Batman #637 Review

“Under the hood – part 3”
Reviewer: Andy Logan

Writer: Judd Winick
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Tom Nguyen
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Bob Schreck

Dammit, this story arc has got me scratching my head so much I’m giving myself alopecia! The identity of the Red Hood is still a mystery, and I’m still pondering the answer to the question of his identity.

In fact, it’s driving me so mad, I felt compelled to write into Mathan’s excellent “Who’s who in the DCU” last week to ask for his expert opinion…and we both agreed that while it COULD be the man I’m desperately praying it will be – Jason Tood – it could also be somebody else…somebody far more mundane and unexciting.

For the uninitiated, The Red Hood, a villain of many Bat Years Past has resurfaced in Gotham, and during a brief confrontation with Batman, the Dark Detective found himself recognising some of the Hood’s moves. There is a recognition about the way he moves and acts that makes Bruce think he knows him.

Of course, for people like me who over analyze everything, that suggests that a former Bat-family character is making a comeback, and the most shocking, but perhaps not most realistic candidate for this is Jason Todd – the deceased (apparently) former Robin.

Other names in the frame (both initially suggested to me by Mathan and both excellent possibilities in their own way) are Anarky and Azrael, but while both of these would, in their own way be a “shock” return, for me – and this is just my own personal opinion folks – neither of them would be as visceral and stunning a reveal as Jason Todd would be.

We’re given precious few clues in this issue as to who the Hood really is; but interestingly enough, the preview of next month’s cover shows Batman standing aghast, holding the Hood’s mask…and a face is reflected in the mask’s surface. The face itself appears to be of a young, dark haired man…which would fit Todd, but not Azrael or Anarky…but then again, maybe I’m reading too much into it. After all, there’s nothing to prove that the reflection is of the person under the Hood. Also, maybe I’m just visualising a reflection where there is none, sort of like those crazy people who think they can see Jesus in a tortilla.

Maybe, just maybe the identity of the Hood ties in to the mystery of DC Countdown…perhaps Lex Luthor’s cryptic comment in Superman/Batman some time ago about an impending “Crisis” is linked to it…perhaps the cover floating around the net at the moment showing Bats carrying what appear’s to be the body of somebody of teenage build refers to Batman’s mental anguish in “carrying” the guilt of Jason Todd’s supposed death around all these years, and the comic that the cover graces is tied into the revelation that Todd IS still alive, and always has been…or perhaps, once again, I’m reading too much into it all.

*Deep breath….callllllllm down*

Right, I’m going to force myself to move away from the speculation, and back to the meat and drink of the review.

A cargo has arrived in Gotham, a cargo belonging to new gang boss Black Mask. Problem is, some of the cargo has already gone missing, some of it has been blown to pieces, and another part of it turns out to be Amazo – a deadly android with the powers of seven members of the Justice League.

Batman and Nightwing (together again for the first time…or something like that) stumble across the android and find themselves involved in a multi-page fight for their lives.

It’s a slam bang, knock out, drag down fight to the finish in which both hero’s are pushed to the limit before Amazo is taken down. It’s great to see the interaction between former Master and Pupil here, as Nightwing more than holds his own in the fighting stakes, but finds himself mentally) standing back in admiration and awe at Batman’s superb use of tactics and planning to ultimately win the day.

The message during this contretemps is clear – Nightwing may kick ass with the best of them, but when it comes to outhinking and outmaneuvering your opponent, Batman is, and always will be, the King.

Hey! Maybe, showing this dichotomy – demonstrating just how good at training and honing a fighting machine Batman can be – is to show how deadly Bats helped Jason Todd become! Yeah! So when Todd returns, and kicks all kind of butt to achieve his nefarious ends, we understand just how he got to be so good…he was trained by the best!

Sorry…I’m doing it again…stop. thinking. about. it.

Also in this issue, we are again treated to some fantastic characterization of the villains of the piece so far. Black Mask is once again shown as a calm, collected, witty and downright dangerous gang boss…he does have a temper, and occasionally, it gets out of control, but in the main, he keeps it under enough control to make him a very dangerous foe indeed.

Mr Freeze is also featured, though only briefly, and is shown as just as dangerous – though maybe more unhinged – than Black Mask. I’m guessing that Freeze will play a larger role in the final part of this story. Why do I say that? Well, Black Mask charges Freeze with bringing the cargo to him – although this exchange happens just before Mask discovers the fate of said cargo.

The issue ends with the Red Hood contacting Black Mask, and letting him know that he has some cargo that belongs to him. The cargo in question is a large shipment of Kryptonite – and if you’re wondering what the heck Black Mask wants with Kryptonite (besides the obvious anti-Superman reason), you’ll have to buy the next issue to find out, because that’s your cliffhanger folks.

Everything is poised delicately going into the final part of this arc and the reveal as to the Hood’s identity. To be fair, aside from the mystery of the Hood’s identity, this story overall hasn’t been a classic, but let’s be honest – in this arc, the mystery of the Hood’s identity is what it’s all about, and everything else is just a sideshow anyway.

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