Title: Batman Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #6 – “Executioner”
Plot: Alan Grant and Barry Kitson
Script: Alan Grant
Art: Vince Giarrano
Colors: John Kalisz
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Letters: Willie Schubert
Assistant Editor: Chuck Kim
Editor: Archie Goodwin
I would like to apologize because when I first chose to review this comic, I meant it in regard solely to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the government’s willingness to reopen even at the cost of peoples’ lives. With the death of George Floyd, all the protesting that has emerged in response to that and every other police brutality death, and the response of the police, this story became so much more relevant.
As a reminder I am still taking recap slots for donations of $25 or more to help with Black Lives Matter, the Yemen Crisis, the Philippines Crisis, and what’s going on with the indigenous nations in this country. You can find the information here along with a list of books that haven’t yet been recapped on Point Horror.
Time for another comic recap. I was on the fence about whether to post this here or on Nostalgic Bookshelf, but I figured Batman comics can go under horror by default.
In 1996, DC Comics did a series of themed-annual issues under the banner “Legends of the Dead Earth.” The concept involved taking a look at the far future of the DCU, long after the planet Earth was destroyed. The stories never went into explicit detail over how Earth died because that wasn’t the point. The annuals brought up the ideas of how the legends of Earth’s various heroes and villains could survive well after their homeworld was gone.
Many of the stories featured the human race having settled on brand new planets, though their societies would vastly differ. Some were typically sci-fi futuristic while others regressed to more frontier or feudal-style civilizations. By this point in time, many heroes had their stories wildly warped. In the Aquaman annual, two men argue over whether Aquaman was the benevolent king of a desert planet or a tyrant who ruled Earth’s oceans from a floating city. In the Catwoman annual, historians believe Catwoman and Batman were a married outlaw couple hunted after by the heroic Commissioner Joker. And the Superboy annual tied in the Superman mythos with the legend of Quetzalcoatl.
A few of the annuals were implied to be part of the main DC continuity, such as the two Legion of Super-Heroes annuals, the Power of Shazam annual and the Starman annual.
The “Legends of the Dead Earth” annuals have largely been forgotten by DC to the point most of them haven’t been included on the DC Universe website. I have to say this really isn’t fair to them as they and the Elseworlds annuals were a nice change of pace. Although granted a few of them have very 90s comic art, like this one by Vince Giarrano.
This particular Batman annual was mainly written by Alan Grant, one of the main Batman authors of the 90s alongside Jeph Loeb, Doug Moench, and *ugh* Chuck Dixon. The story features a surprising homage to Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman of DC’s Silver Age long after she was killed off and about ten years before DC introduced her successor, Kate Kane. The first Batwoman’s one of my childhood faves and one of the reasons why I’m so interested in obscure comic characters.
Beneath the two moons, the city of Gotham sleeps but one person doesn’t rest easy. Katherine “Kathy” Kane feels a sense of dread and she’s not sure why. Kathy wonders if maybe she heard her father arriving home. He went out late and she’d like to hear how his night out went. Unfortunately, Robert Kane isn’t in a very talkative mood, but he IS… hanging around.
The next day, Robert’s body is laid out and last rites are given by Bishop Dire of the Church of Fear. Robert will long be mourned as Gotham’s Batman, upholder of peace and justice, but no one knows why he committed suicide. Even Commissioner Mondial, Robert’s childhood friend, doesn’t understand what drove Robert to take his own life. Kathy doesn’t know either, even though her father supposedly shared everything with her, and she doesn’t appreciate Bishop Dire’s insinuations about her keeping secrets.
Mondial tries to keep the peace between Kathy and Dire, reminding them both that everyone in Gotham comes from the same roots. Mainly, the event known as “Crashdown.” About 500 years ago, Gotham’s ancestors crash landed on this planet. Their first years on this new world were bleak as the people reverted to primitivism to survive. It was hard, but eventually they rebuilt society and the Batman’s remained a symbol of justice keeping their world together. Down through the centuries, the Batman name’s been passed down through Kathy’s family. Thanks to Batman and the justice system, crime’s virtually nonexistent save for a handful of murders every year.
Kathy swears she’ll take up her family’s legacy; her father was already training her to kill in the name of the law.
Left alone with her father’s body, Kathy doesn’t have to be strong anymore and starts sobbing. Sinking to her knees, Kathy holds Robert’s hand asking why someone so honorable would do this. Moving his arm causes a rolled-up piece of parchment to fall out of Robert’s armor. Robert’s suicide note bears an apology to Kathy, saying he had to kill himself to atone for executing an innocent man a few days prior.
