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Batman 239
"Silent Night -- Deadly Night!"

Story: Denny O'Neil
Art: Irv Novick - Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

With the first snowfall, Gotham is a different city... Everyday locales are changed into dazzling sights by the white snow... street sounds are softened... The blocks are a pleasant blur...

On this evening, the most wonderful, magical evening all year, the effects of the days leading up to this moment are unseen, and the city landscape resembles a child's deepest wish...

Despite all appearances to the contrary, crime still exists... and a need for The Masked Manhunter -- for there is another who walks the streets with anger in his heart -- on this... "Silent Night, Deadly Night!"

After swinging down via the Bat-Rope, The Darknight Detective helps the streetcorner Santa to his feet, and this Saint Nick wishes that Batman had arrived just a few minutes sooner. In his role of Santa Claus, the man was collecting for charity... when a large man in a tan jacket attacked him, and took what was in the pots, then ran! It is a scene which The Masked Manhunter has heard throughout the day, and every "Santa" has told the same tale... except in this instance -- this St. Nick managed to strike his attacker on the knee with a plank, and it is a limping, bleeding man whom The Batman must follow in the snow.

As he leaves, The Darknight Detective is told by Santa not to treat the naughty boy with kid gloves. The trail leads into an alley, where the assailant stuck close to the walls for support, and the footprints end in a Christmas tree lot. Either he has gone or the attacker is still on the lot, and The Batman feels strange using jungle-tracking techniques to find his quarry in the middle of a concrete jungle...

The object of his search manages to strike him with a Christmas tree, but The Masked Manhunter manages to kick the unlikely weapon out of his attacker's reach. The large man charges him, kneeing him in the jaw, then attempting to strangle him with a cord of Christmas tree lights!

Strong arms reach and pull the attacker over the shoulder, and into the snow, where The Batman delivers a double-uppercut, which sends the hapless assailant the entire length of Sam's XMas Tree Lot! The Shadow of The Bat falls on the snow, where his attacker slowly revives. If not for his bum knee, he would have gotten away, and The Masked Manhunter notes the thug's crude fighting style.

Getting to his feet, he asks Batman where they're going to, and when the large man is told that he is going to jail, he begs off. A child is depending on him, but The Darknight Detective has little sympathy for a thug who attacked six men, took charity money, and then tried to strangle him! Nonetheless, the thug asks for a chance to show Batman why he did what he did, and if after that, the crimefighter figures him to be no-good, then the hood will go to jail without complaint. The Masked Manhunter has got a feeling about the thug's appeal, and before a church banner which speaks of "Peace On Earth, Good Will to Men," he agrees. The snow has worked its miracle, transforming a Gotham slum into a winter wonderland, and concealing its normal appearance...

A knock at the door, and a child's voice answers, for it's Uncle Tim... and he's brought a friend! Inside the apartment, Batman sees Tim's niece -- Betsy, who's pleased to see her uncle, then asks if he's brought the turkey and the other things he said he would. He tells her to play in her room while he and Batman have a talk. Tim has shown his reason -- Betsy! The Masked Manhunter notes that a big, strong man like him could have found work to buy's the girl's Christmas.

Tim was working... until he was laid off by Richard Lee Evans, the toy manufacturer. Several employees were let go in September because business was slow, and he had promised to rehire them, but instead, Evans sold the company! The new bosses have little interest in the furloughed employees. Batman points out that Tim could have gotten another job, but he didn't dare because he thought that he would have his old spot until it was too late! His niece is ill... and the doctor bills ate his savings! Tim is broke... Betsy is getting worse, and Christmas is not at all merry. The Darknight Detective continues to stare out the window, telling Tim that it's no excuse for his crimes, for he has picked a fight with the world... when Evans is to blame! Tim realizes that this is so, that all of it turned sour is all Evans' fault!

