I had seen the cover of the first chapter of the “Bat-Murderer” serial in ads, so I was aware of it at least in theory. But for some reason, when I saw this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, I figured that somehow the entire story would be contained herein. In this I was off-base–while this was the wrap-up to the adventure and did recap earlier installments, it did so in the requisite 18 pages.
“Bat-Murderer” by writer Len Wein was the first long serial in Batman history; an event so noteworthy that each splash page needed to run a disclaimer stating that the events of this storyline were happening after those in any other titles that Batman was simultaneously appearing in.
The premise for the serial was straightforward: in the first installment, at the end of an encounter with Talia, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman appeared to fire a gun at her, cutting her down as she fled. From that point on, he is a hunted man, pursued by the police he once worked alongside, as Commissioner Gordon was a witness to the killing. So the Masked Manhunter must stay one step ahead of the authorities while figuring out what actually happened and proving his innocence.
In the preceding chapter, the Creeper joined the manhunt for Batman, but the Caped Crusader was able to convince him of his innocence. So this issue opens up with Jack Ryder, the Creeper’s alter ego, passing some intel to a disguised Batman. Ryder’s info leads Batman to a travelling circus parked at the outskirts of Gotham.
Batman works his way through the carnival, though he is recognized and attacked along the way. Coming across a crew of Al Ghul’s men, he disguises himself as Ra’s, but his subterfuge is quickly uncovered, and while he battles valiantly, he is ultimately overcome.
Reviving in the center circle of the big top tent, Batman is surprised that the woman with the ringmaster is actually Talia in disguise. She offers Batman sanctuary with her father’s organization, which was the whole point of the subterfuge, to bring Batman on side with Ra’s Al Ghul. When Batman refuses, he faces attacks from the various carnival performers, who are all actually deadly trained assassins.
Assistance comes n the form of the Creeper, who was posing as a carnival clown. Together, the two heroes overcome the League of Assassins, and are able to lay hands on the true Ra’s Al Ghul, not disguised as the ringleader, but rather a circus dwarf. But before they can bring Ra’s to justice, the big top begins to fall in flames, courtesy of a few waylaid flaming knives.
In the aftermath, the Creeper takes off as the law arrives–he’s as much a hunted man as Batman is, after all. Batman gives the very-much-alive Talia and the murder weapon to Gordon before turning to depart. But Gordon, unsatisfied, raises the weapon in Batman’s direction and guns him down.
Gordon insists that he didn’t pull the trigger, and a still-alive Batman explains that this is how he was framed; the gun is gimmicked to be able to fire itself by remote control. No mention is made as to how he survived a point blank shot in his back, but let’s assume that he swapped the ammo for blanks. And with that, Batman’s innocence is proven, and all is well again .Wein’s Batman dialogue in this story is relatively comical–not having landed on a regular voice for this era’s Batman, Len’s version vacillates between doing bad Clint Eastwood lines and the sort of cutesy patter that Spider-Man would typically lay down. It all sounds pretty strange to modern sensibilities.