Page 45 Review by Stephen
From the writer of SAGA, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD etc
With the Joker and Arkham Asylum playing roles in Brubaker's BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, there was more than a cursory reference to madness there, but here Vaughan delved a little deeper into mental illness, specifically when it comes to identity
In a short story themed heavily around Alice In Wonderland (and Lewis Carroll aficionados do stand a chance solving the clever clues throughout before the dark detective does), The Mad Hatter kidnaps Dr. Kirk Langstrom (the Jekyll-like geneticist able to transform himself into a creature with the Hyde of a bat) and one of his psychiatrists, using the former to transform the latter into a raving Jabberwocky, perhaps subconsciously in order to give the Arkham analyst some insight into his condition.
In the WONDER WOMAN two-parter Clayface steals some of the Amazon's essence (Diana herself was originally created from magic clay), rendering her into a state where she is once more a Donna Troy twin which neither of the two ladies - priding themselves on their individuality - take too kindly to.
But the big one here is the three-part 'Close Before Striking' in which Nightwing (the first Robin) begins to seriously doubt the strength of Batman's self-awareness when faced once more with Scarface, the ventriloquist's doll with an eye for the moll, and a hair-trigger temper and Tommy gun. Except that Scarface isn't the problem - he's not real:
"The Ventriloquist is an extremely dangerous man. Arnold Wesker has a dissociative disorder that allows him to guiltlessly act out his psychopathic disregard for human life through a puppet persona. Possessing more than one distinct identity allows a man to do things most people would never imagine."
"You wouldn't know anything about that, huh?"
Why is Nightwing so worried? Well, for a start, how real has the identity of Bruce Wayne ever been since his parents were killed? He's been a mask the Batman uses either to distract or extract information. The same goes for Matches Malone, a woise guy arsonist whom "Bruce" has been impersonating for much of his career in order to infiltrate the mob. Except: Matches Malone is real and isn't Bruce, as becomes appallingly clear when a man fitting the description of Matches is gunned down by Scarface after apparent betrayal.
There is far more to that one than I'm giving away, both in terms of what Batman has been keeping secret, what he has erroneously presumed, and how stable he is in any identity. It's actually a Batman gem amongst so much similar, trite old paste.
Oh yes, I'm constantly forgetting the art, aren't I? Standard and perfectly acceptable superhero stuff for the Wonder Woman thing, animation-style rendering for the Hatter episode, really quite cool McDaniel fare that put me in mind of console game Time Splitters for 'Close Before Striking' and for the bonus five-pager, it's so compact that the density of writing takes over, but you will not mind because it's all very clever and would have made the most amazing spring-board to dive off of, had someone at DC recognised what Vaughan had given them: a brand new villain who thinks well outside the box and who was intended to have strong ties to Bruce himself, plus a very filthy joke involving the Periodic Table.
Niton will take a little bit more research than you think.