The Masked Manhunter doesn't see Tim strike him on the head with the heavy lamp, and for a brief time, his world is warm and peaceful... that is until the throbbing begins... the agony is what's left. Betsy is pleased to see him awake again, and when Batman asks her to cut the ropes which bind him, she tells him that Uncle Tim told her not to do so until the morning.

Batman knows that it was he who gave Tim the idea to go to Evans -- with vengeance in his heart! He must escape and prevent a murder! The radiator he's tied to isn't fastened very securely to the floor, and he must force it free! The bolts begin to give, and The Darknight Detective is able to slip through the ropes! Having visited Evans as Bruce Wayne, he knows that it'll take an hour to reach the mansion, but then Betsy asks if he's leaving her alone...

Realizing that she can't stay with relatives or neighbors, he tells Betsy to get her coat and boots 'n' things, because they're going on a fast ride! Near the midnight hour, the wind bites, while the cold numbs flesh to the bone... and the seriousness of the situation resurfaces. The street is ice...with wheels whirring on distorted pavement... Only The Batman would dare send his vehicle through the wondrous, yet wary winter storm... Even his skills have limits, and on a deserted road, his car is stopped --- dead! It would take a bulldozer to clear the snow, and there is no other entry to Evans' Mansion --! Unconscious for ninety minutes, he knows that Tim has had enough time to have travelled this far!

When Betsy asks him why they've stopped, The Darknight Detective tells her that they're waiting... waiting for a miracle! The Evans Mansion is atop a hill, and is in the image of a fairyland castle -- it is the home of Richard Lee Evans... an eccentric recluse who has devoted his entire life to He watches the toy soldier march as he did when Evans first created him -- forty years ago! Even as his own steps have faltered... confining him to a chair... the toy continues on! Evans reaches for a doll, whose smile is as delightful as a real girl's...

Evans turns, hearing a noise, and in the dark, his visitor speaks... Tim enters and scatters the toys from the table with a backward slap, while Evans demands that he leave the private castle! Tim reaches out with his hands, while Evans frantically wheels his chair, scattering the toys in his path, and asks why he's being disturbed if he's done him no harm! Tim grabs onto the chair, for he knows that he... his niece, and others have suffered! Evans lives like a king while they hunger. Tim is confident that all of Evans' money will not save him. Nothing will keep Tim from wringing his neck!

Fierce thoughts pass through Batman's mind, as chilling as the winds which pull at him... He knows that he won't be able to reach Evans before Tim has his revenge-- and The Masked Manhunter will have to do his duty and arrest him... with Betsy losing the only person she has who cares for her. Betsy asks if he hears what she does... the sound of bells! They see a horse and an old-fashioned sleigh! There is no sign of the owner, but they'll borrow it anyway! He had hoped for a miracle... and they've gotten it!

The horse makes its way up the hill, staying where the snow is firm-- and it goes directly for Evans' Mansion, where they arrive in moments! It's too late, for Batman sees Tim carrying a body in his arms! Leaping from the sleigh, The Darknight Detective curses Tim for a fool, and tells him that he'll be behind bars for the rest of his life... destroying his life... and Betsy's! Tim tries to tell him that he's wrong... but The Masked Manhunter tells him to shut up! He had listened to him once before -- given him a chance -- and he has been repaid with Evans' murder! The old man moves in Tim's arms, and his head tilts towards Batman... Evans is not dead... he's ill --!

Evans has a weak heart and needs a doctor. Tim was taking him to town, but they'd wouldn't have made it... however, with the horse and sleigh... they will! Tim admits that he was planning to kill Evans... but he couldn't go through with it. He saw him... thin, ill, all alone... Tim realizes that he hadn't been in his right mind for weeks, with the worry getting to him! He hadn't been himself any more, but thank the Lord it's over! Into the slumbering city they ride -- past houses where families dream of Christmas morning -- to the hospital... where they wait with patience in silent vigil... Batman tells Tim that he'll have to answer for what he's done, but he believes that he can get The Wayne Foundation to intercede on their behalf -- Tim doesn't care about himself! He just hopes Evans is okay, as his two large hands clench themselves in prayer.