Kathy remembers which execution her dad’s referring to. The other day, Aaron Zsasz was found guilty of killing Roland Malloy. Offering no appeal or repeal, Commissioner Mondial ordered Aaron’s public execution. While the diminutive Jester got the crowd worked up with his ghoulish jokes, Aaron was brought out and Robert donned his armor and ax in private. Aaron pleaded he was innocent as Robert stated it’s up to the church and state to determine innocence and guilt, while the Batman carries out the sentence. Before his head was chopped off, Aaron screamed some woman named “Kyle” could prove his innocence.
While the Jester danced around with Aaron’s severed head on a stick, the crowd chanted “Justice” in a fervor. Commissioner Mondial thanked Batman for his service, while Bishop Dire absolved him of any blame.
Alone with Kathy, Robert was clearly distressed. This made it 40 people he’s executed and it never gets easier. He expected Aaron to plead an alibi because they all do that. Kathy attempted to assure her dad he hasn’t done anything wrong, that he’s doing important work for their city. She says she’ll even be proud to follow in his footsteps some day. Robert couldn’t let it rest and announced he was going to track down the woman Aaron named.
Kathy recalls all this and realizes her father indeed found some proof of Aaron’s innocence. Yet if he was innocent, why didn’t this Kyle person come forward? How could the infallible law judge an innocent man guilty? Though she hasn’t had her own costume made, Kathy will make do with what she has and prepares to find out the truth her dad took to the grave.
Out in Gotham’s graveyard, Zulina Kyle’s come to pay her last respects to Aaron Zsasz. Zulina begs Aaron’s forgiveness, saying she didn’t have a choice when she gets ambushed by a group of cloaked men. The attackers are wearing the symbols of the Church of Fear, and their leader orders Zulina’s death! Zulina’s held down as she screams she didn’t tell anyone, but her cries fall on deaf ears as blades are plunged into her body.
Kathy arrives on the scene donned in impromptu armor just as Zulina’s stabbed. She looks back on a time when she was 10, and Robert smeared her face with the blood of an executed murderer. Standard baptism for the Kane Family. Seeing innocent blood spilled enrages Kathy and she plans to slaughter Zulina’s killers.
The attackers are horrified by the surprise appearance of the Batman, until Kathy corrects them it’s BatWOMAN they’re dealing with now. Kathy makes quick work of the attackers, but Zulina Kyle’s still dead. As her anger cools, Kathy demands the men stand up for questioning when one clocks her head from behind.
Kathy’s left by the grave as the attackers flee, but Zulina’s dying groans wake her up. With her last bit of life Zulina begs Kathy not to leave, crying she’s terrified of dying. Tears from her eyes and blood from her mouth, Zulina admits she was paid to “entertain” Aaron Zsasz while Roland Malloy was killed. Aaron wasn’t the first man she was paid to distract, either. As Zulina finally dies, Kathy reaches a horrifying conclusion that her father executed more than one innocent man. Closing Zulina’s eyes, Kathy leaves to hunt down the cloaked men and believes one of them was Jedda, Bishop Dire’s right-hand man.
At the Church of Fear in his private chamber, Bishop Dire’s informed by Jedda about Kathy in her armor and on her way. Dire assumes Kathy’s gone off the deep end because of grief and wants to take no chances with a trained killer. Even though Dire orders the nightly guard doubled, Kathy’s already sneaked into the church. The fact she’s expected leads more credence to Kathy’s belief Jedda and Dire are behind the conspiracy. Nevertheless, Kathy’s determined to get answers no matter who she has to go through.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Mondial’s informed of Zulina Kyle’s death. Mondial tells his second-in-command Veitch that they WILL find the culprit and have him brought to justice by tonight. Veitch understands exactly what Mondial’s asking…
Kathy makes her presence known in the church, swooping in and grabbing Bishop Dire. Hoisting Dire over a balcony, she demands he come clean about duping her family and killing innocent men. Dire claims he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but Kathy’s not moved. Kathy points out she saw Jedda and his men kill Zulina to make sure she wouldn’t rat them out, but then Jedda reveals he was told of Kathy’s coming by Veitch!
Kathy fears she’s let her passion get the best of her, like her dad always warned, and went after the wrong guy. As armed guards start to flank her, Kathy lets Dire fall to distract her attackers! Kathy flees as the guards try to save Dire, even jumping through a stained glass window because she’s just that extra. Thankfully it turns out Kathy tied Dire’s legs to the balcony to make sure he wouldn’t hit the floor.
By daybreak, Veitch and his men are questioning the guy who found Zulina Kyle’s body. It immediately becomes clear Veitch is pinning the crime on this guy simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and has the poor schlub taken away for trial and execution.
Kathy’s doing her best to move hidden before she’s found by Mondial’s men until she can get to the Gotham Library to confirm her suspicions, while Mondial finds Zulina’s “killer” guilty. The poor baker pleads innocent, but Mondial doesn’t care. Mondial says for the sake of order, a culprit MUST be found and punished to placate the good people of Gotham. Veitch and his men are ordered to beat the guy up until he’s willing to confess.
