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The ’80s Revisited: Batman #439

80s_revisited

batman_0439Batman Year III Chapter Four: Resolutions

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Michael Bair
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Editor: Dan Raspler
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Published by: DC Comics

This is another issue that’s very iconic TO ME but not necessarily anyone else. This was my first-ever issue of the main Batman title that I got. #439…438 issues came before I got my first! And it’s got a large "Year 3" on the cover…AND it’s marked as "part 4 of 4." It’s hundreds of issues in; it’s the final chapter of a multi-part story; and it’s some middle year, not even a "first year" or such! And I was 8 when I first got the issue, yet it didn’t stop me from getting the next two issues, or further issues of both Batman as well as Detective Comics. But I suppose kids in 2022 are incapable of that…at least for the way publishers treat contemporary numbering outside of Detective Comics and Action Comics.

We open where an Anthony Zucco has apparently just been killed, and Nightwing scolds Batman for letting it happen. The two talk, and there’s obviously some "history" here. We find out the dead guy had some book with details about crimes all over Gotham…so now "the underworld" wants it and an all-out hunt begins. The two talk further in the Batcave–in costumes, but masks off–before Batman leaves, insisting on doing stuff alone. Nightwing and Alfred talk, and we get several pages of flashbacks to how Nightwing–Dick Grayson–was legally able to become Bruce Wayne’s ward…and why it was ward and not adopting him as a son. Dick heads out to check on stuff that might lead him to answers, and we cut to where Batman’s much more brutal than usual, beating answers out of criminals rather than speaking. Meanwhile, Dick follows up and gets useful information without the actuality of violence. While Dick returns to an orphanage he spent some time at, Bruce is back at the cave, putting things together a bit slower than Dick had. Dick speaks with Sister Mary Elizabeth and pieces the final bits together to determine where Zucco’s book is. As he finds it, the primary person behind the situation arrives and wants the book for himself…and Batman arrives in time to realize he’s about to lose Dick the way he lost Jason. Things don’t play out that way, though…but the book is lost to the elements. While Batman returns to the cave alone, Dick visits his parents’ graves.

As said at the start of this post…more than 400 issues, a third year, and part 4 of 4, all elements that should have put an 8-year-old off from getting this comic, at least according to 2022 standards. I don’t even know if I comprehended those elements, though…as an 8-year-old, I simply saw the word "Batman" on the cover and knew it to be a Batman comic. That’s it…plain and simple. Didn’t matter that there was a 438 on the cover; didn’t matter that it said it was the 4th of a 4-part story; didn’t matter that it said "Year 3," it was a Batman comic.

I’ve long considered Jim Aparo, John Byrne, and Norm Breyfogle to be my favorite Batman artists…and in my "memory" I’m sure I figured this to have been one of theirs. It’s not…and I need to add Broderick to that list, I think, based on my most recent read-through of this issue and how well the art worked for me (despite this particular copy of the issue having dulled, the inks bled, and generally the issue’s newsprint paper is hardly in pristine condition 33 years later). Along with stuff like Untold Legend of the Batman, that Man of Steel issue One Night in Gotham City, and Breyfogle on The Mud Pack in Detective, this is iconic early Batman (and Nightwing) for me, visually.

Story-wise, this seems like a solid issue. Even though I have read the entire 4-parter a couple times in the years since it came out, this issue stands out due to being my first issue of the title. Same for this re-read: I read it cold, rather than the entire story. We get a bit of context about Zucco’s death, from Bruce and Dick’s verbal sparring; to figure out what’s been going on in earlier chapters…at least as relevant to this issue specifically.

When I first read the issue as a kid, I had no clue there’d been a Year One or a Year Two. In a way I never give this story much thought in that regard as a Year Three, except right now I take it sort of like Years One and Two were Bruce’s start…and it was the 3rd year when Dick joined. So in a way, this is as much Dick’s story as Bruce’s…maybe more.

I also don’t think terribly much about who WROTE these earliest issues of the title that I read…at the time it was absolutely the character I was getting/reading, with no regard for any given writer or artist. And compared to the likes of Superman, I only dabbled with Batman comics, and the Batman comics never had the same depth nor singular ongoing story the way the Superman books did that led me to being much more familiar with some of the artists and continuity over there. That said, Marv Wolfman being the writer is a pleasant re-realization for me, and sort of a re-epiphany "of course!" as far as what was set up in this story and in the next–A Lonely Place of Dying.

I definitely see the depth in this issue, and the importance of the Bruce/Dick stuff and the flashbacks. As a kid, I probably sort of understood the flashbacks were supposed to be Dick–Nightwing–but I had no real understanding that this was Robin! I also had only begun to "realize" that "a" Robin had even died, or that the original had "grown up" and become Nightwing. In this issue I just saw this guy that had history with Batman/Bruce and they didn’t get along well for some reason.

I don’t believe this story was ever collected as its own thing…I’m pretty sure it was even left out of the Death in the Family volume that combined Death in the Family with Lonely Place of Dying! Death in the Family had a TPB; I believe The Many Deaths of the Batman had a TPB; and I know A Lonely Place of Dying had a TPB (that was one of my very first-ever TPBs!). But this story did not have one. I’m not even sure if this wound up being included in any of the larger collected volumes DC has put out the last few years, and while I know some of the Detective stuff like The Mud Pack wound up in a Norm Breyfogle volume…I don’t have the knowledge of the same thing happening with this story.

I’ve seen a mix of stuff for Batman: Year Three over the years; from issues in bargain bins to being offered in the $10-something range and anything in between. Some of that’s probably moreso the first chapter that introduced Tim Drake, though.

On the whole, I wouldn’t recommend this as a single issue…but if you find it in a bargain bin, I’d recommend getting all 4 parts; it’s definitely worth a read if you can get all four for $5ish or under!

Reading this again has me itching to read other issues from around this time…particularly to actually sit down and read Death in the Family through Lonely Place of Dying straight through. But that’ll be a reading project for some time down the road, perhaps.

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