The doctor has good news! Evans will recover -- thanks to them! If they had arrived half an hour later... nothing would have saved him! Even in this, it is a miracle to the doctor that he's alive! Batman tells Tim that they'll talk next week about his hardship with the authorities. In the meanwhile, he is to take Betsy home and give her a Merry Christmas! Tim thanks Batman and promises to pay him back... but Tim already has! The moment when he chose mercy instead of murder! He bids them goodbye... and God bless! The Darknight Detective goes to see about the horse and sleigh, only to see that they've gone! ...Disappeared without a trace! The horse and sleigh played a crucial role in the miracle the doctor spoke of! He wonders who owns them!? No, no second thought... The Batman knows whom they belong to, as the snowstorm has ended... and a star has risen in the East to herald a new day...

I first read this story in the 1975 Christmas Limited Collector's Edition, and it is a childhood favorite, thanks in no small part to Denny O'Neil, Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, and Julius Schwartz.

The O'Neil/Novick/Giordano Batman is the one I started with and grew up reading. He is my Batman and is the version I associate many happy memories with.

Like Russ Heath and Joe Kubert, Irv Novick's illustrations show such depth and detail that it's easy to believe that the story actually happened, and he was there to sketch it in person.

No crime is too small for The Batman. Nowadays, you'd expect The Dark Knight to be up to his pointy-ears in crossover heck with The Joker and his Rogues Gallery, but here, his attention is on the case at hand, and there is no doubt that it is the most important one.

Novick and Giordano's version of Batman is quite handy with his fists. He may get laid low for a moment, but he'll be back for more.

The Masked Manhunter is a keen judge of character, and perhaps it's the time of year, but he believes in giving a hood a chance to prove himself.

In the apartment, we see how warmly Tim is greeted by his niece, and it's obvious that he lives for her, and vice-versa. It is due to the talents of O'Neil, Novick, and Giordano that we see it and know it as fact.

Tim goes from desperation to despair to misguided vengeance in the span of nine pages. In the '70s, a lot could be told in six pages, and a certain Answer Man's stories come to mind, here.

This Batman is human. He can make judgements based on his intuition, and miss things at first glance, but this is what we'd call life. In the case where Betsy obviously can't be left alone in the apartment, he takes her with him, carefully shielding her from the cold with his cape.

It's heartening to know that even The Batman can believe in miracles.

Evans world is that of toys, those which take the steps he longer can, and whose smiles warm his frail heart in their glow.

For Tim, the toys are an unwanted obstacle to his revenge, and for both men, the surface has begun to crack.

Even in the elements, Batman continues his trek up the hill for Evans, while making sure that Betsy is kept warm by his cape, which has no doubt terrified many a superstitious, cowardly criminal, but is used to keep a little girl from harm.

The Batman has a keen detective eye, seeing that the horse knows its way, even when it seems to be too late, and even he can be caught in a moment of anger... with Tim... and himself. He walks a lonely road, but he is not lost, and indeed, the journey is what makes or breaks a man.

Tim sees what he almost did, and is thankful that his time of madness has ended, with things not as bad as they could have been.

The Batman upholds the law, but he sees that those who live under it, also have other things they must cope with.

Tim and Betsy have a Merry Christmas, thanks to The Darknight Detective, who sees what the season is all about, and also how help can arrive from an unexpected source.

At San Diego Comic-con 2002, I met Irv Novick, who was kind enough to sign this book. He had taken a fall some months earlier, and was in a wheelchair. It was something to see him greet his fans and our joy at meeting the man was matched by that of he and his wife.

Like Evans, Irv Novick has created many characters, who have taken their steps on the four-color page, and they, like his work, will never falter nor fail to impress those who have the chance to savor it.

This Review Is Respectfully Dedicated To Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick

And Fellow Stream-Babbler Tim O'Shea

Steve Chung
"Silent Review, Deadly Review!