! TONIGHT – IS – IT!” and tears off after The Joker, literally shrugging off a hail of bullets, taking down a gunship with his swingline alone, and tearing into any and every thug that gets in his way.
Not one to listen to anyone, especially Robin and or reason, Bats locks Robin inside of Joker’s master control room so he can have his final duel with The Joker. It does not end well for the villain as he gasses Batman and attempts to stab him through the heart only for… well just look at the damn picture below. The story ends with Batman being brought back to the present day, and the hobo revealing his true identity to Batman and his purpose for seeking him out. We learn that while Batman has all the factors that could very well give birth to the Monarch but instead his lifeline runs true and that only the truly evil have to fear him. The End. While the story itself is diluted by the fact it ran through pretty much every major title DC was running in the early 90’s, it stands out by showcasing everything thats made Batman great over the decades: his varied rogue’s gallery, a fleshed out supporting cast, the civilian lives he has touched through his actions, the unending war on crime, and his unwavering code that seperates him from the those that violate the sanctity of society’s rules. These are what make Batman great and yet this story also features concepts that anchor this larger than life figure to a fictional world with over-the-top concepts like Mutant Baboon Commandos, Time Travel, and a masked vigilante not only voluntarily allowing himself to be questioned at Police Headquarters but that he was allowed to stroll right out afterwards.
Eighteen years later the main story still holds up, the cover remains both hauntingly beautiful and solemn, and the interior art may not have aged well but where the story calls for a scene to be shocking or iconic it offers it up in spades. While Batman Annual #15 may not truly be “The Last Batman Story” it will always be one of the better Elseworlds tales that didn’t need triple digit pages to tell.