I recently ranked 63 comics I reviewed in the last two years against each other for an anniversary celebration to see where they all fit against one another.
It was… a lot of work. Digging through old material to remember what books were involved, debating internally as to how they stack up (literally no one cares, on a list of 63, how number 42-44 are arranged, but it killed me to get it “right”), and writing little blurbs for each. It took hours!
But still, I am pretty happy that I took he time to do it. It was a fun exercise to look back at so many of the comics I have read and reviewed in the last two years, forget what initial grades I gave them, and see how they stack up against each other. Some shook out much higher than the grades I initially gave them; others sank a bit. That’s what time and perspective will do.
And the funny thing is, I know that in a week, I’ll look at that list and have major issues with my own ranking. Oh well!
TITLE: Batman: Cataclysm
Writer and Artist: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Scott McDaniel, Devin Grayson, Doug Moensch, Rick Burchett, Kelley Puckett, Klaus Jansen, Jim Aparo, Eduardo Bareto
Protagonists: Batman, Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman, Oracle, GCPD, Azrael, others
Antagonists: The unpredictability of this world we call Earth
I have something of a soft spot in my heart for No Man’s Land. When I returned to comics in college after having stopped reading for a few years in high school, I decided to get into DC for the first time. Well… that’s not entirely true, I guess; I read the Death of Superman and followed Superboy for a bit during the Return of Superman story and after it wrapped. But aside from that, I was pretty exclusively Marvel until the turn of the millennium.
Anyway, when I was getting into DC, No Man’s Land was just wrapping up with its last few issues. So in addition to getting into Flash, Green Lantern, JLA, and others, I was pulled into the resolution of how the Bat-family handled the devastation of an earthquake that rendered Gotham borderline uninhabitable. It was a good time for DC.
Cataclysm is the beginning of the NML saga. It is the tale of Gotham falling to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, and the immediate aftermath of its destruction. As with the rest of No Man’s Land, it ran through every Bat book of the era (Batman, Detective Comics, Shadow of the Bat, Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, Batman Chronicles, and Azrael) so that there was no way to understate the importance of the event.
Mostly, the series is proper mayhem, and it showcases the successes and the failures that the heroes face as they attempt to stem the tide of death and despair. It’s a true uphill battle because there is no thought or repair or salvation or moving forward yet; it’s all scene-to-scene and just trying to save lives.
And as there should be for something as dire as this, there are heartbreaking moments of coming up short. Catwoman losing a little girl, Robin failing to find a man buried alive, and a death row inmate sacrificing himself to save others all punctuate that heroes can only accomplish so much in the face of such odds.
Cataclysm ends with the “new” villain known as Quakemaster claiming he caused the destruction and demanding a ransom. Robin deduces that this is just The Ventriloquist and defeats him, and as the prelude ends, it is revealed that over a hundred thousand are dead so far.
A hundred thousand! That’s… wow. For reference, three thousand people died on 9/11. And, like I said, at moments, this series does its best to drive that point home by showing the heroes coming up short on several efforts to save people. These still being all-ages books, there are far more lives shown being saved than lost, but still, there are some emotional moments of loss.
I guess the problem I kind of run into is that 100,000+ people die in the quake, and how many of them are relevant members of the Bat-titles? Zero. Not even, like, Maxie Zeus or Mr. Zsasz is lost. So while the number is huge, it admittedly feels almost a bit neutered because of all the plot armor going around. And even then, as with my comparison of the Gotham Cataclysm to September 11th, this is the kind of event that should be mentioned constantly in DC to this day. Even in a universe with alien invasions, a hundred thousand lives lost in a few days is ungodly.
That flaw aside, this book does feel properly weighted. You have Oracle doing her best to coordinate the GCPD in person while her equipment is down and her father is missing. Batman wills himself from point to point to help out wherever he can. Robin sneaks into the city after returning from Europe and wants to check in on his father, but knows the burning city is more important. The feel of trying to bring hope to a hopeless situation is palpable.
And to my other point about how “big” this event should be, it does run for quite some time through the Bat books before Gotham is rebuilt. So it’s not like this is a twelve issue arc; it had some very long legs. I still think it should be an event that is never forgotten, but it felt huge at its time. I would like to see more stories like this where something inconceivably tragic and large happens, and it dominates at least its corner of a universe for years.
On a final point, there is the art. This being a massive crossover, the art is typically all over the place. The lack of consistency hurts when you are going issue to issue to follow the tale but the general appearance of everything keeps shifting. It being the only way you can do a story like this, I’ll forgive it, but it can be distracting.
Talking Point: Who is your favorite non-Batman member of the Bat-family?
The story is treated as the big damn deal it should be, at least for the short-term. I do wish it had actually “changed everything” for years and years in its wake, but it was prominent for over a year, so that’s still good. The scenes of loss make the destruction more visceral and “real”, even if no name character falls (yet). The story itself is really good, and its biggest short-coming is that history has basically forgotten it.