NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman #9
With less than ten issues under his belt since DC Comics' company wide relaunch, the Dark Knight has already faced some incredible challenges in the pages of "Batman: Rebirth". First came the arrival of a brand new pair of certified superhero protectors to Gotham City, then a new sidekick, and finally a battle with skyscraper-sized monsters. It seemed an out of control escalation of threats old and new, but with the arrival of "Batman" #9, fans now know who the real villain behind the madness is - and what Batman will have to do to bring it all to an end.
Writer Tom King and artist David Finch have delivered a "Rebirth" both modern and nostalgic, returning Hugo Strange to the villain spotlight while also showing a number of firsts for Batman. And to face off against the real villain, heal his allies and preserve Gotham's future, Bruce Wayne is going to need some help. Beginning with the first chapter in the "I Am Suicide" arc, a brand new Suicide Squad is being assembled by the Bat - and its roster isn't what you will expect.
The Rebirth So Far
For those drawn in by the "I Am Suicide" story, but not up to speed on "Batman: Rebirth" so far, plenty has happened in Gotham City in the past few weeks. This trying chapter in Bruce Wayne's life began with the arrival of Gotham and Gotham Girl, two carbon copies of Superman and Supergirl who arrived out of nowhere to defend the city in ways Batman never could - and Bruce knew it. So the Dark Knight took to training not new allies, but his replacements... until Dr. Hugo Strange arrived on the scene with Psycho-Pirate, a classic villain capable of projecting emotions on almost any hero in tow. Predictably, a godlike hero being brought face to face with that power didn't end well.
A murderous rampage began, with Psycho-Pirate driving Gotham to desperate ends to save the city, and Gotham Girl left crippled by fear. It was a tragic end to the newly arrived hero, as Batman, the Justice League, and finally his own sister, Gotham Girl united to bring him down. But even when the dust settled, Psycho-Pirate was nowhere to be found. Before Batman had any time to investigate, Hugo Strange's real endgame began: the Night of the Monster Men, a kaiju attack on Gotham that once again found Strange donning a Batsuit of his own - before being defeated.
The technology was beyond Strange's own resources, but the Batman team soon uncovered the basis of these mutated monsters: the same Venom that fueled the bulging muscles of classic Batman foe Bane. And with Psycho-Pirate gone, the bargain arrived at - and the true villain of the story - was exposed.
The Suicide Squad is The Answer
It didn't take Batman and his team to discover that Hugo Strange's plot was tied up with Amanda Waller - as in 'Task Force X' Amanda Waller - and seek her out for an explanation. It wasn't a surprising one, with Waller citing the many menaces and disasters to hit Gotham since the launch of the New 52 as a problem in need of an... unorthodox solution. It wasn't necessarily a bad idea - use Psycho-Pirate to control any threat, and use Hugo Strange to control him - but that was before Strange saw his opportunity to express his own insanity.
By catching the curiosity of Batman and his new allies, Strange drew Gotham and Gotham Girl to him, before using his "Suicide Squad of one" to turn them into weapons. After they wiped out the armed guards Waller had sent to keep Strange from pulling this exact betrayal, he was free to do two things: sell Psycho-Pirate to Bane in exchange for his Venom, and give rise to his 'Monster Men' as an attempt to usurp Batman's role. The plan didn't work, and when the monstrous battle came to a close, Batman sought out Waller once again.
In "Batman" #9, Batman puts the information he demanded from Waller into use. Psycho-Pirate had been acquired by Bane, and was being kept not only on Santa Prisca - the hostile island nation from which Bane emerged - but in the very prison where he had been incarcerated (under new management). Although Batman isn't actually looking to bring Bane's operation down (after all, he had little to do with Strange's plan), only the Psycho-Pirate will be able to free Gotham Girl - Claire - from the fear slowly driving her mad.
There are some jobs Batman can't do all by himself, so despite having no idea why Bane wants the Pirate to begin with, Bruce Wayne takes Waller's information and example as his next course of action. In short: assemble a team of villains to help him break into one of the most secure prisons in the world, and snatch a coveted hostage out from under a warlord. And when you're shopping for a select team of crazies and criminals in Gotham City, Arkham Aslyum is your first stop.