Deep in the library, Kathy’s pulled out the execution records going back to Crashdown. She’s also located an ancient journal belonging to the earliest Mondial ancestor.
500 years back, 50 people out of 500 survived the crash landing of the Plight of Gotham spaceship. Mondial the Elder was terrified by how quickly everyone was reverting to a primitive way of life in the harsh terrain and feared they’d go extinct if order wasn’t established. Elder Mondial told everyone stories of the original Batman, the hero of the original Gotham City aided by Gotham’s Police Commissioner. Through these stories, Mondial came up with the idea of using the Rule of Law to bound their new society. Strict enforcement and regular executions to keep the people in line will be necessary, so they’ll make a few criminals here and there to serve a point.
Kathy is left feeling ashamed and disgusted as the words sink in. For five centuries, her family’s been tricked into murdering innocent people, and the criminal justice system was created explicitly to sacrifice the citizens of Gotham for the sake of those in power. It’s far worse than even her dad suspected.
Veitch’s men have finished brutalizing their scapegoat for Zulina’s death when Kathy bursts into the room exclaiming her family’s done with Mondial’s shit. Kathy calls out the deceit of the Mondials and Gotham’s government, exclaiming Mondial’s cheated her, her family, and the very people he’s supposed to be protecting. Pig that he is, Mondial states those deaths were necessary to make everyone follow the rule of law so society wouldn’t crumble. Oh fuck you, your family just wanted an easy way to keep control and you did it by victimizing thousands of people.
While Mondial monologues about the necessity of the deaths, Kathy takes on Veitch and his men. Mondial rants about how hard life was after Crashdown and how he’ll do anything to see Gotham thrive.
By the time Kathy’s finished with Mondial’s men, she shouts her father killed himself because of Mondial’s lies AND he’s damned her family’s name. Kathy swears he’ll answer for everything.
The next day, Mondial’s set to be executed for murder, fraud, conspiracy, deceit, being a punk-ass douche canoe, whatever. Mondial apologizes for absolutely nothing, because of course he doesn’t. Lifting up the ax, Kathy thinks to herself how committed Mondial is, but in the end…
The ends DON’T justify the means.
The Jester can’t believe, for the first time ever, the ax MISSED. Kathy informs the little clown he’s out of the job because these public executions are over. Turning to the crowd, Kathy proclaims their government’s shown to be corrupt and fallible, and it’s demonstrated no government has the right to take lives for ANY reason. Shattering the executioner’s ax, Kathy swears the House of Bat will never kill again.
Kathy’s not stupid enough to think there won’t be a few people who decide to break the law after this. Everyone’s capable of corruption and greed, but Gotham doesn’t need an executioner. It needs a guardian. Donning the symbol of the Bat, Kathy swears to protect the people and act as a symbol not of oppression, but justice.
Okay while I like they at least tried to justify the skimpiness of Kathy’s armor, I really hope she eventually got a suit that didn’t look so trashy.
So anyway, we have the reveal that the people behind the government are entirely willing to let innocent people die if they think it will benefit society as a whole. BOY I WONDER IF THIS IS RELEVANT TODAY? And who says comics were never political? The parallels between this and the way government officials, especially Chump, are okay with reopening even though it will likely lead to more coronavirus spikes and more deaths are the reason why I chose to recap this comic. A government that is corrupt cannot and should not be given any control over anyone’s life, and if they are they need to be held accountable for their actions.
Yeah so here’s the thing, it’s not just the government but the criminal justice system that should not be given any control over ANYONE. Mondial’s family went for the most fucked up method possible of keeping order and kept it a secret for centuries. The people of Gotham were nothing more than victims while Mondial’s officers like Veitch got to brutalize and frame whomever they wanted. The police are NOT your friends. They are NOT acting in your best interests. The police are pigs on a constant power high thinking they can do whatever the fuck they want because they serve the supposed law. I should’ve been more vocal about this point before everything happened, and I am so sorry for my denseness in that matter.
Compared to some of the other Batman-related annuals, this one was relatively light on references. Aside from referencing the original Batwoman, Kathy and Robert Kane are both references to Bob Kane the guy who most thought was the sole creator of Batman until Bill Finger finally received his due notice. The Jester’s an obvious Joker reference, while Zulina Kyle and Aaron Zsasz both refer to Catwoman and Victor Zsasz.
I love that Kathy’s got no chill. She’s not demure. She’s a woman who was trained to be a killer since she was 10, but she was also trained to have a sense of honor instead of automatically taking all her orders at face value. A superheroine can kick ass and be brutal without being sweet and smiling AND without being a remorseless killer.