I have fought off the urge to say anything to this point, but I’d like to point out now that this is the 99th edition of Off The Rack! I’ve been at this for some time now, and when we reconvene next week, it will be for my 100th volume of this series!
I have been working on a special article for number one-hundred for several weeks at this point. It might actually be too big for one week, so we might be following this review up with a two-part extravaganza!
Regardless, whether I do one big article or two still rather large ones, I want to take a moment before I get into today’s review to thank everyone who has taken a moment to read any or some or all of these articles! I have loved comic books since I was eight years old, and I love reading and reviewing books new and old. I love having my modest little podcast where I can talk about comics every week.
Comic books have brought me endless joy for THIRTY-PLUS YEARS, and I am honored to get to share that love with you.
All right, enough mushy stuff… let’s get to this week’s book.
TITLE: Batman: Holy Terror
Writer and Artist: Alan Brennert and Norm Breyfogle
Protagonists: Bruce Wayne, Barry Allen
Antagonists: Organized Religion!
Batman: Holy Terror is an Elseworlds story from 1991 about an alternate Earth in which the course of Anglo-Saxon history was changed by the extended lifespan and influence of Oliver Cromwell in England. Due to this alteration, America exists as a theocracy, with an unavoidable Christian influence over every aspect of life.
The Waynes are killed early on by Joseph Chill, as many Bat stories are so likely to start, but the change here is that they are higher ups in the Church. Jim Gordon smells a rat in the wake of their demise, however, and after years of digging, he finally reveals the truth to an adult Bruce Wayne.
Bruce had spent his entire life to this point in schooling for a position in the Church when Gordon reveals that Thomas and Martha were secretly subversive to the Church’s conservative beliefs and were helping those that were unfavored by the state (LGBTQ individuals, women who needed abortions, etc). They used internal power and influence as a mask while accomplishing real heroism.
An angry and conflicted Bruce measures what he has spent his entire life believing versus the truth he has discovered. Indeed, he starts measuring his own belief in the word of God against the rule of the government.
He dons a bat costume, focuses his rage, and sneaks into the inner sanctum of the church where he finds they have been imprisoning metahumans. With hopes of turning their powers in favor of the state, The Church has been hoarding characters like Barry Allen, Aquaman, Zatanna and others that encounter Bruce.
Fully convinced by what he has found and the ideal his teachings have been a positive but that others in power have corrupted them, Bruce decides to stick to the Batman identity to help reshape the state. Much like his parents, he takes on a dual life.
Allow me to start off with some praise for Norm Breyfogle. When I picture Batman in my head, I picture the Breyfogle iteration. It is a perfect combination of grittiness and mystery with some terrific comic expressiveness. His “real people” are a bit hit-or-miss, but his Batman and more fantastical creatures are great. Everything is perfectly shaded, and the juxtaposition of Batman in the shadows and the Church in the light is well done here.
I had never read this book, or even really heard much about this book, until I read it for this article. It is really good! In my own fictional writing, I embrace the balance between personal belief and faith against the use of religion as a club for power. So I was immediately hooked by this story because its themes of faith versus religion. Bruce’s struggle is very real here, and what starts as simply a quest for vengeance turns into a complicated look at what Bruce has learned, both in his upbringing and from his parents.
This book is a tight fifty pages, and it doesn’t waste any time. Could this story have been longer? Could we have seen maybe a rogue or two (besides Clayface, oddly enough)? Possibly. But Brennert brilliantly gets in and trims all the fat that other writers might throw into a story like this. Holy Terror flies by as you read it, but it never feels like it missed anything. It somehow is both thorough and quick. That’s quite a balance to strike.
When you read a Batman book, you expect to find The Joker shoe-horned in. Catwoman is probably going to be there in some regard. But not here! Instead, we get a brief team-up with a tortured Barry Allen and fight against Zatanna. It makes Holy Terror feel more complete as a DC property than just another reimagining of Gotham.
Superman is even here. Well, the corpse of Superman. It seems the Church found Superman when a pair of God-fearing Kansas citizens turned in a strange child. Brennert brings up the permanent link between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent when Bruce is mournful for a being he has never met. It’s possible that the inner monologue we get here is heavy-handed and over-explains this point. But it’s appreciated.
Talking Point: So in honor of my opening notes here: how long have you been reading comic books? Who is your favorite character?
I was surprised by how good this story was given how little I have heard about it historically. Granted, it’s a subject matter than I toy around with a lot in my own fiction, so this felt pertinent to me, but it is very balanced and powerful. It’s a perfect length and does everything it needs to do.