This particular issue would be my candidate for most underwhelming oversized anniversary issue of the era. It was heavily promoted throughout the DC titles of the era–and who could resist that story hook? It’s the day the Batman retires! But honestly, it’s a pretty bleh read, tedious, and with the central thesis really being fitted in around the edges of a story that otherwise isn’t about Batman’s last case and what could possibly motivate the driven crime-fighter to cease his nocturnal activities. I didn’t buy this particular issue, my brother Ken did. But I read it, and was glad that I hadn’t dropped sixty hard-earned cents on this turkey.
The problem here wasn’t the artwork, although I did find the efforts of Walt Simonson a bit more stylized than my young tastes preferred. Here, he was expertly embellished by Dick Giordano, a name that had become synonymous with Batman due to his collaborations with Neal Adams in redefining the character’s visual appeal. No, the weak link here was David Vern, writing as he typically did in comics under the pseudonym David V. Reed. Vern was a regular contributor to editor Julie Schwartz’s Batman titles–and his work was dull as dry toast. of all the writers whom you might have given this assignment, he was perhaps the one most likely to do something pedestrian with it. And he did.
The issue opens with a lot of world-building. While no year is given, we are in the future, at a time where Gotham City has been absorbed into Megalopolis-East, which spans the territory from Boston down the East Coast to Washington DC in the manner of Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One. Both Batman and Robin are still active as crime-fighters, although Robin has gone on to his own solo career and own accomplishments as Dick Grayson (and is wearing the uniform Neal Adams designed several years earlier and which was presently being sported by the Robin of Earth-2.) As we open, there is an attack on the Greater Gotham International Airport’s biweekly shuttle launch, but the attackers are intercepted by Batman.
Afterwards, Batman and Robin convene in the Batcave buried deep beneath the Wayne Foundation Building to compare notes. Dick tells Bruce that he had been accosted several weeks ago at a party by a thuggish gentleman who wanted to purchase an antique automobile owned by Grayson. When Dick refused to sell, the man became aggressive–and since then, Dick has been receiving cryptic messages, after which portions of Wayne International’s business are attacked along similar lines. Grayson called in a top Meg/East Cop to investigate. But she was critically injured and on that shuttle that was attacked to be taken to life-saving care. Before she fell unconscious after being struck down, she scrawled a clue in the sand near to her, which is all Batman and Robin need to take up the hunt.
The clue turns out to be a broadcasat beam that’s being bounced off of the moon. Watching the playback, Batman and Robin learn that it’s from a conglomerate of wealthy citizens who indulge in competitive nostalgia, displaying the rare and collectible items they possess in competition with one another. Not something to kill anybody over, but clearly the guy Dick ran into wanted the antique car for his own entry. Batman moves to follow up on this lead, but before the pair can take off, a very old Alfred enters with a meal, and to tell Robin that his wife and twin children will be staying over at the old Wayne Manor. From there, Batman journeys to Columbia Space Hospital in an attempt to get more information out of the stricken Meg/East Cop.
The Cop, Miss Gray, is still in a coma, but she’s being treated in a special isolation chamber. But the bad guys have sent a team of killers to take her out by cutting through the outer wall and explosively decompressing that area of the hospital. But Batman notices their inside man, and is able to battle them of. He’s astonished that one of their number is head-to-toe red, much as the main attacker at the Airport was head-to-toe blue. Batman is of course able to save both the still-stricken Miss Gray and the station–but then an urgent update from Robin summons him back to Earth. The central computer core that regulates all of Wayne International’s business operations has been stolen–and Bruce and Dick work out that the culprits are an organization called Rainbow.
Hunting down leads, Batman and Robin contact former Commissioner Gordon, who has now retired to Maine and is writing his memoirs. In this brief scene, we learn that the Penguin is on a scientific expedition to the Antarctic, Catwoman was last seen in Katmandu, the Joker and Two-Face are being rehabilitated, and the Riddler disappeared, never to be seen again. Batman and Robin use the information that Gorgon gives them to hone in on their target, the Rainbow organization. But this is all done with them standing in the Batcave and reasoning, and using high-tech hardware. It’s pretty unexciting. In the end, Batman has a location, and Robin refuses to be left behind again–so the Dynamic Duo sets out together.
Having located Spectrum’s stronghold (Rainbow becomes Spectrum part of the way through, with scant explanation) Batman and Robin gain access wearing all-green uniforms. They penetrate into the heart of the organization, learn of its plans to ruin Wayne International and then buy up the pieces for pennies, and then they smash their plans. But without a whole lot of action or threat, honestly. They’re never up against anything that they don’t instantly have the upper hand on. And so Spectrum is crushed and the story ends. Hey, wait, what about that bit about this being the Batman’s last case?
Well, in a two-page epilogue, Bruce tells Dick that he’s thinking about retiring. A consortium has approached him about running for Governor, and he’s considering it. He’s tired of the fight, and envious of the family that Dick has built for himself. Bruce also mentions a woman he loves–a woman that we have seen nowhere in this story and who isn’t so much as given a name (presumably to keep from locking anything in on Batman’s future.) And so he’s thinking about hanging up the cape and cowl and going into politics instead. And that’s where the story ends, with Dick contemplating the career of the Batman. So it’s nothing more catastrophic than ennui that brings the career of the Masked Manhunter to a close, in what has to be one of the most anti-climactic moments in Batman history. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS this was not.