THIS WEEK: With no new comics on the way for the foreseeable future, the DC Round-Up crew is writing about some of our favorite classic DC stories, this week we’re giving some timely coverage to Batman: Contagion and Batman: Legacy
Writers: Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Dennis O’Neil, Doug Moench, Garth Ennis, Christopher Priest
Pencillers: Vince Giarrano, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mike Wieringo, Jim Balent, Dick Giordano, Barry Kitson, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, John McCrea, Matt Haley, Frank Fosco
Inkers: Ray McCarthy, Scott Hanna, Stan Woch, Bob Smith, James Pascoe, John Beatty, Mike Sellers
Colorists: Pamela Rambo, Android Images, Gloria Vasquez, Adrienne Roy, Buzz Setzer, Demetrius Bassoukos, Greg Wright, Glen Murakami, James Sinclair, Ian Laughlin
Letterers: Bill Oakley, John Costanza, Tim Harkins, Albert de Guzman, Ken Bruzenak, Todd Klein, Ken Lopez
Covers: Brian Stelfreeze, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mike Wieringo, Jim Balent, Barry Kitson, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan
Rather than go immediately to an old favorite, I decided to go to something a little more timely, despite being a book that came out more than two decades ago. This is not the first time I’ve been inspired by real-world events to dive into how comic characters would deal with a similar occurrence. Immediately following the 2016 election, I dove into the President Lex era of Superman, for instance. It’s a bit silly, but it gives me a little semblance of control over things that are vastly outside of my control.
Batman: Contagion is fairly short and fast-paced as far as 1990s Batman events go. It’s only twelve issues in total and has a fair amount of action for the subject matter at hand. The Order of Saint Dumas unleashes a terrifying plague on an unsuspecting Gotham, and the Batman family has to scour the globe for a cure. The plague in question was an advanced mutated strain of Ebola (a common virus of choice in the mid-90s), resulting in the rapid deaths of its victims. The victims of “The Clench” as it came to be known would develop a cough or sneezes, followed quickly by bleeding from the eyes and mouth. Over the course of the first several issues, the Clench had a nearly 100% fatality rate and was spreading rapidly through Gotham.
As was the case in the 1990s, most of the issues in this crossover were written by Chuck Dixon. Dixon was writing Detective Comics, Robin, and Catwoman at the time, and contributed one of the stories to the Contagion issue of The Batman Chronicles. While the Dixon issues were fine and well-plotted, it is also a little evident that he was stretching himself a bit thin. Along with the aforementioned titles, he’d also just started writing Birds of Prey mini-series and one-shots, and would soon be launching the Nightwing solo series. Specifically, the climax of Contagion feels a bit rushed, and a little too convenient.
After spending much of the arc hunting for survivors of a previous outbreak to formulate a cure from the antibodies in their blood, it turns out that none of them actually developed antibodies, because they were just mysteriously immune to the disease. This is after building our tensions up with the information that the survivors need to be alive when the blood is drawn for a cure to be obtained, and the first two survivors not meeting that criteria. The first is hit by stray gunfire from people trying to collect a bounty from him, while the second thinks he’s immortal for surviving the plague and plunges a knife into his own jugular just to prove it. He does not, in fact, prove this, but it is hilarious.
However, instead, the cure is developed from books stolen from the Order of St. Dumas and gifted to Azrael and his friends by a mysterious benefactor named Talia (hmmmmm). It makes the first ten issues of the arc seem superfluous and pointless, just there to fill space.
There are also a handful of weird decisions there just to drive the plot. The biggest of these is two disciples of the world’s greatest planner taking to the streets during an airborne highly contagious epidemic without any protective gear. Robin gets infected with the Clench because a thug spits directly in his mouth. Tim Drake specifically is smarter than that, but we had to have that tension.
While the writing of Contagion left a bit to be desired, the art during this era of Batman and related books was a murderer’s row of talent. Mike Wieringo was killing it on Robin. Barry Kitson managed to make Azrael visually interesting, even if Dennis O’Neil couldn’t really make me care about the character. Graham Nolan was at the top of his game, and even Kelley Jones worked extremely well for this arc.
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Dough Moench
Pencillers: Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Mike Wieringo, Dave Taylor, Jim Aparo, Staz Johnson, Rick Burchett
Inkers: Scott Hanna, Bob Smith, Stan Woch, Bill Sienkiewicz, Rob Leigh, Tom Palmer, Rick Burchett
Colorists: Gloria Vasquez, Buzz Setzer, Adrienne Roy, Gregory Wright, Pamela Rambo, Lee Loughridge, Noelle Giddings, David Hornung
Letterers: John Costanza, Albert DeGuzman, Tim Harkins, Todd Klien, Bill Oakley
Cover: Graham Nolan
While Contagion doesn’t really hold up on its own, it does serve very well as a lead-in to the next Batman event, which picked up almost immediately after Contagion ended, with hints that there was something larger at play. While I had a couple issues of the Knightfall saga and bought the Robin issue of Contagion, Legacy was the first Batman arc I followed through all its parts. Legacy is less a sequel to Contagion and more just the actual conclusion of the story.
Legacy opens with the landmark Detective Comics #700, a comic I distinctly remember picking up from a newsstand just because the issue number was a big deal. Little did I know what this issue was going to introduce me to. The arc introduced me to both my favorite Batman villain and my favorite Batman ally.
Much like Contagion, Legacy centers on a deadly virus, but this time we know the true evil behind it. Ra’s Al Ghul has masterminded the outbreak to try once more to cleanse the world. Instead of just Gotham, he targets population centers across the globe, focusing on places where large crowds gather, truly stressing the importance of social distancing.
Also playing a larger role in this arc is Nightwing, giving me my first real exposure to the grown-up Robin. Sure, I’d seen Dick as Robin in various media, and I’d briefly met him as Nightwing in Knightsend, but Legacy is where I fell in love with him. Reading it again as an adult, I can pinpoint the panel where my lifelong love for Dick Grayson manifested.
While Contagion felt like it was lacking a true climax, Legacy felt like nothing but climax. The entire arc is non-stop action, with the Batfamily fighting ninjas and assassins in the Sudan, Paris, Edinburgh, Calcutta and finally Gotham. The only chapter that feels unimportant and superfluous is the Catwoman issue, as it’s just there to close her portion of the story.
If you’d like to read comics where superheroes fight a deadly airborne virus and decisively win, Contagion and Legacy are a good choice.
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