Batman & Deadman: Death & Glory
by James Robinson, John Estes
(DC Comics, 1997)

This one-shot has Batman and Deadman in a classic superhero team-up. Batman needs Deadman's help to prove that he didn't really go on an L.A. Confidential-style murderous rampage and turn a restaurant full of people into an abattoir. Deadman, who is on a Blues Brothers-style "Mission from God," is helping Rama Kushna -- that's God, for those not on familiar terms with Indian mysticism -- to save the soul of a man named Albert Yeats.

Yeats is extremely important to Rama: he is slated to be the Second Coming. (Or First, if you're Jewish.) Yeats' soul, however, is in grave danger of being turned into charcoal briquette by the flames of Hell if Boston Brand, a.k.a. Deadman, cannot save him from a Satan who wants to crush the life out of him. It was Yeats who was a dishwasher in the restaurant where Batman had crashed the party looking for the Joker. A messenger from Satan, searching for Yeats, possessed Batman and ... you get the idea.

The story is centered on death, which is fitting for a hero whose career began with and is surrounded by death. A number of differing religious philosophies are gently mixed together in a rather comfortable manner. Almost too comfortable, really. The religious themes are handled with such gestalt charm and self-assurance that one can only smile when confronted with the reality that Rama Kushna/God "is a woman, remember?" Batman, never one to step too far outside of his natural environment of bringing justice to the mean streets, simply takes everything Boston reveals to him as a given. It's almost too breezy, handling rather heavy touchstones with a rather easygoing touch. But it's a loving touch nonetheless, and intended to be an inclusive-while-celebrating-diversity sort of thing. It actually works well. Religious themes need not always be so seriously done to be well done, as Kyle Baker's slapsticky but highly emotional King David proved quite already.

Meanwhile, a thief is distracting Batman and Deadman from their main goal of finding the unlikely messiah, a rather typical adventure, but decently rendered.

As usual, the plot always veers away from indulging in too much heavy thinking about the themes lurking beneath the surface. The writing is content to skim the surface, looking down on a a great deal from a great height, but never really zooming in for a close-up.

The artwork is, as is to be expected from a DC publication, a feast for the eyes, and is a notch above the story, which can be vague at times and a bit condescending in its assumptions regarding universal religious themes. It's not terribly suspenseful, but the mood is still appropriately mystical, which suits a gothic icon like Batman quite comfortably. If the story doesn't suit you, buy it for the artwork. That alone is reason enough.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 12 April 2003

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