Readers might expect to see Batman gathering the biggest, baddest, scariest, or simply deadliest killers for his assault on Santa Prisca, but blunt instruments are obviously not what this job calls for. It's a point made clear by Batman's first recruit: Arnold Weskler, the Ventriloquist. Born into a mafia family but suffering from dissociative identity disorder, Weskler only began to make his mark on the world when he discovered a gangster-attired ventriloquist dummy named 'Scarface.' Well, it was really Scarface making the mark, abusing and ordering Weskler around as the real brains of the operation.
When Batman finds him in Arkham, Weskler has enjoyed years of therapy and a separation from Scarface, serving a life sentence for eight counts of murder. It's hard to trust the assertion that he has truly become "an ideal inmate" at Arkham, shown to be as somber, unassuming and malleable as he always was before the murderous dummy came along. Batman is likely seeking Weskler's undeniable knack for criminal methodology, strategy, and organized crime - believed to be in the man, not the dummy that embodied it. Batman gets through to him in the end... but only after grabbing Weskler by the same hand as Scarface, and ordering him to choose. Expect some troubles in the field.
Exactly who comes to mind when you hear the name 'Bronze Tiger' will depend largely on the comic, TV show, or animated series you first learned of Ben Turner's alter ego. Introduced in the pages of "Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter" as a kid from the harsh streets of Central City who fled to the far East to master martial arts (and himself), Ben Turner soon found himself tied into a handful of other notable teams and titles in the DC Universe. While he certainly seems a villain, brainwashing was employed to explain his time with the League of Assassins, eventually being deprogrammed and recruited into the ranks of the original Suicide Squad.
That shared training, childhood, and emotional trauma makes Bronze Tiger a strong counterpoint to Batman, found serving twenty years at Arkham now that the League and other affiliations have disavowed any knowledge of his existence. The interaction between Bruce and Ben is the most curious of the comic, with Ben besting the Bat in combat - and Bruce being just fine with it, sharing a friendly exchange. The New 52 version of Turner saw him a member of the League of Assassins yet again, but it looks like King is sticking to the character's core identity: a good man in a bad place.
Punch & Jewlee
If Ventriloquist is filling the 'brains' quotient and Bronze Tiger fits the 'brawn,' then the comic relief (or downright manic relief) comes in yet another unlikely form: the duo of Punch and Jewlee. Don't feel embarrassed if the names are unfamiliar, since the pair of crazed lovers have an origin story falling squarely in the 'silly' category. Once Coney Island puppeteers, the discovery of alien tech led the two into a life of crime, adopting the names and Jester costumes of the classic 'Punch and Judy' puppet act. They may be more inclined to goof off during a complicated heist than stick to the plan, but their penchant for violence has landed Jewlee behind the bars of Arkham, catatonic after being abandoned by her beloved "Punchee."
The reason he would leave her behind is soon revealed, as Batman explains that Jewlee's location has been leaked in an effort to lure out the second part of the act. The plan worked - with Punch masquerading as Jim Gordon - and a solid left hook exposes his deceit. So, why bring these two jesters in on the action? For starters, Punch will do anything for Jewlee. But more importantly, his absence was due to being locked up in Bane's prison on Santa Prisca - escaping after two years. He's got the inside details on the impenetrable (and apparently, not inescapable) fortress, meaning he and Jewlee are going for a wild ride.
Every team needs a wild card, and Batman finds his hidden deep in the belly of Arkham Asylum, tied up and masked like the facility's own Hannibal Lecter. It might seem like overkill for Selina Kyle, but with a face guaranteed to seduce a blind man into committing grand larceny, the asylum's officials are understandably against releasing Catwoman, for any reason whatsoever. Especially with the more than two hundred murder counts dooming her to lethal injection. Fortunately for her... Batman needs to steal something that only a master thief can tackle.
In many ways, this twist of fate will be one of the most interesting changes to the status quo of the entire story. Batman fans know of the Bat and Cat's undeniable attraction, their on-again, off-again romances, and their inability to put the other out of their mind. The New 52 confirmed that the two have a very adult relationship, so now that Batman is willing to bend-- make that break the rules to track down and steal something from a wealthy and powerful man... there's no telling how the pair's chemistry will be amplified. There may be little time for romance when you're stealing an emotion-controlling villain from an overpowered and brutal powerhouse, but we're certain Selina will put that to the test.
So there you have it: Batman's handpicked Suicide Squad: Ventriloquist, Bronze Tiger, Catwoman, Punch and Jewlee. What do you think of their chances? Can you make the case that other classic villains should have gotten the call? Let us know in the comments,
Batman #9 is available now.