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Batman Special #1 (1984) – The Player on the Other Side (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Mike W. Barr is one of the great Bronze Age Batman writers, a writer with a clear vision of what he expects Batman to be and with a body of work that seems build around that principle.

One of the interesting aspects of Batman is the character’s flexibility and ubiquity. Batman can be virtually anything that a writer needs him to be, and it does little to dilute the brand because there are so many other writers working on the character – often at the same instant. Even when a particular writer is working on the character, they cannot claim exclusivity. Grant Morrison’s version of the Dark Knight is distinct from Scott Snyder’s take on the Caped Crusader, for example.

Long Dark Knight of the soul...

Long Dark Knight of the soul…

Perhaps, as a result of this, there is more freedom for writers to craft their own unique take on Batman. Mike Barr wrote Batman across a variety of different titles over a considerable stretch of time. Barr had written random stories in Detective Comics dating back to the seventies, and had provided occasional scripts to Batman since the start of the eighties. He would continue to work sporadically on the character into the nineties and the new millennium, contributing scripts to stories like In Darkest Knight into the nineties and beyond.

However, Barr’s longest sustained work on the character came in the eighties. He wrote Batman as the headline character of Batman and the Outsiders for the first thirty-two issues of the title, collaborating with artists Jim Aparo and Alan Davis. He enjoyed a sustained run on Detective Comics with artist Alan Davis that overlapped with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s iconic Batman: Year One run. The run culminated in Batman: Year Two. He and Davis also collaborated on Full Circle. He wrote Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon.

"Face my Wrath!"

“Face my Wrath!”

Barr had considerable influence on the evolution of the character Batman. Grant Morrison’s creation of Damian Wayne, for example, was heavily influenced by Barr’s work on Son of the Demon. In a larger sense, Barr’s willingness to reintroduce classic Silver Age concepts into continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths paved the way for more flexible interpretations of the Dark Knight. Barr is frequently overlooked in discussions of the character’s history, which is entirely understandable given that his most high-profile work overlapped with one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.

Still, as influential as Barr was on future depictions of the Dark Knight, it is clear that the writer had an internally consistent vision of the Caped Crusader, with a number of themes and ideas that he would visit time and time again in his work featuring the Dark Knight. Although The Player on the Other Side comes before Barr’s most extended and high-profile solo work on the character, those themes are most definitely present.

Batman Special I: The Wrath of Wraith.

Batman Special I: The Wrath of Wrath.

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