Batman
Batman: The Library of Souls
Medium: comic
Year: 1992
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Jim Aparo
Keywords: superhero
Format: 22 pages, Detective Comics #643
Series: << Batman >>
Website category: Comics
Review date: 3 September 2021
Peter Milligan's done a fair amount of Batman over the years. He wrote "Dark Knight, Dark City" in 1990 between Marv Wolfman and Alan Grant's runs on Batman, then became the regular writer of Detective Comics for a short run in 1991. It ended here. "The bad news is that this is Peter's last issue. He felt that he simply didn't have time for all the projects he's taken on, and that something had to go. Unfortunately, that something was DETECTIVE. He's given us some amazing stories, and we're sorry to see him leave. Of course, you can still catch his stuff each month on SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN."
(He also succeeded Grant Morrison for a very good six-issue run on Animal Man around then.)
Rereading this particular story... it's okay. Compared with other Batman stories, it's a bit offbeat and quirky. Compared with Milligan's other work, though, it's dull. The problem, frankly, is Batman himself. He (and Alfred) are boring and one-dimensional. He's a completely flat hero who's incapable of doing or saying anything interesting, although admittedly I like the fact that for once he's living up to his "World's Greatest Detective" moniker. (In Detective Comics, no less. You could read Batman comics until Christmas and see, on average, very little detecting.)
He doesn't really have any opposition, you see. The baddie's a librarian who's decided to arrange death according to the Dewey Decimal System. Charmingly, he begins by digging up skeletons from cemeteries and only graduates to murder after the police get wise. However, he's fairly old, he's physically unimpressive and he's not even that intelligent, so he's unlikely to last more than two seconds after Batman finds him.
After a while, Milligan introduces a temporary protagonist, Jennifer Holding. She's a librarian who Batman consults halfway through. She's pretty, likeable and, whoops, capable of a catastrophic comedy brain fade. "And she realises that Johns PROBABLY KNOWS THE KILLER!" So off she goes to meet him on her own, without telling anyone. D'oh. Yes, I realise that her stupidity is being played as a joke, but I still rolled my eyes. Even though they'd known each other, that idiot plot point might perhaps have been improved by Milligan establishing their relationship more strongly.
As for the art, Jim Aparo's a big name for Bat-fans. He draws the Bat very well, it's true, and his faces in general can be a lot of fun. I like his bonkers baddie a lot. Denys Cowan's cover, though, is dishonest. The villain's not holding a bloody axe when he meets Batman and he's not a blackened, burned Two-Face.
There are things to like here. The baddie's blackly funny and in some ways a throwback to the crazy Silver Age Batman stories, but his actions are dark and even chilling. Leaving skeletons around town isn't played for laughs at all. Overall, I liked this story less than Batman fans do... but I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy it more if I reread it as part of a Batman marathon, not a Milligan one.