So, every few months I have a few beers and start clearing off my trade shelf to make room for new stuff. But I don’t just automatically get rid of things. Sure there’s a pile of books I’m going to throw up on Swap or see if any of my buddies need, but I also make another stack of books that I want to re-read to see if they deserve that place on my shelf. Batman: Thrillkiller was one of the books on the chopping block. What did I think? Read on…
Batman: Thrillkiller (1997)
Written by Howard Chaykin
Art by Dan Brereton
I’ll put it this way, Thrillkiller is heading back to my shelf.
Here’s the deal, Thrillkiller is an Elseworlds book, which was a stamp that DC put on out of continuity books that took familiar concepts and put a different spin on them. This one obviously focuses on Batman, but it doesn’t start with Batman, instead, we get a load of Batgirl and Robin in the early ’60s. Batgirl is still the daughter of James Gordon and Robin is still acrobat Dick Grayson (though his real family name is different), but instead of Bruce Wayne living in Wayne Manor, Barbara lives there and has created her own batcave below. I’m not really sure where she got her money, but I assume it’s from her mother who got murdered. Little Barbara found her with a bat-shaped blood pool around her (hence Batgirl). Also, Chaykin calls her a madcap heiress way too many times.
Batgirl and Robin walk the mean streets of Gotham standing up for the little guy, but not against your average supervillains. They’re butting heads with the corrupt cops of Gotham. But not all the cops are bad guys, take Bruce Wayne for instance. His parents lost their fortune in the depression and went on to get murdered by their servants. He’s been tasked by Jim Gordon (another good cop) to both stop the corruption and bring Batgirl and Robin to justice.
I actually don’t want to get too into the story in case you want to check it out and see for yourself, which I highly recommend. I will say one thing about the trade, though, that confused me. I thought the book was made up of a four-issue series when it’s actually a three-issue series and a one-shot put out later. Which explains why the last chapter of the book seems separate but equal to the previous ones.
Okay, here’s what I like about the book. First up, the art. Dan Brereton has an somewhat exaggerated yet super-sexy style that really appeals to me. Back in my younger con-going days (1999 to be exact) I met Dan at either the Mid Ohio Con in Columbus or the convention in Novi, MI. He drew me this rad Harley Quinn sketch for free and also gave me the great suggestion of getting two sketchbooks in order to maximize your sketch-getting potential.
So, yeah there’s a little nastalgia for the first creator that ever talked to me like a real person and did something cool for me, but I also really like Dan’s style. You should check out Nocturnals sometime.
Anyway, I’m also a big fan of this time period. As Chaykin says in the first issue, this is a pre-JFK assassination ’60s. Things are going crazy, the cops are corrupt, but the country still has the spirit that seemed get squeezed out when JFK got killed. Chaykin really captures the mood of the times and even uses what seems like language of fiction from the time in his narration.
But what I really like about this Elseworlds tale is that the relationships aren’t just assumed. In a lot of Superman EW tales, Superman always falls in love with Lois. In this case, Bruce Wayne isn’t rich, he doesn’t even start off as Batman. And even though Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson are together, it’s a whole different dynamic than what you’re used to in the comics. Also, the villains were changed, some more drastically than others. Joker is a woman, there’s a dirty cop called Duell that looks like Two-Face, but then there’s also Harvey Dent the DA. You’ve even got Black Canary and Roy Harper showing up in the one-shot. Oh and Catwoman is a stripper. But even though the characters’ circumstances are different, you still feel like you know Bruce Wayne because he’s a tough guy who’s out for justice and doesn’t mind busting a few skulls to get it.