The last issue of this series had a lot of problems as it introduced Ghost-Maker, a mysterious "twisted reflection" of Batman that's been battling back and forth with the Dark Knight Detective since they were children. Logistics of that aside, there are still huge questions that don't have plausible answers. Batman #103, however, at least has an advantage — in being funny, it managed to be somewhat entertaining.
The two caped combatants start fighting as the very confused teenaged vigilante Clownhunter watches, and Oracle (the sometimes Batgirl, Barbara Gordon) is unable to get a bead on him. "I can't see whoever you're fighting, from any angle," she says over comms, "and his voice is distorted!"
"You won't get him on record," Batman answers, without stopping the swings of his fists. "You won't find his name in any international database, either. You need to stop trying to get a look at him. If you brush up against his Ghost-Net, his computers will eat yours alive."
Now, if he was talking to Tim Drake, or maybe even Lucius Fox, this would be one thing. This is Oracle. According to both Gail Simone and Denny O'Neil (people who would know), she is at least as smart as Batman, if not smarter. So, Ghost-Maker is, as of this issue, not only as good as Batman (if not better) in hand to hand combat but also as good as Oracle at technology.
Come on now.
It's in print now, so it's canon, and we have to accept that this man — who has left zero noticeable imprints on the world, possibly by design — is, in essence, by himself as good as two of the smartest and most effective people in the DCU. Okay. Sure. He's probably made such a huge impact against threats we never even imagined, and … yeah, whatever.
Then that leads to two interesting points of comeuppance, both cued from Batman's dialogue. "He's still upset that I made fun of him when he was fifteen years old," Batman nonchalantly tells Oracle, before continuing, "and he's even more upset that I've beaten him every time we've gone head-to-head since I turned twenty." If you've been chasing the shadow of someone who never came after you, and they've been beating the wheels off of you for most of it … there's more there than fighting. That's one of the longest and frankly intimate relationships that Batman has ever had. That's not saying it's an obsessive kind of crush on behalf of the ivory clad "crime fighter," but it's also not not saying that.
Second, Ghost-Maker made a big point of showing how smart he was, but a second bit of dialogue has Batman, in essence, showing how sloppy and amateurish the newcomer's work is. It's cold. It's a devastating show of Bat-preparation that's one of the points where it gets funny. Has Batman been leading Ghost-Maker on for years? Toying with this guy? Is he really not as good as he thinks he is, or as he's being shown as? Well, the book isn't called "Ghost-Maker," so probably not, but it's a long way to go for such a fall without stakes.
That brings us to the good stuff, which is largely dialogue-based. Harley Quinn makes a star turn as she wrestles with what to do with her life and then ends up fighting Clownhunter. That's not fair. She doesn't so much fight him any more than a catfight with a particularly large mouse. Mice don't win against cats in enough numbers for anyone to consider it a thing. Like her fight with Punchline, these are neophytes who are simply outclassed. Harley plays that for laughs, making fun of his age ("Did you think people were going to mistake you for a grown-up?"), his hygiene, his outfit, and more. It's a hoot. As such, James Tynion the 4th's script is a mixed bag, giving gifts and lumps of coal in equal shares.
However, the artwork from Carlo Pagulayan, Danny Miki, Guillem March, David Baron, and Clayton Cowles has no soft spots, perfectly capturing this battle and a surprisingly effective flashback with crisp lines and effective visual storytelling (the box marked "District Attorney," the shot of Orphan).
There's no shortage of things to see, but a lot of it won't hold up to scrutiny, accomplishing what it did well in spite of Batman, not because of him. RATING: MEH.
By James Tynion the 4th, Carlo Pagulayan, Danny Miki, Jorge JiminezBatman and Ghost-Maker go toe-to-toe to decide which of them will remain Gotham City's hero. The city is changing faster than ever in the aftermath of "The Joker War," and with this change comes increasing dangers as Gotham's citizens demand that Punchline be released from prison! Plus, Harley Quinn faces certain death at the hands of Clownhunter!