It was Christmas 1992, and there were only two things I wanted for Christmas: DC Talk’s latest album “Free at Last” and Batman Year 3. I am not going to take the time to discuss or defend my adolescent love of the Virginia-founded Christian rap trio, but I will take the time to discuss Batman Year 3. I just ask for a few moments to build up to it.
This story has two beginnings. One starts with the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which the history of the DC Universe was re-written. Week by week, month by month, the DCU was changed and tweaked in ways big and small. For Superman and Wonder Woman, virtually everything before the Maxi-Series was thrown out in favor of fresh starts. For some characters, like the Green Lanterns and the Flashes, things remained largely untouched. And then there was Batman.
Post-crisis, like the four other heroes in constant publication since the Golden Age (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and Aquaman), there was no longer a Batman in the 1940s or beyond. Instead, Batman’s origin was revamped and condensed to a ten-year time frame in Frank Miller’s four-issue story arc, Batman: Year One. It gave the whole of Batman’s origin and world the same kind of grit that Denny O’Neil introduced in the 1970s. Year One, which many folk consider a masterwork, ran in Batman 404-407, which was followed on the heels by Max Alan Collins’s re-imagining of the second Robin, Jason Todd (issues 408-411).
This “new” Jason had a hard edge that Bruce tried to soften and hone for justice, to give Jason a reason to be. Despite this noble goal, Jason just never caught on, and by issue 429, he was dead, the deed done in “A Death in the Family.” But, I am a bit ahead of myself.
The wild success of Year One lead to Year Two, and with the loss of Jason Todd, a new Robin seemed in order. DC needed new blood. They needed a Robin connected to Dick Grayson. They needed one uniquely gifted. They needed one with his own story to tell. And they gave the job to the guy who, at the time, was the undisputed expert on all things Grayson: Marv Wolfman.
Wolfman, the writer of the popular New Teen Titans, had been the primary scribe of Dick Grayson since 1980, overseeing Dick’s growth from Robin to Nightwing. And so, he was a natural choice to create and introduce Tim Drake, who would become the third Robin. This introduction took place in the two-story tour-de-force that was Batman Year 3 and A Lonely Place of Dying.
While Year 3 took the time to retell the beginnings of Robin, the boy wonder, it was Lonely Place that really dug into the question of why Batman needed a ‘Robin’ at all?
Spinning far and away from the DC Universe, and into the flesh and blood of our reality–turning to the not-forgotten hours of my own youth, we can now see the second beginning to my story.
I began reading super hero comics in the winter of 1990, and that next February I found (in the very same magazine rack, in the very same CO-OP grocer’s in my High Plains Nebraska town where I still buy comics today) Robin, Vol. 1, Issue #2. This miniseries showcased Tim Drake’s education abroad, and man, I was hooked. Here was a Robin, a nerd just like me, if a little cooler (because Rhys from 1991 thought Tim’s hair was THE coolest).
That next summer saw my first real trips to real comic shops in Rapid City and Denver, and I spent every spare dollar I had – and a few I didn’t – on fleshing out my Tim Drake collection. A part of that was several volumes of the loose-leaf “Who’s Who in the DC Universe.” Between those pages and the letter columns, I ferreted out the title of A Lonely Place of Dying, and there I decided to add that story to my list. I got a copy of the trade that next winter.
It was in reading Lonely Place that I learned of Year 3, but as it had never been collected in trade, all I could find at the shops was this issue or that. It was discouraging. But fast forward yet another winter.
That year, 1992, there opened–for the duration of the holiday season–a fly-by-night comic shop. With Batman Returns in the theatre, and shops all over these United States selling die-cut-prism-pog-folding covers like they were hot cakes, one of the Rapid City shops opened a satellite store in my sleepy little hamlet. It was like Christmas every weekend, except that I didn’t actually get to open those packages. Well, one particular day of wandering and gaping, what did I spy? A gift package of all four issues of Year 3. Hot dog!
I wasted no time in informing my mother of the two things I wanted: the aforementioned CD, and Year 3. What else could a nerd like me possibly want? The first appearance of one of my favorite characters! And, imagine my elation to find a garment box under the tree two weeks before that big day – a box that weighed just as much as four comics!
I have always imagined myself like something of a detective, even as a young child, and so I set out to study this pied parcel. I weighed it, measured it, and used a whistling toy to listen through the box. I timed the time it took the contents to slide loose across the inside of the box. I was certain I knew what it was, and I wasted NO time or opportunity in announcing I had figured out its secrets.
And so, it was that Christmas morning, I sat on the floor, surrounded by my family and Gran. I had the opportunity to open any gift I wanted, and I chose the garment box I had spent so much time with. I made a grandstanding announcement about the contents, thanked my parents for their purchase, and opened the paper-and-box to find: a CD taped to a comic-sized piece of cardboard.
I was crestfallen and embarrassed and confused, and the rest of that Christmas I remember as through fog. The last package I opened was the comics, and my mother and sister copped to having-me-on as retaliation for the pompous know-it-all I had been. Yeah, I had that coming.
So, I spent Christmas break reading and re-reading Batman: Year 3, so let’s get on with it.
As previously mentioned, this storyline revisits the period of Batman’s mythos, in which he took Dick Grayson under his wings, to become his partner in crime-fighting. In the story, Bruce and Dick are on the outs, and Bruce is pulling away, reeling from the loss of Jason – poor exploded Jason. Meanwhile, we follow Alfred as he testifies at the parole hearing for Tony “Boss” Zucco, the mafioso who gave the order to kill the Graysons to send a message. This is all pretty straight-forward from the Golden Age origin of Robin, but Wolfman did make one notable change: “Boss” Zucco didn’t become boss from years of faithful service. He was no old man, but rather, a fairly young fellow with a record of where the bodies are buried.
Despite Alfred’s best efforts, Zucco is about to walk, and Batman and Nightwing have to hold back a gang war as rival families try to find Zucco’s journal. Interspersed in all of this are memories of Dick’s childhood, his relationship with Bruce, and his super hero career. It is a real primer for Dick Grayson, and one that leads right into A Lonely Place of Dying.
Having read Lonely first, there were a few spoilers for Year 3, so the story wasn’t quite as fresh as it could have been. Also, if I recall correctly, the art of Year 3 was not as crisp. I mean, penciller Pat Broderick has some chops, but when you hold it up to George Perez, who split art duties on Lonely with the famed Jim Aparo and did the covers for Year 3, well, there is almost no comparison. Never the less, this is a great little series, and it is a bummer that it has never been collected as a trade paperback.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed this little hodge-podge of memories, and behalf of all of us at Ideal Comics, Merry ‘old’ Christmas, and a Happy New Year!