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Batman: Shaman. Written by Dennis O'Neil. Pencilled by Edward Hannigan. Inked by John Beatty. New York: DC Comics, 1993. 1v. (various paging). $12.99. ISBN 0-446-39522-6.


Adults, teens, older kids; violence

NOTE: This title collects issues 1-5 of Legends of the Dark Knight.

A young Bruce Wayne climbs an Alaskan mountain with a bounty hunter, chasing the murderous Thomas Woodley. Woodley kills the bounty hunter and tries to get Wayne as well, but after a struggle the well-trained young man manages to knock the killer off a cliff. Unfortunately, Wayne's pack and parka goes with the body. Far from civilization, Wayne nearly dies, but he is rescued by Inuits (well, they must be Inuits, but they're never called anything except "natives" or "Indians"), and a bat mask-wearing shaman heals him with a story about how the mouse became the bat. The shaman's granddaughter insists that Wayne never tell the story to anyone.

Years later, at Wayne Manor, Wayne makes a clumsy pre-costume attempt to fight crime; he barely escapes with his life. Ah, but the proverbial bat flies into the window, and the half-forgotten story bubbles up, and Batman is born. Just in time, too, because someone is going around sacrificing people to the bloody vulture god Chubala from the island Santa Prisca--and one woman commits suicide, the name "Chubala" on her lips, after Batman saves her from some thugs. Wayne consults Dr. Spurlock, an anthropologist whose work is being sponsored by the Wayne foundation (and to whom Wayne told the forbidden story). Spurlock proudly shows Wayne the very bat mask that the old shaman had worn.

The Chubala murders continue, claiming Spurlock's research assistant and, later, Spurlock himself. There are also a number of drug-dealing punks involved, and at one point they get the drop on Batman and beat the crap out of him. Though he manages to fend them off, he is shot by an arrow from a person wearing the bat mask and barely escapes with his life. What is the connection between the Alaskan bat mask and the Santa Priscan Chubala? Wayne travels to Alaska for answers and finds the old shaman an alcoholic, reduced to performing the sacred dances for coins. The old man's granddaughter is outraged at what Wayne's seemingly harmless act of telling the sacred story to Spurlock did to her tribe's community--brought "the glittering junk of what you call civilization" to them, convincing them to abandon the old ways with nothing to put in their place. Worse, Spurlock "fed our old men and women liquor and drugs and persuaded them to tell the tribal secrets," and he also stole the bat mask and other medicine objects. The final blow to Wayne is that Thomas Woodley is still alive. But how do all these elements tie into what's been happening in Gotham?

This is a conventional Batman story with a few nice touches (e.g., Batman's attempts to attract the attention of two dim security guards, the interchange between Bruce Wayne and Alfred) but several annoying things as well, such as the obvious lack of research done on the Inuit (or whoever these folks are supposed to be), the stilted dialogue given to the shaman's granddaughter (apparently, following the "old ways" means never using contractions), and yet another variation on that damned bat flying into the window and giving Wayne ideas. The art is 3-S (standard superhero stuff), except for the reprinted George Pratt covers at the beginning of the book, which are considerably better than anything else you'll see between these covers, though not nearly his best work.

What drags this book down to the laughable level is the overwritten, overwrought "Intro" by Kevin Dooley (one of the editors of the original series) that talks about how this book benefitted from the 1989 release of the first Batman movie. If he'd stopped there, it wouldn't have been so bad, but then he goes on to laud the various individuals responsible for this book, which is perfectly appropriate, except Dooley acts as if they'd written another War and Peace or even another Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I mean, Ed Hannigan isn't bad, but to call him "one of the finest artists in the biz" is more than a shade hyperbolic. And was this book really "an important event in comics"? Well, considering I bought it on deep discount at Media Play, probably not.

Hardcore Batman fans will probably enjoy this book, but there are so many better ones around (Batman: Bloodstorm and Batman: Gothic being but two) that it's more for completists than readers.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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