June 19, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #466: Gotham

No, this entry isn't about the city.

I spoke a bit extensively in the last installment of this weekly column that Batman was a big time control freak for a period.  These days?  Not so much.  I’m not sure when exactly that change happened, but there’s no way that Batman would have reacted the way he did with a young man calling himself Gotham the same way he did Stephanie Brown if he hadn’t.

Gotham didn’t last long for very different reasons.

Henry “Hank” Clay Jr. and his sister Claire were lucky:  Batman saved their parents’ lives during a robbery.  From there, the two made it a point to hone their minds and bodies while utilizing their parents’ fortune to make life better for the citizens of Gotham.  At a certain point, the two went overseas and purchased some superpowers.  They’d return to Gotham City under the identities of “Gotham” and “Gotham Girl,” looking to do more good.  Their first appearance was in-costume for a brief cameo in July 2016’s DC Rebirth #1 before moving on to Batman’s solo book, the start of Tom King’s long run with artwork by David Finch.

Gotham and Gotham Girl’s first public appearance was pretty effective too.  Batman was in a position where he had to somehow bring a 747 down safely after a terrorist attack by Kobra.  Now, this is Batman.  He has no superpowers, and the plan involved, in part, riding on the back of the plane while using a series of ropes to pull the wings’ flaps up.  He’s in conversation with Alfred the whole time, and he knows that he’s going to die doing this, checking off every possible contingency plan to help up to and including calling Clark Kent for a quick bit of help if only Superman wasn’t busy.  But then a pair of flying superheroes flew up to help, everyone lived, and Batman realized the two well-meaning young people could be something Gotham City needs.

Yeah, Batman at this point was thinking his time was finite, and it probably wouldn’t hurt for Gotham to have actual superhuman heroes sometimes.  Both Hank and Claire looked like good candidates.  And this was a friendlier Batman than the one who fired Stephanie Brown.  Sure, why not train some new heroes?

Oh, and if you’re wondering what powers Hank and Claire had, well, it’s mostly standard Superman-style stuff:  strength, flight, invulnerability, speed, stamina, special vision powers.  Oh, and one more thing I’ll get to in a moment.

See, Hank was a good guy for the most part, but then something happened.  At the site of a second terror attack, Hank found a group of Amanda Waller’s soldiers were under a mind-whammy from the Psycho Pirate, and when the Psycho Pirate used the Medusa Mask on Hank, he killed most of the soldiers.  But he was distraught and took his mask off, allowing the lone surviving soldier to see his face and then track down and kill Hank and Claire’s parents.  From there, Hank decided to ignore Batman’s advice and killed the last soldier.

Then he decided to take down all of Gotham City because, well, he figured the whole place was a cesspit that was better wiped off the face of the Earth.  That’s bad.

How bad was it?  Well, Batman got outside help to come in:

Like, I think I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times Batman’s book needed the Justice League to come in and help.  Oh, and Gotham mopped the floor with them because Bayman basically figured out how Hank’s powers worked:  he got more powerful depending on who he was facing down.  So, if he needed to battle Superman, he got stronger than Superman.  There was, of course, a side effect to all this in that the more power Gotham used, the more time he shaved off his lifespan.  Yeah, he could beat the Justice League, but he wasn’t going to live long afterwards.

As it is, his sister Gotham Girl had to deliver a killing blow.

Now, Claire’s own story continues from there, and I’ll just save that for next week.  But this isn’t quite the end of Hank’s story.

Flash forward a couple years, DC does another rebranding without a continuity reboot, and this period opens with what looks like a Joker gas attack on Arkham Asylum.  A number of the inmates are killed, including Bane from the looks of things.  But then Two-Face of all people, now more or less just a badly scarred Harvey Dent, arranges for a new branch of the Suicide Squad to be dubbed “Task Force Z” under the leadership of Jason “Red Hood” Todd.  There’s just one major difference here.  While most Suicide Squad members have a bomb in their heads to keep ’em loyal, Task Force Z had a very different incentive:  they were all technically dead already.  Harvey got his hands on something called “Lazarus Resin” that could resurrect the dead.  A big enough dose, like the one that apparently went to Jason at some point, brought the subject fully back to life.  A partial one made a zombie out of them, and while they could be more or less intelligent enough to do what they needed to do, if they didn’t get a booster shot from time to time, they did devolve into mindless brain-eaters.  Bane was one of the more recognizable members of the group, and since Bane had near the end of King’s Batman run killed Alfred, Jason was really unhappy about seeing him there.

Except it wasn’t Bane.  It was Hank.  Jason might have known that if he saw “Bane” fly away after he pushed the big guy off a tall roof.

Pictured: not Bane.

That series ended with Claire coming back for Hank one last time, and though given the choice to take enough Resin to fully revive himself once he remembered he wasn’t Bane, Hank oddly enough decided not to, instead heading off with Claire to enjoy whatever time he had left just staying out of the costumed hero game until his body finally fell apart or something.  And given how that Task Force Z series ended, Hank probably got off a hell of a lot luckier than the other undead monsters on that team.

So, is that the entirety of Hank’s story?  Well, mostly.  But I figure to cover the rest, I really should cover Gotham Girl.