So I bought this issue on a whim Thursday because hey, Robin!Steph. This is the issue right before War Games, so naturally it deals with one of her last cases as Robin before she got fired (the one that actually got her fired was in one of the Robin issues, which I haven’t read yet). It also has a cute little backup story featuring Cass vs. Onyx, so it’s safe to say I got my money’s worth. But damn is this issue disturbing.
Spoilers after the cut.
The issue begins with the world as seen through the eyes of Victor Zsasz, and the effect is a chilling one. Everything is greyed out with no outline, and the only color belongs to the victim he’s chosen. Seriously, it’s freaky.
We then cut to Batman and Robin chasing down a couple of purse snatchers, and Steph totally owns. Oracle then calls in to recommend that Batman check out a homicide, and he decides to take her along to teach her a few detective skills.
I was kind of surprised that he’d take Steph along to a crime scene with that much blood splatter, but hey, she’s tough and she’s got to see it sometime. He checks the blood and deduces that Zsasz is the killer, then tells her to go home. Steph tells him no way in hell.
Confession time: I hate reading issues from around this time period because they make me seriously pissed at Bruce. I can see where he’s coming from wanting to protect Steph from Zsasz, but he comes across as harsh and even dismissive occasionally. Still, the danger is real and his heart’s in the right place, so I guess I can’t hold it against him. But damn, Bruce, didn’t Alfred teach you any manners?
At the same time: Steph, Zsasz is a completely different breed of criminal from your father. He has no funny gimmick. He has no plans for daring capers or robberies. His entire goal in life is to kill people. When Batman tells you to go home, he isn’t just being mean: he doesn’t want you to die. All of this is lost on Stephanie, of course, who as we all know does not respond well to male authority figures.
So Batman reaches a compromise and makes her wear upgraded armor that covers every inch of skin save her face. That’s one thing I love about Steph: she’s not above dressing practically. The armor comes in handy after Zsasz snatches her while Batman’s back is turned.
Stephanie fights back, chomping down on his fingers and spitting blood in his face in one of the most badass moments I’ve ever seen (and sadly couldn’t find scans of, but it’s floating around Tumblr somewhere). He knocks her unconscious and goes for the kill, but Batman has caught up with him at this point and they duke it out.
Just when it seems Zsasz has gotten the upper hand, Stephanie jumps on his back and saves Bruce. Rather than thank her for saving his life like a normal person (seriously Batman you are so rude), he lectures her on going right for the kill.
There is a slight error here in that Batman claims the cartilage from Zsasz’s nose would have spintered back into his brain had he not already broken it earlier. That is physically impossible. Contrary to what you might have seen in A History of Violence, driving somebody’s nose into their skull won’t kill them because noses don’t have bones, and cartilage doesn’t “splinter.”
Then again, she did grab Zsasz’s knife and tell him to “come and get it,” so I guess Bruce still has a point.
What’s interesting about the talk they have afterwards is that Steph pretty much sounds exactly like Jason. As long as she saved him, she reasons, does it really matter if Zsasz had died? Especially since he was a serial murderer himself?
Batman tells her that there is always another way, and if she can’t learn to look for that every time, she can’t be his partner any more. Which I suppose is part of it, but I suspect that what he’s actually trying to do is avoid what happened with Jason. Which ends up happening anyway in the very next arc, but that’s irony for you.
Overall, this is a very good issue and you should buy it if you haven’t already. Check your local comic shop to see if they have it in back issues, or Comixology has it for $1.99 here.