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It’s all a matter of perspective – Batman Annual #9

October 16, 2010

It was the painted, “real”-looking cover that made this book memorable when I was a kid (Ed Hannigan handled the pencils, while John Totleben worked the paints). The Batman’s four faces (clockwise from the top left, I’d label them as Serious, Sad, Pensive and Pissed) drew my attention, but I can’t honestly say that I remembered anything from any of the stories until I reread this issue recently. There are four short tales within, and each corresponds to a “face,” or aspect, of Batman’s character. They don’t necessarily match up with the faces on the cover, but whatever.

Of the four faces, I enjoyed the last, “The Man,” the best (though the third has a cool Agatha Christie-like denouement, with all the suspects gathered for the big reveal of the murderer — you almost expect Batman to have a waxed moustache like Poirot). “Perspectives!” is a Rashomon-inspired trip through a small incident in Batman’s crime-fighting career — a hospital fire and a confrontation with an armed hood. We get different accounts of it from a doctor, a young boy patient (on Tiny Tim crutches, no less), the thug, and the Caped Crusader himself.

The doctor remembers the surprising gentleness displayed by this forbidding vigilante:

A little boy (Ralphie), with all the imagination and self-aggrandizement of youth, remembers things a bit differently. Batman is nothing less than a super-powered avenging angel, taking care of business with a little help from Ralphie himself:

And, in case we were doubting Ralphie’s connection to the big guy, he adds a last cherry-on-top fib:

The criminal, who wanted to torch the records-room because of a large bill of his, remembers an easily-bested milquetoast of a Batman:

And he’s only undone by bad luck:

And, of course, there’s the memory of Bruce Wayne:

The story wraps up with a nice character beat for Alfred:

Mike W. Barr, who wrote the four different chapters of this annual, did an excellent job with these stories, and Paul Smith’s art on this final effort had some nice touches — his depiction of the “cowardly” Batman has subtle but effective flourishes, and contrasts with the earlier exaggerated physique seen through the eyes of a child. Viewing this one event through the vantages of two people whose recollections we trust (the doctor, Batman) and two whose (differently motivated) self-promtion renders them unreliable (Ralphie, the thug) gives us some insight into Batman and his impact on the life of Gotham. Even the “fantastic” elements (though it’s all fantasy if you’re a stickler) of the unreliable stories are instructive on how he’s perceived by the different strata of the city.

The more I think about this one, the more I like it. Good stuff.

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