Batman: War Crimes
by various writers & artists
(DC Comics, 2006)

The War Games are over in Gotham, and people who live and work there can breathe a sigh of relief now that the three-day battle for supremacy among the city's gangs is over. But Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. the Spoiler, a.k.a. (briefly) Robin, was brutally killed in the fighting. Batman, who himself has been implicated in her murder, wants to know who killed her, and why.

The obvious answer is the crimelord Black Mask, who tortured and beat the young heroine mercilessly. But the skull-faced gangster didn't finish the job. So who did?

It will take Batman's skills as a detective, as well as some good, old-fashioned fisticuffs, for him to work his way through the lineup of suspects and track down the actual killer. And when he does -- well, it's a surprise twist, that's for sure. The person's identity and motives caught me offguard. And yet, a shocking ending doesn't necessarily equate with good writing, and I'm not sure this one holds water. Without giving away too much here, I'll say only that a well-established member of Batman's supporting cast has changed spots in a manner shockingly out of character. No matter how you look at it, the action doesn't make sense.

Otherwise, the story is good, with featured villainy from both the Black Mask and Joker -- although yet another bad guy, long thought dead, makes a sudden reappearance in Gotham. And there's the one bit of hope -- DC doesn't let anyone stay dead for long, a maxim since proven by the resurrection of Jason Todd. So Stephanie Brown will no doubt return one day, too, and her killer will be reinstated in Batman's good graces.

If not, War Crimes will likely stand as a reminder of a time when Batman's writers went astray and made a bad decision. What in many ways is an excellent chapter leaves a bitter aftertaste after an otherwise superb story arc.

by Tom Knapp
22 April 2006

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